Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day... a day to celebrate the beauty and wonder of this earth and those who care for and protect it. There are countless people across the world that are stewards for the land, water and air that make up this planet. Everyone has a part to play - whether it be making small everyday choices that are environmentally friendly or being a part of big projects, research, education or other initiatives that contribute to the health and sustainability of our earth.

There is one 'group' of people in particular that I would consider to be earth's original environmentalists... farmers. No matter what commodity they grow or raise, farmers are among some of the world's most environmentally conscious people. The choices we make on our farms certainly do have an affect on the environment, there is no denying that fact, however more often than not farmers make sound and sustainable choices when it comes to raising their livestock or growing their crops in an environmentally responsible manner. Why? you ask. Because not only does it make good practical business sense (healthy land, water and air = more productive, profitable farm) but we as farmers are also as concerned as anybody about protecting this precious planet and the land we farm for future generations.

There is something undeniably strong about the ties farmers feel to their land, and the heritage that is behind it. For many, a farm is not a business venture that one starts in hopes of turning a quick dollar and selling it off to have a sun-drenched retirement in a hot destination. No, for most Canadian farmers a farm and the land that comprises that farm is something that was first purchased by grandparents or great-grandparents, perhaps newly arrived from overseas to start their lives in Canada. After many years of toil those great-grandparents had started a viable farming operation that was passed down one, two, maybe even three generations. Today the farming operation may look very different from what it was in those initial years. The types of livestock raised and crops grown may have changed, management practices may have been adjusted to suit the next generations, and certainly the size of the farm has likely grown. However, the importance of ensuring that farm is there for future generations remains.

I am very proud to know that I personally have family still actively farming on the Nybo Family Farm (my Mom's side) at Hodgeville, Saskatchewan, the Frischke Family Farm (my Dad's side) at Bulyea, Saskatchewan, and where my farming roots are firmly planted on my parents' farm at Sundre, Alberta. Now Colin and I are putting down our own farming roots at Morinville, Alberta on our own piece of land near Colin's parents' farm which has been in the Verbeek family for nearly 100 years.

On our 'new' farm we will take many steps to ensure we consider and protect the environment when raising our cattle and crops. Our first step to ensuring our farm is environmentally sustainable was completing an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) which helped us to identify our strengths and weaknesses in terms of how our farm affects the environment. We also identified ways in which we could improve our practices and set goals and timelines for those improvements. We have built our barn a great distance from water bodies, to prevent manure runoff from the barn and adjacent pens from entering water bodies. We will also be planting a row of shrubs along the creek riparian area to create a buffer zone and icrease biodiversity along the creek. At present time the creek is not fenced, however we have plans to fence the entire perimeter of the creek that runs from our north to south property lines to prevent cattle from watering at the creek and in doing so damaging the banks and contaminating the water. We plan to potentially utilize a dugout as a source of water for our cattle and horses, however instead of allowing the livestock to walk to the side of the dugout to drink, we will use a solar powered watering system to pump the water from the dugout to the livestock, thus preventing bank erosion and water contamination. We hope to cross-fence the cattle pastures in a manner that will allow for effective rotational grazing with sufficient rest periods for each pasture prior to grazing. This will both be beneficial and healthy for our pastures as well as helping us to extend our grazing season. We also plan to continually move our winter feeding site in order to maximize manure coverage over the entire field in which the cows are wintered in. Finally, our big project (besides fencing) for this spring/summer is planting a couple hundred trees (and keeping them watered!) that will serve as a shelterbelt around our property and increase the biodiversity on our currently fairly untreed piece. As an aside, this Sundre girl (from the land of trees, hills and mountains) is having a hard time coping with the downright exposure I feel as the wind blows and I can see all our neighbours on our rather flat, treeless peice of land. But that's a post for another day. Let's hope our trees grow fast!

There is so much one can say about this topic, but in closing I just want to make a simple comment on how I personally sum up the role farmer's play in protecting the earth.

Farmers are the earth's original environmentalists. We love the land on which we live, make our living from, and want to protect for future generations.

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