Talking About Healthy Ecosystems

In July, we hosted a conversation with a group of women around the state about Healthy Ecosystems — how do we lead on protecting soil, water, air, pollinators, food security, and farming livelihoods? We asked participants to talk about their passions, their concerns, and what they think Minnesota could be doing better to sustain land and farmers. An adapted version of our conversation follows.

Sophie Hoiseth: YWCA Mankato

As a member of Generation Z, I am passionate about climate change. I have that deep climate anxiety that a lot of my generation shares. Caring about the environment is central to being Minnesotan. I see us being able to be a leader in our country about this issue, and we are not. That is really disheartening. It is a missed opportunity. I have a political science degree, so I am thinking about [our state policies]. That is where we have the chance to shine.

The environment should be a bipartisan issue. It feels like something we should connect and collaborate across the aisle on.

A lot of our policy — like around energy — becomes very reactive. Something happens and only then do we respond to it. That is how our legislative motions are going through. If we are acting reactively, it is too late. We need to invest and give up some of our comfort for the future.

I think young people get distracted by what is happening at the federal level. No one is really talking about the local state representatives. I love interacting with my state representative and telling him how important climate change is to my generation. I really hope we realize that we cannot wait for some catastrophic event to respond.

Teresa Opheim: Climate Land Leaders

My passion is about who owns the land, equal land access, and what people can do on their land to address the climate crisis. Climate Land Leaders is a group of mainly farmland owners, with more than 10,000 acres [combined]. These are all folks who mostly have corn and soybean land. They could be doing a lot more for the planet on that land. How can we support farmers who are growing nutrient-dense food and really commit to them, especially in a time of extreme weather events? Every possible thing that can go wrong with weather has gone wrong in the last year: uncontrolled fire, tornadoes, drought, intensive rains.

The urban-rural divide is getting more extreme. There is a lot of research out there about what motivates people. Minnesotans love their land, no matter their political perspective. It is just a matter of trying to figure out the commonalities so that we can move forward. I am from Iowa, and now live in Minneapolis. I am really enjoying the political bubble — it is so comforting to me — but it is not very helpful for us moving forward.

When I ran a farmer organization in Iowa, I met a lot of climate change deniers who are excellent conservationists on their own land. They use the scientific method to try and figure out how to become better conservationists. At the same time, they have this political mental block about climate change. It is fascinating as a study of human behavior, but it also indicates to me ways that we can work to make change. We won’t get anywhere in our political system without addressing the anger in rural areas.

No one is denying that they are seeing extreme weather events — 10-inch rains within 24 hours. Everyone is concerned about that. But they have put themselves in a certain camp that has turned out to be political, so they will deny that this is a human-caused crisis. Yet there are so many things that the majority of people in rural areas agree on.

Everyone is interested in more renewable energy if it brings jobs. Jobs are really key. If we can help the climate because we provide jobs, that is a motivator for everyone. Another one is getting young farmers or new farmers on the land. Everyone wants families who bring their children to help revitalize small towns.

I wish Minnesotans would reward those who are growing food and doing something to improve the planet — paying for ecosystem services that landowners provide and subsidizing those who are growing food in the right ways. It is very difficult to make a living growing fruits and vegetables.

Farmers deserve beneficial policies and consumer dollars.

There will be a big farm bill organizing push in the future. Connect with local organizations involved in farm policy.

Roundtable Discussion

Hoiseth asked another person on the call — Angela Dawson, founder of the hemp farm 40 Acre Co-op — to explain what conversations are like with people who are hesitant about growing hemp.

Dawson: I start most of the conversations with people about hemp around the healing botanical qualities. I give samples away. There are people with back pain and anxiety; I just start with people’s needs. They do not want to be overly prescribed with medication and are looking for different things. You would be surprised at how many older people — who I would have thought would have bought into that old reefer madness paradigm — are really interested in finding out more about it.

The banks and policy professionals are the harder ones for me to deal with. I had a bank that shut down my account because they saw I made a purchase from a dispensary and thought I was trafficking drugs. There is a lot more stigma in the business world. At the local credit union in my small town, they were sure that I was trafficking drugs and they told me to take my money and get out. But regular folks that have pain and anxiety come for education.

Another participant asked for a fuller explanation of regenerative farming.

Opheim: It includes adding third crops to corn and beans, like rye or wheat, and planting tree crops, like hazelnuts and elderberries. The kicker: the federal subsidy support system rewards corn and soybeans. We have developed a system that rewards the planting of certain commodities by providing direct cash for growing those crops. Crop insurance gives people who plant those crops a safety net that those who plant fruits and vegetables don’t have.

We need to make it easier to get payments for ecosystem services. The whole corn/soybean commodity system needs to be revamped. That has been very difficult politically. It is not just farm bureau lobbyists. It is Archer Daniels and Cargill and the big companies that really have a lock on Congress, so it has been really difficult to change that system.

Dawson: I think the collective voices of people are starting to make the USDA at least question [the system]. I am getting queries from the USDA to give feedback, and it has not been like that before.


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