Grassland 2.0 is a social project involving grass, water, cows, and people. On a recent Saturday, a group of around 30 people gathered at the Pine River Legion to discuss agriculture and water. The meeting's goal was to bring together different sectors of the public to identify issues and opportunities for Grassland 2.0's Pine River Learning Hub. Grassland 2.0 is a collaborative group of farmers, researchers, and other community members who discuss the future of our rural landscapes and, together, take actions to shape them. Grassland 2.0 is an initiative of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is spreading across the upper Midwest. Folks at five Grassland 2.0’s “Learning Hubs,” including Pine River’s, come together to talk about what they envision in their own communities, and establish pathways to achieve that vision.
Some concerns expressed at the meeting included
the desire for more cooperation in the farm community
a desire to break down the “371 divide” and find common ground between agriculture and water quality advocates
greater support of producers, including addressing the region's lack of large animal veterinarians.
In the future the learning hub will be working to develop the pathways to address these concerns.
Grassland 2.0 is an initiative with a broad goal: to restore agricultural landscapes to the health and diversity of the original grasslands that once dominated much of our landscape. These original grasslands supported an abundance of wildlife, held water on the landscape, and kept it clean, and provided an abundance of meat to the original inhabitants.
Conservationist Ray Archuleta once said “Our lakes and rivers are full of nutrients and conservation dollars,” meaning that despite decades and billions of dollars invested in conservation, the majority of water bodies in agricultural dominated landscapes don’t meet water quality standards. His argument is that conservation practices won’t solve the issues we face in agriculture, that it will take changing hearts and minds.
Changing hearts and minds is what Grassland 2.0 is all about.
Ultimately Grassland 2.0 is a social experiment. The greatest challenge throughout the history of human societies is how to grow food without destroying the soil. Indigenous peoples of North America are perhaps the best example of a civilization that mastered this. They grew crops on the best land, but most of the landscape was managed using fire, and allowing the natural process of grazing ruminants to maintain rich and abundant grassland and savanna ecosystems that provided an abundance of edible fruits, nuts, and meat.
Grassland 2.0 doesn’t have clear and tangible goals and the benefits to producers are vague, leading to a lack of immediate buy-in. However, I believe the real strength of Grassland 2.0 is in educating non-farmers on the effort it takes to grow livestock in a manner that provides an environmental benefit instead of degrading our natural resources. Producer support requires a long-term effort, rebuilding local meat supply chains, encouraging farmer-to-farmer networking through field days and workshops, and working with resource professionals to provide technical and financial support for producers to adopt soil health building practices.
The Pine River Learning Hub planning committee will be meeting soon to discuss takeaways from the community meeting and solidifying pathways to achieve the community vision we heard. We will be hosting another event in the next few months to explore how changing management practices on farms and ranches will affect our community, both economically and ecologically. Watch for updates in the Happy Dancing Turtle e-newsletter or social media, or contact us to be put on the Grassland 2.0 email list.