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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

Shrimp AND Chili AND Great Farmers AND Great Speakers!

“Thank you for those inspiring speakers and the delicious food you shared at dinner last night!”  That was an email from a participant at Uplands Watershed Group’s 4th annual Conservation Celebration Dinner, again held at Folklore Village, near Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  The theme of this year’s gathering was “Water, Water Everywhere: Climate Resilient Farming.”  The evening of November 21 was blustery, but it found MFAI’s Associate Director Donale Richards grilling Gulf shrimp that he had jerked for the occasion.  In addition to his MFAI work, Donale has a side business catering jerked meats, and we were lucky to have him bring his talents to our plates.

Over 90 people gathered to talk with Uplands farmers and celebrate their commitment to soil health, soil conservation, water quality, and water infiltration.  But it was a hard year for farmers, with spring rains and cold weather delaying planting and late season rains impeding harvesting.  Even the Uplands late June field day on small grains was interrupted by torrents and high winds.   Given the challenges, the group decided to focus this year’s dinner not on Midwestern farmers’ impacts on the Gulf of Mexico but instead on conditions locally.

Attendees feasted on appetizers from Enos Farm, Cates Family Farm, and Uplands Cheese, Gulf shrimp from our Louisiana fisherman friend, Lance Nacio, both vegetarian chili and chili made with grassfed beef donated by farmer Gene Schriefer, cornbread made by Cari and Cliff Gonyers with grain from Meadowlarks farm, kale salad made from local veggies by Halee Wepking, and desserts from Enos farms, again with Meadowlarks grain.

As we ate, Iowa County Extension Agriculture Agent Gene Schriefer discussed the importance of soil health and our farmers’ conservation practices on water infiltration and therefore on reducing flooding, water-torn roads, bridges, and culverts.   UW-Madison Agronomy Professor Randy Jackson described the importance of perennial crops such as grass-based agriculture to maintain and restore water quality and water infiltration in the face of climate change and trends of extreme weather. Donale Richards shared a quick preview the Watershed Group’s Virtual Conservation Road Trip (see other Fields Report article above), and farmer John Wepking talked about the value of growing small grains like oats, rye, and wheat in their farm’s crop rotation and their efforts to create new markets to sell them.

The evening ended with MFAI’s Policy Director Margaret Krome’s thanking all who withstood the weather to join the dinner.  “It’s been a hard year for farmers across the state, but we’re glad to come together and celebrate Uplands farmers’ commitment to conservation and resilience,” she said.  Despite full bellies, the crowd jumped to their feet in a standing ovation for Uplands farmers’ hard work and dedication.

*The Wepking farm was featured by Agri-View reporter Lynn Grooms, who attended the dinner and wrote an article about it, published last week.