Marigolds & Responsibilities
By John Gilbert
Being a land owner or operator comes with responsibilities. That’s nothing new.
The public also bears responsibilities that are often not as well understood. It was the combination of these responsibilities that led us to host a gathering Saturday, April 18th to let the public explore the farm’s prairie marsh remnant. In 2011 we had contractors remove silt to re-create a shallow water wetland adjacent to the marsh remnant. When the Marsh Marigolds are blooming — like they were Saturday — the waterfowl use the wetland, the frogs are singing and the dragonflies are mating, and it’s easy to understand why we value this small area of the Southfork Valley (a tributary of the Iowa River).
The gathering was organized by the Iowa Farmers Union as part of its 100th year observance. The organization is featuring the contributions of family farmers, which prompted my examination of responsibilities.
As landowners we are entrusted with caring for a public resource (if you don’t think property is public, try not paying the property taxes). In return we have the opportunity to benefit from its production. There is an old saying we all need to remember: “We don’t inherit property from our ancestors…we’re borrowing it from our descendents.” The soil we have must last humanity for however long forever turns out to be. This knowledge should make our responsibility to use and care for land self-evident.
It was once a prevalent philosophy that every farmer was intent on leaving their land better than they received it. The shift to more rented land is endangering that philosophy. Our decisions to install waterways, grassed headlands and buffer strips, as well as the wetland are part of our efforts to meet this responsibility.
Our trusteeship of this unique area includes creating opportunities for the public to experience it. The flip side of the coin is the public’s. Property taxes to maintain local services, plus tax dollars to finance subsidies fall under the public’s responsibility. But the public also has an obligation to be a guardian of how land is used, setting policies and expecting all public resources to be used carefully. This part is difficult to complete under current policies, but still is critical.
Also, the public bears some responsibility to know what is happening in their neighborhood by participating in water quality testing, using public parks and using opportunities to see what is generally not open. It is gratifying to have the ability to host the public, and rewarding to realize our efforts are creating public benefit. For everyone preparing for field days, thank you for all your efforts. As much as it may not seem like it, your efforts create public benefit.
(Our gathering benefited from the expertise of naturalist Wes Wiese, Hardin County Conservation Board, and forester Luke Gran, Prudenterra, Nevada. Other partnering groups were the Southfork Watershed Alliance, PFI, Hardin County Conservation Board and the Hardin County Soil and Water Conservation District and NRCS.)