I was driving past the farm in Chazy thinking about a friend who passed away. The sunny skies had turned to rain, while I was on my way to his funeral service. It’s not where I wanted to be, but where I had to be. No one wants to attend a friend’s funeral. My respect for the man would not let me stay home.
It was about 8 years ago; maybe more, maybe less. It really doesn’t matter. Part of my conservation job at the time was to walk the farm to check for any hazardous products on site that needed to be discarded properly before an easement went through.
On this farm I had about a mile of stream bank to walk and I needed to do both sides of the river; half a day’s cruise through brush, vines and tangles along the river. I looked forward to being outside.
I have walked a hundred farms in my day and have seen the usual junk piles along stream banks. Plastic jugs, old cars, hay wagons and the usual collection of “I can’t get rid of that” steel collections on stone walls that every farmer has. “It may be useful someday” is what is usually said.
This farm was different though. After walking a stretch of river, I found nothing, no junk, wasted wagons or tires to show the presence of humans. What I did find was a river that was a stream walker’s heaven. Between those tree lined shores, I found a wildlife sanctuary that was unbelievable. There were wood ducks, mallards and other birds. Fish, frogs and many other forms of wildlife all lived within or near the waters. Grassy lined banks in some areas, along with Black Willows, Red Maple and other riparian trees and shrubs held the banks together. Clear water was feeding Lake Champlain.
After walking back to the farm headquarters, my report to the farmer was short with cleanup items, but long on praise for what he and the family were doing. What I thought I would find versus what I did was a grand surprise. The human past was not there to haunt anyone.
I left the farm and drove east toward the four corners, on the knoll by the tiny cemetery. I love that spot, it reminds me of Illinois or some mid-western state that is big on farm fields. As I looked back towards the farm I was proud to know that I knew that farmer, and prouder still of how he took care of that farm. Dutch has done a great job!
Yesterday evening before sundown, I was walking down the road. I live just down the road from a small family farm and I enjoy walking past it every now and then, just to get farms back into my life.
This working farm has a stream running through it and it is absolutely beautiful. There are no cows in the stream; the banks are growing up with willow, alders and grasses. The floodplain is connected to the stream. The land floods the way it’s supposed to and gently recedes back to the channel with no damage. I know there are trout in the stream. I need to ask permission to try a fly or two in some of those runs, pools and glides that flow through the old pasture land. The stream bends and meanders through the property and adds a value that most people don’t see. They just drive by.
I see its value. It’s a haven for trout, woodcock, turkeys and grassland birds. I know the kids on the farm enjoy it too. I have heard rumors that they know where every trout lies in waiting, for a worm or buggy meal. Downstream in the boulder section, I saw stoneflies hatching out last year, a sign of clean water running through this farm, feeding the lake. Tom, Belinda and their sons deserve a thank you from all of us streamwalkers.
Here are two farms that have beautiful streams connecting to Lake Champlain.
Farmers are often criticized for polluting the streams and lakes, but I have seen firsthand farmers who have achieved wonders on their farms by doing some simple things. Yes, there is a loss of farmland by doing the right thing. Having buffers along the stream uses potential crop land, but the added value to the farm, the wildlife ecology of the farm and just being conservation farmers are worth it in my book.
Streams need some nutrients. A fertile stream supplies the feed for invertebrates and they in turn feed the fish. Too much though can be a problem. We need to find that balance.
Farming is not an easy adventure in life. The roller coaster ride of farm economics stresses the best, but they never give up. New York farmers are doing great conservation work to help reduce and stop pollution.
Its farm families like these that make conservation farming a way of life. Thank You!
Dedicated to Marinus “Dutch” Rovers.
Rest in Peace my friend.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.