Environmental Initiative - Home

Archive for ‘Agriculture & Environment’

Better Together for Bees

March 7th, 2016

On February 12, 2016, Environmental Initiative hosted a Pollinator Summit at the Wellstone Neighborhood House on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While we are still in the midst of digesting the massive amounts of input and information that came out of the summit, I want to reflect a bit on the experience and what it meant to live out Environmental Initiative’s values of “Open Exchange” and “Better Together” in the context of designing and organizing this event.pollinator summit participants

Research (and the headlines) reveal our pollinators are threatened. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators. Participants at the summit heard from experts about the many different stresses pollinators face – from pesticide use, to habitat loss, to parasites, and a changing climate.

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith set the stage for us at the beginning of the summit by channeling John Lennon and singing for us (!) a rallying cry “All we are saying, is give bees a chance!” And that was the goal of the summit — to gather real, meaningful ideas from the community that could be implemented by state government to support our wild and domesticated pollinators. The community grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Instead of the 100 or so attendees we initially planned for, we ended up with more than 200 registered participants!

DESIGNING FOR ENGAGEMENT

We had one of the most diverse communities gathered that I have seen in my time at Environmental Initiative. Farmers, lobbyists, hobby beekeepers, landscape architects, activists, academics, legislators, and local government all had a seat at the table. Environmental Initiative’s job was to make sure we designed and executed an event that gave every participant a voice.

So, that’s what we did. We designed a summit that forced participants to engage with others. We placed an emphasis on small group discussions and deliberately organized discussion groups to have a set of diverse stakeholders at each table. We also asked each group to report out up to three broadly supported ideas for action, which we then posted on the wall for all other groups to react to.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t disagreement. Of course there was. Not all of the ideas we generated at the summit will be able to be implemented, but some might. The point is we created a space where folks could talk with, rather than past, each other about all of the ways we could improve the outlook for our pollinators.

We’re in the process of reviewing all of the input generated at the summit and preparing a summary for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in this important conversation. Watch the blog and your email in the coming weeks for the summary of what we heard. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be reviewing all of the input from the summit to help inform their strategies for pollinator protection.

While it remains to be seen what ideas get adopted and put into practice, I walked out of the summit knowing that by living up to our values of “Better Together” and “Open Exchange”, my colleagues and I at Environmental Initiative did the best we could to give our insect pollinators a chance.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

In it for the Money or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Self-Interest

December 10th, 2015

I’ve been working at Environmental Initiative for about a year and a half now, and I’m still as much a believer in the values and philosophy of this organization as I was on my first day.

I continue to believe, reinforced by experience, that lasting solutions are collaborative, not divisive. At the same time, I also believe people and organizations are fundamentally driven by self-interest. Self-interest is often conflated with selfishness, and is frequently cited as a barrier to progress. That’s a dark view of things, and it ignores the strong Minnesota tradition of collaboration, respect for the opinions and needs of others, and a willingness to forgo short-term selfishness for long term common gain.

The savviest politicians and the most effective leaders understand that leadership is largely about gathering people around a shared vision and motivating them to support it. However, you don’t get very far by asking folks to act directly against their own self-interest, instead, you have to find a way to harness that self-interest in the pursuit of the greater good.GregThankYouBlog

Environmental Initiative, its members, board, sponsors, and staff embody this kind of leadership. In our Clean Air program, a wide variety of organizations from both the public and private sectors collaborate to create and fund projects that reduce criteria air pollutants in order to keep us in compliance with federal standards. The self- interest that drives this work is that many of these organizations would face complicated, expensive regulatory efforts if we exceed those standards. In exchange, Minnesotans enjoy cleaner, healthier air.

In the Field Stewards project, we’ve partnered with GNP Company, the largest poultry producer in the Upper Midwest, to create a market system that will connect farmers engaged in a high level of water quality protection with food companies that will financially reward their efforts.

