Be our guest: Farmers making a pledge
By Dan O’Connell
Portage Land & Water Conservation Department
As you may recall, Land and Water Conservation staff have been presenting in numerous classrooms in Wood and Portage Counties on prairies and pollinators since 2016.
This is a cooperative effort between the Farmers of Mill Creek Watershed, the County Land and Water Conservation Departments, and the Friends of Mill Creek Watershed to promote agricultural education. With the help of both Mill Creek groups, Land and Water staff developed a program educating students on how Mill Creek farmers incorporate conservation into their farm operations. This program allows county staff to talk about the different crops, and the soils they are planted in, how they are pollinated, and the benefits of different grassland habitats found throughout the watershed. It also allows each student to get their hands in the soil and plant either some native prairie seed or a started prairie plant.
The Prairies and Pollinators program has really grown in the past two years and now the farmers are making good on a pledge many of them made in 2018, when the number of schools participating seemed to plateau. At that time, there were four schools involved and some of the farmers thought that a “Pollinator Pledge” would help get more schools involved. So, they agreed that for each new class that takes part in the program, a farmer in the Mill Creek Watershed would plant some pollinator habitat.
Area farmers felt they had some marginal areas that, more often than not over the last few years, had been left fallow. Many of these fallow areas become home to hard to control invasive weeds. The farmers knew, with all the rain the last few years, it didn’t pay to keep trying to grow an unproductive crop when they could plant different wild flowers, some of which could be brought home, put a smile on the face of the Mrs. and make the dinner table look nice. But, the main reason for the pledge and planting pollinator habitats, is to encourage more schools to get involved in the Prairies and Pollinators program provided by the Land and Water Departments.
These areas will also be part of the seasonal tours put on by the farmers. They have hosted numerous events and tours, generally covering the benefits of cover crops. Now, each of these pollinator habitat areas will serve as demonstration sites and be promoted as part of the tours. With the increased interest of area high schools in these hands on, in field tours, the areas will provide another great opportunity to broaden the educational experience.
This spring and summer, farmers will be making good on their pledge by planting pollinator areas. So, this summer when you are out and about the Mill Creek country side, look for one of the farmer led signs promoting one of the newly planted pollinator habitat areas. You can also discuss with your children whether their class is involved, or what they know about pollinators. Better yet, encourage their school to get involved.
That way more areas will continue to be “pledged.” Remember, for each new class involved, another pollinator habitat area gets planted for future generations of students and pollinators to use.
How can I get involved? Just like with all the other tours and work the Friends and Farmers of Mill Creek groups do, your participation is encouraged. This is a community wide project which all Mill Creek landowners are a part of. So, if you have land or an area on your property that you would like to use as part of this pollinator pledge, please call either the Portage or Wood County Land and Water Conservation Department. They will work with you to find the types of plants suitable for your site and then coordinate with the Farmer Led group to get the site prepared and planted.
Land & Water Conservation Offices: Portage County, 715-346-1334, and Wood County, 715-421-8475.