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Climate Smart Field Notes: June 2024

Erin Lenninger is a Conservation Coordinator with Wisconsin Farmers Union and is working on the new project, Farm Climate Smart WI. She engages with small and underserved producers in Northeast Wisconsin to connect them with conservation resources.

Two women sit next to each other and smile. The woman on the right has dark skin and has glasses on her head. The woman on the left has light skin and wavy hair.

I often tell people my title may not accurately reflect the work I do. I wish I was bringing deep conservation expertise to every interaction. But I’m not. What I am bringing is passion for what conservation practice does for Mother Earth, authentic interest in the operations and lives of farmers, and a human-centered approach to solving problems.

We have the most amazing agricultural community in this state, however, most producers I speak to have real challenges and needs. As programs and assistance roll out, there can often be barriers or pains engaging in the process. The connection to resources is not always smooth, or accessible for everyone.

An orchard with white blossoms. White barn roofs are visible in the distance. The sky is overcast and misty.

Historically, many populations have been overlooked by conservation assistance programs and Farm Climate Smart WI is hoping to make meaningful change in that area. My role is to purposefully get out and walk the fields, sit at the table, listen to the stories, and better understand the experience and needs of our farm families. What are some of their concerns? Soil erosion through wind and water, desire for increased biodiversity, help with writing grants, desire for additional windbreaks, tree plantings and pollinator habitat, protection from drift from adjacent fields, lack of local knowledge to implement conservation practices on small scales, county and city regulations impacting land use, fewer incentives for long term conservation practice, the need for robust and consistent sales opportunities, and so much more. But the long and short of it is that our farmers want to be resilient.

A woman wearing overalls stands in front of a herd of goats. There is a building in the background.

I love my job. I have listened to farmers tell me about grass (and when it is okay to start

grazing), how they catch rainwater (and make their own soil amendments), why they park outside (the chickens need the garage!), the history and relationships tied to the land (good and bad), and how elders help teach the youngest generation (and the importance of traditional foods). So far I have assisted with accessing equipment, the grant-writing processes, social and mentor connections, and hope to facilitate many more resources and relationships in the future.

I have been stuck in the mud (literally!), soaked in rain, walked endless miles, enjoyed tea and muffins, chased cows back into pasture, and done many tick checks so far! I marvel at the beauty of these spaces, the care and devotion of these stewards, and the exciting future visions they share.


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