Did you know that one of the leading founders of Earth Day was Wisconsin Senator (and former governor), Gaylord Nelson? The very first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 and today over 190 countries honor and act on Earth Day. This year, we honored Earth Day by chatting about sustainability on the latest episode of the Rural Mutual Roundtable.
The Fabulous Farm Babe, Pam Jahnke, met with Rachel Gerbitz, Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Jason Mugnaini, Executive Director of Government Relations for Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, to discuss some of the ways sustainability affects Wisconsin, its farmers, and how everyone can get involved.
How to Get Involved with Sustainability
Wisconsin Farm Bureau has increased its sustainability initiatives and activities over the past few years. “My role as the Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships came from the priorities of our membership. Our members wanted to see the Farm Bureau prioritize more communication and outreach space for sustainability,” Rachel explained. She highlighted a few ways Farm Bureau encourages involvement:
WFBF Member Programs
- 35 under 35: The 35 Under 35 Program recognizes and celebrates young farmers and agriculturists who are preserving agriculture through leadership in environmental, social, and economic practices. This new program had a terrific first year celebrating sustainability in all aspects of agriculture, specifically with conservation. Rachel noted that conservation is a huge piece of sustainability but said the program stressed the importance of thinking outside of that area.
- Leaders of the Land Statewide Series: Since 2021, WFBF has led the Leaders of the Land program which is a series of nine tours of Wisconsin farms and highlights sustainability practices in each one. From dairy to hogs, each farm has had their own take on sustainability including profitability. This series has also been a great conversation starter between farmers and their processors on where their products end up after they leave the gates of the farm.
- For more information on these programs or how you can get involved, reach out to your local Rural Mutual agent.
Wisconsin Statewide Programs
- “There have been a lot of new programs that have been created over the last couple of legislative sessions, and we’ve seen a lot of farmers incorporate these practices into their farming operations. Wisconsin is absolutely a leader in this space,” Jason said.
- Producer Water Shed Program: At the state level, Jason shared that this program increased conservation practices on almost 1 million acres this last year, which was about a ¼ increase in years past. The actions taken prevented about 220 thousand pounds of phosphorus and nearly 350 thousand tons of soil from leaving farmlands and entering waterways. Jason also mentioned there are other bills in the process of being developed to help improve projects centered around watersheds.
Communicating About Sustainability
In their conversation with Pam, Rachel and Jason agreed that the largest opportunity available to everyone is to learn about sustainability and discuss it in their community. Many Wisconsin urban areas may not realize how agriculture and sustainability go hand in hand. The WFBF has a few resources to help educate Wisconsin residents on this connection:
- Gather Wisconsin: This interactive website highlights sustainability and offers multiple learning opportunities. One of these options includes the ability to submit a question directly to a farmer who will respond. The website also has an interactive map of a kitchen to show visitors different ways to be sustainable at home. You can also visit the recipe section each season for delicious meal ideas! These recipes feature Wisconsin products and ingredients.
- On April 7th, the Wisconsin DNR announced the nation’s first Statewide Water Quality Trade Clearing House program. Jason promoted the program helping farmers: “This is great for farmers because it’s a home-grown market driven opportunity to monetize things that farmers are already doing such as buffer strips, cover crops, and no-till.”
- A key part of sustainability that became a focus during the COVID-19 pandemic and supply shortages is avoiding food waste. As Jason states, “Sustainability is not just doing things on farms; it’s also about avoiding food waste.” He explained how DATCP purchased food directly from farmers at market value to help people relying on food banks during the pandemic and supply shortages. This program also supported anyone who relied on farmers markets for income. DATCP is looking to continue the program now that food donations have slowed in the post-COVID world.
Sustainability is becoming top of mind for most consumers. Farmers and consumers can work together to be sustainable for the state and the environment. Talk to your local agent to find out how you can be involved with sustainability in Wisconsin today.
Listen to the full Rural Mutual Roundtable with Rachel Gerbitz and Jason Mugnaini below.