At the Farm GateFarm stewardship celebrated on Earth Day
Every April after an evening mushroom hunt in the timber, the sunset’s glow across the home farm triggers a connective feeling to the land that I struggle to describe.
It’s that connection developed while working side-by-side with my family on land improvement efforts. The passion strengthens at harvest, when we gather the land’s bounty. The kids express the feeling when they request to fish and canoe the river that borders the farm.
This April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It seems fitting that the world celebrates this day April 22, a time when (weather-willing) Illinois farmers work with the land and Mother Nature to plant from sunrise to sunset. I compare this day to Mother’s or Father’s Day, an official date to formally honor an everyday commitment, in this case to environmental stewardship.
Because in the 364 days preceding Earth Day, we appreciated and cared for the land with the same ambition. Solar arrays helped produce the energy that powers our home farmstead and grain facility. My family installed or maintained grass waterways, buffer strips and terraces in fields to protect the soil and filter water that moves across the land. Sensitive lands transitioned to wildlife habitat. Reduced tillage and often no tillage at all make the land less vulnerable to soil and nutrient loss.
Agronomists help us follow the 4Rs, choosing the “right” fertilizer at the “right” rate, the “right” time, and in the “right” place on our farm’s varying soil types. Technology in our tractors use global-positioning satellites for precise applications and operations. This reduces use of fuel and pesticides and maximizes use of seed and fertilizer in science-proven ways never available to my grandpa’s generation.
In the house, we recycle eligible plastics, metals, and papers. The kids and I pick up trash in country ditches, where we more often mow around milkweeds, the food source for monarch butterflies. Deer, raccoons, and even a growing population of bald eagles co-exist with the farm, too.
On Earth Day, as every day, farm families like ours feel an obligation to keep the land in as good or better condition for the next generation of caretakers. I hope they find the sunsets on the land just as magnificent.
About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans, and hay, and raises beef cattle and backyard chickens in West-Central Illinois.