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Published March 17, 2009, 05:15 PM

Stevens Forward! -- Farmers know all about going ‘green’

The seventh in a series of stories on Stevens FORWARD! explains how agriculture is at the forefront of the move to carbon neutral ‘green’ living

By Katie Erdman

Farmers have known what it means to go “green” for years. If you enter into a conversation with anyone involved in agriculture, the word “green” will probably be mentioned several times with different meanings.

“Green” money is used to buy seed, chemicals and fertilizer to produce their crops. They then wait as tiny “green” seedlings emerge and slowly grow into strong “green” plants. In some cases they may even talk about the “green” machinery used to plant, maintain and harvest those crops.

It has been a "green" world for farmers throughout history, however, over the years both the definition and methods of going “green” have been changing.

For that reason the Stevens FORWARD! Stewards have selected this concept as one of their Destiny Drivers.

Their goal is as follows: “By 2015 Stevens County will be the first carbon neutral county in the world, demonstrating viable models for green housing, neighborhoods and public buildings.”

When you hear about our county and even the world striving to go green, it probably has little to do with the color of equipment or money but more to do with the crops and our lifestyles.

Currently, city officials and residents are involved in planning housing and landscaping for the old Morris Area Elementary School property, and all of the proposals include “green” initiatives in how the homes are built and used, from geothermal heating to permeable hard surfaces that limit storm water runoff.

The West Central Research and Outreach Center, the ARS Soils Lab and the University of Minnesota, Morris form a sustainability and renewable energy “triangle,” and the area is positioning itself, through research, education and ways of living, as one of the leading “green” communities in the nation.

It’s appropriate that such developments occur in an area built on agriculture. There are many aspects of going "environmentally green" today. It involves recycling, reusing, reducing and reclaiming. When you think about each of these practices, it isn’t hard to remember that farmers from several decades ago probably could have coined the phrases as part of their every day lifestyle.

Looking back on farming practices decades ago we can easily see how farmers recycled. Repairs and maintenance on equipment was often conducted by replacing them with used parts from a piece of machinery placed out in the grove. When it came to harvesting the crops, virtually every part of the plant was used in some way and what was left over was tilled back into the soil. Seed for the following years was obtained off of the current crop. Even things like corn cobs found a use by heating homes and out buildings.

Farmers of the past didn’t need to apply or purchase a great deal of fertilizer because they had plenty of manure to spread on the fields when they cleaned out the barns. The practices of these farmers may not have led to the biggest numbers in terms of yields, but they unknowingly were creating a green environment.

Over the years new technology, types of seed (hybrids), chemicals (pesticides), fertilizers and larger equipment have made farming a big industry. However, that size may have come at a cost when we consider the carbon impact of our environment.

Scientists today are studying the impact of carbon in our environment and gaining some astounding results. What is carbon? Carbon is a critical chemical element present in our soils and crops and in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are on a steady increase and reaching levels that are cause for alarm, especially considering that high carbon dioxide levels in the air can affect the global warming process.

In order to better understand the problem one must understand the process. Carbon is a part of our plants. It is in the foods we eat, the soda we drink and the air we breathe. For example, corn stalks left over after harvest are 46 percent carbon. The more green plants we have in our surroundings the better off we will be as far as the carbon dioxide levels go. However, the more energy efficient we can become will also go a long ways toward helping energy conservation, slowing global warming.

We can be more energy efficient in our homes and businesses. To accomplish, this we can replace high energy lights or heating systems. We can reduce use by shutting off things that are not being used. We can reclaim by using some of the new energy methods such as solar panels or wind turbines. We can recycle not just our cans, newspapers and bottles but by using fewer paper products and perhaps hand washing more dishes.

Many of the luxuries we take for granted each day come at a cost not just in dollars but in the environment. Eliminating some of these or looking for those that are more energy efficient can have a long-range impact.

It is up to all of us to keep our environment clean and “green” and preserve it for future generations.

Are you a ‘Champion’?

Stevens FORWARD! stewards are seeking “Champions” -- people who want to get involved in the initiative and spearhead a Destiny Driver. For more information, visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site at www.stevensforward.org, or contact Coordinator Roger McCannon via email at:

mail@stevensforward.org, or by phone at (320) 287-0882

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