Country-wide Tragedy

With the blizzard blasting the prairie, most of our afternoon was spent working inside, Rebecca on a mailing and me evaluating grants. Winds have been gale force, often leaving our house here on Listening Stones Farm as a blue island of warm comfort. Thankfully her meeting in Glenwood was canceled, or I’d been worried sick of her safety.

Like she was of mine earlier in the morning. I’ve taken on a new project … just to see how far I can take it. My goal is to make one “keeper” photograph every single day of the year, one that would hopefully be sort of a “diary” of each given day. To capture this day, when winds whipped our prairie grasses and the spindly stalks of the dormant forbs with wild and windy frenzy, I walked out into our eight acres of prairie in hopes of coming home with an image.

Winds whipped the prairie yesterday in gusts of up to 50 mph, but there was prairie grasses to protect the soils.

Winds whipped the prairie yesterday in gusts of up to 50 mph, but there was prairie grasses to protect the soils.

As with many prairie blows, the winds were not consistent. They gust and ebb, whirling here for a moment before sliding over a few hundred feet. Our weather sites told of gusts of up to 50 mph. This meant taking my time, and because of the nature of the wind and my age, my camera was placed on the tripod. Since I was dressed warmly and in layers, the cold was not an issue. With a ground blizzard though, the bigger danger was in  becoming lost. This can happen in an instant, so when Rebecca looked out the kitchen window and could barely make out the grove less than 50 feet away, she donned her winter clothing and came looking for me. It was enough to make a grown man smile.

We then hunkered down in the warmth of our 1912 four square doing our respective business.

Snirt in the front yard of a Boyd-area farm site. (Photo by Julia Ness)

Snirt in the front yard of a Boyd-area farm site. (Photo by Julia Ness)

Hours later pictures began coming across a social media site of gray snow. We have a word for that: Snirt, a combination of snow and dirt. Snirt is a country tragedy. I don’t believe our “original conservationist” and “true environmentalist” neighbors comprehend the severity of the situation, nor do the executives of the multi-national agri-chemical and seed companies that drive our federal farm policy. Already this winter many of us have posted blogs and photographs of significant snirt issues. On many of the prairie highways alert drivers were witness to the unmistakable black swirls in the snow drifts. Our “true environmentalists” may have received a break when the uncharacteristic melt erased the first signs of wind blown evidence, but the images posted today brings the sorry truth right out there for all of us to see once again. And, it’s sickening.

Folks, they’re just not making any new soil. We’ve plowed it up from the Smokies to the Rockies and beyond. More topically, on a recent trip from Minneapolis I chose to return on Highway 7, turning off of I-494, and much to my surprise, the horse farms on the rolling hills just past Victoria — basically on the windward banks of Lake Minnetonka — had all been plowed and planted to corn this past year. In 2014, I drove on this highway from Victoria to Watertown, SD, and my guess is that you couldn’t find 10 fields in that expance of prairie that weren’t in row crops. This is a direct result of federal farm policy.

A snow-covered country lawn gray from wind-blown soils. (Photo by Julia Ness)

A snow-covered country lawn gray from wind-blown soils. (Photo by Julia Ness)

While it’s arguable that those fields are “feeding the world” as the “original conservationists” and their puppet masters like to proclaim, most of what we saw being grown was inedible until it was digested in the bellies of factory-farmed chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle (with a goodly share actually targeted for ethanol, where we’re also consuming an average of 40 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of ethanol). This on soils that took thousands of years of glaciation and natural forces to form. In a word, this soil is being mined of not just tilth and microbial activity, but is also being left vulnerable to blow away in winds from November through early June when the next crop is tall enough to protect the soil. And, if the soil isn’t being blown away, it is carried away in melt water. Reliable research estimates that a dump truck of dirt per second pours into the Gulf of Mexico. Seemingly, very few farmers act concerned.

Travels across the prairie this winter has shown little if any planted to cover crops, nor many stalk fields left standing to anchor the soils. Little but bare soils are left vulnerable to the winds of winter. I hesitate to guess how many millions of tons of soil were blown from tilled crop fields during this latest blizzard, much of which could have been prevented and wasn’t. Until federal farm policies are tweaked to address the true conservation of the soils, our future generations are being put at risk.

From a handful of snow pulled from dog paws. (Photo by Julia Ness)

From a handful of snow pulled from dog paws. (Photo by Julia Ness)

Here is as idea: That any and all landowners, and especially crop farmers, as well as the powers to be at major farm lobbying multi-nationals and farm organizations, be required to read David R. Montgomery’s book, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.” Then to qualify for any future government support programs, be required to pass a test on the importance of saving their soil for the good of the human race. If you want the “right to farm,” then farm right. Consider your soil as a precious gift, an investment, a commodity you should surely want to protect for as long as you live. Buffer the ditches. Invest in a cover crop. If you want a cheaper solution, hold off the plowing those corn stalks until next spring.

The parking lot in front of the Renville County SWCD office. (Photo by Tom Kalahar)

The parking lot in front of the Renville County SWCD office. (Photo by Tom Kalahar)

After reading Montgomery’s book, Rebecca said: “There are several things that stick with me from this excellent book, but one of the biggest is his point about the Middle East. We learned as school children that it held the ‘Cradle of Civilization,’ but what we see there now just doesn’t square with that land of milk and honey described in the schoolbooks. And a big part of the reason that picture doesn’t ‘fit’ is because they squandered their topsoil, just like almost every ‘great’ civilization that has fallen on almost every continent, and on many islands as well, on the planet. Almost all of them knew better. They saw the soils lighten, gully, and thin on the hillsides. They saw the dust blow. And almost all of them continued to pursue the quick profit, the biggest bragging rights, the most bushels per acre. They were ‘feeding the world’ as they knew it. And then, with their soils plundered and blown, their world collapsed, and those that didn’t starve led the next exodus to new, unspoiled lands to try again. Where will we go this time?”

Closeup of tracks made in the snirt. (Photo by Julia Ness)

Closeup of tracks made in the snirt. (Photo by Julia Ness)

For you can rest assured we can see those black wavy lines in the snow drifts, or like in this latest blizzard, when from Boyd to Olivia, pictures were made and posted of snow grayed by particles of your precious soil. What we’re really seeing, though, is nothing short of a country-wide tragedy!

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This entry was posted in He Said by John G. White. Bookmark the permalink.

About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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