Here again we are capturing the self-interest of actors and using it to benefit the common good. Farmers benefit by receiving a financial support that is not dependent on the vagaries of the commodities market, land rental rates, or weather. GNP and other companies benefit by aligning themselves with the changing tastes of the food consumer, who are demanding more sustainable products. The public benefits through the protection of our natural resources, better water quality in our lakes and rivers, and a more sustainable food system for the future.

So, “in it for the money” may not be such a bad thing, especially when there are leaders who can recognize and harness such self-interest for efforts that everyone can benefit from. I’m proud to work in an organization that recognizes this and works to bring self-interested actors together in the pursuit of a better Minnesota.

If you share my enthusiasm, join me in supporting the work of Environmental Initiative. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. We still have about $8,000 to raise to meet our goals. If you’ve already donated, thank you so much for investing in our approach to solving environmental problems.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Field Stewards project receives major U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant

September 25th, 2015

September 15, 2015: United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $243,933 over three years from the Conservation Innovation Grants program to Environmental Initiative and Conservation Marketplace Midwest (CMM) to support the Field Stewards project, an offset credit system for environmental protection on farmland in development by Environmental Initiative.

fieldstewards

“This year’s slate of projects is truly outstanding,” Vilsack said. “Our partner awardees are progressive and forward-thinking and looking to solve natural resource problems, and also engaging with underserved farmers and ranchers.”

The Field Stewards project will reward farmers for meeting a high level of environmental protection on their commodity crop (corn and soybean) fields. Food companies can purchase environmental credits generated by certified farmers, and use them to offset the environmental impact of a company’s supply chain. USDA grant funds will be shared among the project partners to develop the policy and administrative framework of the proposed Field Stewards market, recruit and enroll eligible farmers, and deploy and test the market system.

“The Field Stewards project is an unique approach to protecting natural resources in farm country,” said Mike Harley, Executive Director of Environmental Initiative. “With the help of this grant from the USDA and support from private business, Field Stewards will support leading producers who achieve a strong level of environmental protection in their farm operations.”

“As we work with producers to implement voluntary best management practices that protect and restore our natural resources, it is beneficial to have a program like Field Stewards that provides a financial incentive,” said Dennis Fuchs, Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District Administrator and CMM Board President. “It shows the producer that private industry is willing to support their extra efforts associated with implementing additional conservation practices.”

Other Field Stewards project funders include the McKnight Foundation and GNP Company.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded $20.5 million for 45 projects through Conservation Innovation Grants. More information about the grants can be found here.

If you would like more information about the Field Stewards program please contact Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program, at 612-334-3388 ext. 111.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Conservation and Environmental Protection on Minnesota’s Farms

August 27th, 2015

On August 12, I joined farm conservation professionals from across the country for a tour of farms in southeast Minnesota, organized by the (1).dsc_6573Conservation Technology Information Center. Any chance to get out in the field is great, and this tour in particular helped showcase what farmers, of all different types, are doing to help protect water quality, improve soil health, and ensure the continued economic integrity of their operations.

Our first stop was a vegetable farming cooperative in Hastings, MN that is run by the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). Specialty crops depend on pollinators for good yields. If a pollinator doesn’t get to that squash blossom, you aren’t getting any squash. HAFA is partnering with Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab to establish beehives onsite that can help pollinate the diverse vegetable crops HAFA is growing. The bees get access to food, and the farmers see healthier yields. A win-win. Plus, honey!

Our tour continued on to a VERY different operation. Where the HAFA farm was small and the crops diverse, Bruce Peterson’s farm was what you’d think of when you think of the contemporary corn farmer. From a small farm started in 1930, the Peterson operation has grown to 6,000 acres, 5,000 hogs a year, and 20 steers. This farm is about efficiency on a grand scale, using tools that farmers could only dream of just a decade ago. Working with precision farming experts from DuPont Pioneer, the Petersons are putting down fertilizer in the right place, at the right time, in the right amount to maximize crop yields while minimizing any lost nitrogen. Every pound of nitrogen that doesn’t get taken up by the plant has to go somewhere – into the ditch, the groundwater, or the air. That’s a financial loss too, since fertilizer costs money. So by using precision tools across the farm, the Petersons are saving money while protecting the environment. Another win-win. (more…)

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Pollinator Policy Forum: What’s the Buzz?

