Restoration and degradation
As cars pull in full of people dressed in sensible shoes and long sleeves, the annual wildflower walk of the Harmony Garden Club is about to commence. A warm, sunny morning welcomes us as the first tinge of green is visible in the surrounding forests. Our hosts, members of the group, welcome us to their several-hundred acre property. Everyone is happy with anticipation of the spring ephemeral flowers we hope to find.
We set off along mowed paths through large expanses of restored prairie, still brown and crisp before the planned prairie burn to come. Our hosts tell of buying the land some 30 years ago, and the years they spent visiting to work on restoring its health. Many acres of giant red cedars and buckthorn were cleared, to be followed by regular removal of new appearances of the invasive species. Oaks and pines were planted in some areas, and native prairie species established in others.
Now they live in their newly built home on the land, and focus on establishing habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies, and fencing in space for a garden and orchard.
Meanwhile, our focus today is on the expansive woodland ahead, a vast sweep of hilltop and bluff overlooking the sparkling Root River and the bike trail beyond. Our eyes turn downward as we walk slowly along, searching for the tiny but spectacularly beautiful wildflowers at our feet.
Aptly named spring beauty sparkles with tiny pink flowers to welcome us into the forest. The late winter we had means that we are still seeing the earliest wildflowers of the year, a few weeks past their normal bloom time. Rue anemone, wood anemone and false rue anemone each show off their distinctive personalities.
Trout lily leaves poke up all around, and one or two show off examples of the perky white blooms to come. Meanwhile, colonies of shiny mayapples are showy even before the bloom appears.
Close to the ground is the wooly looking wild ginger, with its burgundy flower lying on the dirt, waiting for a passing beetle to come pollinate it.
We find all our early wildflower friends this year, and hope we each get a chance to stroll through a wild woods a bit later to greet the late-bloomers.
In contrast to this delightful encounter with lovingly restored lands, my mind is weighed down by a proposal I’ve just read about in the newspaper that has the potential to degrade the land and surrounding area. An out-of-state agribusiness called Catalpa, LLC wants to construct an enormous hog confinement operation of 4,980 sows about a mile southwest of Newburg. An 8.9 million gallon manure pit would sit under the barn. The land for the facility and many of the manure application areas are owned by Al Hein, according to the plat book. A total of 24 cropland fields are identified for manure application.
The proposer is listed as Brad Herman, and his address corresponds to Waukon Feed Ranch in Waukon, Iowa. This company’s website says they have a feed mill that sells feed for 120,000 pigs in northeast Iowa. They also do grain marketing, grain storage, LP delivery, have a gas station, construction crews, repair shop and agronomy department. They manage over 24,000 sows in three states. It is not clear who Catalpa, LLC is, or who would own the land, the facility, the pigs, or who will be ultimately responsible for manure application and the overall operation.
I am all too familiar with the results of huge hog operations. The smells, manure spills, health effects on neighbors and workers, and contamination of water from manure application occur frequently. In this karst area with shallow soils, sinkholes (one is 300 feet from the manure pit), and trout streams, our lands are most vulnerable. The likelihood of ideal manure application and incorporation conditions is small.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency drafted an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) found by searching for “MPCA Catalpa.” Comments will be accepted through May 30, 2018.
Sautéed Bacon and Greens
Fry a quarter pound of bacon, remove and drain bacon, but keep most of the grease.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan and fry a chopped onion and a chopped carrot until soft. Add 3 cups of corn, 1/2 cup diced green pepper and cook until hot. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, plus salt and pepper to taste.
Crumble and return bacon to pan. Add 4-6 cups shredded greens (spinach, kale, etc.) and stir until wilted, about a minute.