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The AGgregator

From the Field: Land Conservation Moving Forward

Jill Giacomini Basch is co-owner and chief marketing officer of Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. On the family dairy, north of San Francisco, Jill and her father and sisters produce award-winning cheeses and operate The Fork, a culinary and educational center. The Giacomini family practices sustainability with a focus on water conservation and land stewardship. Connect with Point Reyes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Earlier this year, my sister Lynn and I had the privilege of attending a phenomenal communications workshop in Washington D.C. hosted by Farm Credit, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Sand County Foundation (SCF), sponsor of the nationally-recognized Leopold Conservation Award (LCA). As a 2013 recipient of the LCA, which recognizes private landowners for excellence in environmental stewardship and conservation on agricultural land, we along with other past awardees, were given a valuable educational experience that will provide long term benefits for our families, our communities and the environment. You see, the workshop provided us with tools necessary to become true ambassadors of the working lands conservation message, whether our audience is fellow landowners, policy makers or the general public.

As if the training itself wasn’t benefit enough, following the workshop we went to the offices of the USDA, to promote our land conservation message to Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills. Our conversation with the Under Secretary focused on the importance of land stewardship and specifically, the need for Federal partnership and investment in conservation practices on our farm and ranch lands. USDA support not only protects our nation’s agriculture, water, air and wildlife – it also makes economic sense.

To underscore our point I was asked to detail how conservation improves the way we, as private landowner-farmers, run our businesses. Partnerships with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and others have helped us protect our land and water resources, and in our case, ensure that our 3rd generation family dairy farm and artisan cheese creamery will be prosperous for the next generation. “We have very close ties with NRCS and other state and regional organizations,” I explained. “They have helped us with water storage and allocation — above ground pond facilities and spring-well drilling. Additionally, with the receipt of USDA grant funds we adopted new technology to install a methane digester that ultimately mitigates waste run off into nearby Tomales Bay and the greater Point Reyes National Seashore. Because of this partnership and financial support, we now generate about 65 percent of our on-farm energy supply.” I stressed how much these actions make both environmental and economic sense.

Later that day a small group of us was honored with an invitation to sit down with USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. The dialogue centered on Ms. Harden’s personal mission of bringing up the nation’s next generation of farmers, particularly young women. We all agreed that there is a new energy in America around opportunities in agriculture. She explained that the new Farm Bill (The Agricultural Act of 2014, passed the very day we were meeting with the USDA and announced to us by Ms. Harden as she walked into our meeting room) will provide our communities with additional support to attract new economic opportunity and create jobs. We highlighted that best conservation practices ensure viable and sustainable agriculture, which is obviously necessary for a new crop of farmers to see positive opportunity in ag-related careers. Ms. Harden stressed that outreach and education is crucial and we were assured the USDA will continue to work with LCA recipients and other partners to make that happen.

In total, the two days were both insightful and impactful. We without-a-doubt increased government awareness for responsible land conservation and ensured the commitment of current legislators to support the cause. For the participants, we returned home better equipped to advance the use of ethical and scientifically-sound land management practices and partnerships for the benefit of our businesses, our communities and the environment.