December 18th, 2014

If you have been paying attention to news channels for the past decade, you may have heard about the severe decline in honeybeesbee populations. Recently, these trends have gained the attention of many bee fans to collaborate for a solution. Governmental departments, academics at the University of Minnesota, and environmental organizations chose to focus on discussing creating habitats for Minnesota’s pollinators at Environmental Initiative’s recent policy forum. But what you might not see (as I didn’t) before attending the meeting was, “What do bees have to do with me individually?”

When I was a kid, honeybees were the source for sweet condiments on my chicken tenders after a hard day’s work at soccer practice. As it turns out, bees serve my zesty taste buds and nutrition more than I imagined. According to Marla Spivak, a leading bee researcher at the University of Minnesota, bees directly or indirectly provide for the bounties of our fruits and vegetables. Not only that, the ‘lil buggers pollinate about $15 billion worth of agricultural crops that sustain our nation’s appetite and economy.

(more…)

Tess Ergen

POSTED BY:

Student, University of Minnesota

Conservation in Minnesota: A Recent Visit with Chief David White

April 11th, 2012

Two weeks ago, Environmental Initiative had the opportunity to facilitate an intimate afternoon conversation with the Chief of the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), David White. He was in town for the Freshwater Society’s recent conference, “Precision Conservation: Technology Redefining Local Water Quality Practices.”

The meeting brought together representatives from Minnesota’s grassland conservation organizations for an informal discussion of the status and future of Minnesota conservation reserve programs (CRP). Grasslands are entering a period of significant transition, due in part to the high price of commodity crops and in part to upcoming changes in the conservation title of the new Farm Bill. Organizations working to conserve Minnesota’s grasslands engaged in a focused dialogue with Chief White and with each other to identify gaps, successes, and emerging opportunities in the current mosaic of programs addressing this important issue. Here’s a quick recap of some of what we discussed…

(more…)

Mark Lundgren

POSTED BY:

Director of Environmental Projects

Upcoming Event: Watershed Solutions Summit 2012

March 8th, 2012

A note from Environmental Initiative: Today we’re pleased to welcome Jill Crafton as the Initiative’s newest guest blogger, to provide a preview of the Watershed Solutions Summit 2012. Our staff are looking forward to attending the event next weekend, and getting a chance to discuss with stakeholders from all over the state how we can collaboratively develop solutions to improve Minnesota’s water quality. We hope to see some of our readers, partners, and friends there!

Please join us at the Watershed Solutions Summit 2012 as we learn about pressing threats and innovative water projects, and ask our presenters: how do we move from policy and planning to watershed solutions for water conservation, management, ground water, water quality, habitat and production?  From cities to farms – we all play a role in water quality outcomes.

(more…)

POSTED BY:

Executive Board Member and Great Lakes Committee Chair, Izaak Walton League

Minnesota Farm Bill Forum Recap

August 31st, 2011

Recently, our organization had the opportunity to attend a great event: the Minnesota Farm Bill Forum, put on by the Izaak Walton League of America, along with the Freshwater Society, Minnesota Farmers Union and National Wildlife Federation, focused on the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill that serves as the central agricultural policy tool in the United States.

The Forum had a diverse group of Minnesota agricultural stakeholders (including representatives from the offices of Representative Michele Bachmann, Representative Chip Cravaack, Senator Al Franken and Senator Amy Klobuchar), and presented an opportunity for Minnesotans to give public input on how the Farm Bill can best support our nation’s agricultural system.

(more…)

Mark Lundgren

POSTED BY:

Director of Environmental Projects

Environmental Initiative - Home