Archive for August, 2015

I have a confession to make.

I have been known to hug trees on occasion. As in literally wrap my arms around them in appreciation for their beauty and existence. Oh, I’ll pretend I’m trying to see how big around they are, but don’t be fooled. I hug trees because I love them.

It’s not just trees that induce me to such shocking behavior. I’ve caressed wildflowers and sung back at birds. I shed real tears when a thriving heron rookery not far from my home disappeared.

You see, I love nature.

Rho in woods1In fact, I used to be an outdoor educator, creating programs to teach about wildlife and natural resources and conducting school field trips in area forest preserves. As long as I’m making a full confession, I should admit that I encouraged elementary school children to hug trees, too.

Okay, this isn’t scandalous stuff. It shouldn’t be, anyway. But when I was attending conferences as an environmental educator, it sometimes seemed like agriculture was a dirty word. Agriculture was seen as a primary source of pollution, erosion, and habitat loss. Whenever children learned about Illinois’ renowned tall grass prairie, they simultaneously heard that it’s mostly gone because of farms.

The reverse can be true in agriculture, where “environmentalism” (a.k.a. “tree hugging”) is often anathema to farming. In some cases, environmentalists are obstructionists, instigating costly and prohibitive regulations which make it difficult or impossible to farm profitably.

I’ll never forget a presentation I gave at an environmental education conference shortly after I began my job here at Farm Bureau. It was titled, “Agriculture and the Environment,” and my objective was to raise awareness of things like soil and water conservation practices and integrated pest management. I wanted my audience to understand the ways farmers and agriculture help the environment.

It didn’t go well. Not many people came to my session, and one of the few who did was a belligerent woman who disputed almost everything I said. Apparently, in her mind, it was impossible that agriculture could ever be the good guy when it came to environmental issues.

I imagine if I had told that lady that I had previously worked in environmental education, she would have thought I’d gone over to the dark side by leaving that position to teach about agriculture instead. But I’ve never seen it that way. The longer I work in agriculture, the more I discover how deeply many farmers care about the environment they live in and hope to pass along to their kids.

I see countless ways farmers strive to minimize their environmental impact while maximizing the food that they produce. I know crop farmers who take acres and acres of land out of production to plant wildflowers and grasses and prevent erosion. I talk to farmers who are thankful they can minimize insecticide sprays by planting Bt corn. I’ve visited livestock farmers who are happy to explain the methods they use to contain runoff of manure. The list goes on and on.

Does food production impact the environment, sometimes negatively? Yes, indeed. So does building a house, driving a car, or drinking a cup of coffee. Everything we do as humans affects our environment. Our challenge is to manage the trade-offs wisely.

From where I sit, farmers seem to be doing a pretty good job of that. And they never stop trying to improve.

As a matter of fact, I think trees AND farmers are worthy of a good hug.

This post appeared as the “Stray Kernels” column in the August 2015 issue of DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Connections magazine.

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