Brad Leibov of the Liberty Prairie Foundation did a great job of explaining the economic and environmental reasons why land trusts and other public land holders ought to seriously consider using some of their acres for sustainable food production. Here were a few points:
1. The comparison of the amount of food for the table produced in Lake County,Illinois, compared to the amount outsourced, mostly from California, was staggering. Keep in mind that Lake County is positioned near Chicago much like Ozaukee is to Milwaukee. Most food eaten by local residents travels around 1500 miles to get to the table.
3. There is a solidly growing market for local food and for organic food.
4. Most local farming in both Illinois and Wisconsin is commodity farming (grain/ corn etc) that does to the national and international markets.
5. The cash return on an acre of table food crop is way higher than ( can't remember the numbers..around $2000+) compared to commodity farming, which may be around $234.) Someone who farms for local food can make a decent living on significantly fewer acres than someone in commodity farming can.
6. Both sustainable and organic farming practices do a great job of restoring and improving soils, possibly much better than simply returning them to prairie or such. (The rate would certainly be faster.)
7. Land for table food farming can be easily mixed within conservation lands, very different from what is needed by commodity farming.
Things that can be done to support local food farming:
1. Land trusts can obtain agricultural lands, place conservation/agricultural easements on them, and then sell them to farmers.
2. They can engage in long-term leasing of their own held lands for farming. They can look at this as opportunities to restore the soil and know that sustainable practices will not harm local water.
3. They might consider rotational grazing as a method to manage open lands - a method that can add to soil quality.
There were many examples given of current successes and projects as well as resources in this area. Many questions were asked and there was a lot of discussion.
Other items of note at the meeting:
1. Ozaukee County and partners through the OTN are embarking on a GIS mapping project that will create a data base for land restoration and/ or protection - combining project areas from many sources and mapping techniques that can evaluate parcels for soil, habitat, species..all kinds of information to support evaluation. Andrew Struck is the go to person on this initiative if your organization would like to be involved.
2. Dale Buser recapped many of the achievements of OTN to date, including grant support, an invasive species initiative, and multiple networking conferences which have led to partnership opportunities. OTN is in its third year of operation.
3. Update on the Bruce Krier Restoration. Although Bruce passed away in December, the project is continuing. Bruce's family have embraced it and seeing the project's completion and will keep it as a protected area.
4. There is a new resource in the area. It is Green Farm Stand, which is a free resource, like a Craigslist, for local produce and similar things. Erin Ortize created it and Dave Bishop has worked with her to make it happen. This will make it easy to find local food beyond the farmers' Markets. Check it out : http://greenfarmstand.org
5. The Fund for Lake Michigan http://www.fundforlakemichigan.org/about-the-fund/establishment-structure needs "Friends" to express support for it right now. We will be posting information on our website. Although it was newly created in 2008/9 as a method to offset damages to the lake from the Oak Creek power plant - it has been putting around four million dollars annually through funded projects to improve the lake and related waters. In the process, it has created over 200 jobs. Its funding was set up at the end of the litigation to protect the lake and was slated to run until 2035. Recently there have been moves by the PSC, on its own initiative, that make this appear to be uncertain. It is complicated, but the Fund is seeking our support as organizations and as individuals (NOT financial) to support their work as beneficial to the economy and to the lake. Here is a chance to add your name and your organizations name as a supporter.
COMING SOON: There have been major changes to the Farm Bill that make a difference in how our organizations will work in obtaining land etc. It offers some new opportunities and we may do well to rethink our old strategies. To that end, OTN will be creating another conference/ panel discussion to explore what that means for all of us. Shawn Graff and Pat Marchese are the planners on this. You will be getting more information