Cannon River Watershed Festival

Saturday I visited the Cannon River Watershed Partnership’s Cannon River Festival, on Bridge Square in Northfield.

Environmentally conscious folks met to share information on everything from clean water, organic farming, septic tanks, watersheds, pasture fed dairy cows, sustainable farming, food co-ops, and wind energy. All are working to lessen negative environmental impacts and make modern life sustainable.

Dawn Brossard, her husband Phil, and their family rent and operate a rotational grazing dairy farm called Big Woods Dairy in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, which is an interesting experiment in family farming and a good example of public and private partnership. Big Woods Farm and Valley Creek Community Farm both had booths explaining their efforts to bring produce straight from local farms to your kitchen. This is a way of using farm land for local food production and local consumption that is different than the corn and soy production for big agribusiness, in essence “distributed farming,” growing food near where it is needed.

CRWP had a raffle for a canoe and and other groups had displays and information on improving water quality and life in general. RENew Northfield had several members ready to talk about community wind energy projects as well as their bio-diesel fuel project with the Minnesota Soybean Growers and the Cannon Valley Coop. A St. Olaf student group explained their initiatives in grassroots activism, working with many in the Northfield Spanish- speaking community. They offer community events and English language assistance. A couple of the students we’ve worked with at the ALC whom I know have really benefitted from their efforts.

I picked up some great maps for hiking and exploring the wilderness area in Rice County and bought a chance for that beautiful canoe. It was a beautiful summer day, though most admitted we could use a little rain (and we got rain later in the day). I learned a lot and enjoyed mixing with many of Northfield’s environmental activists.

The gathering gave me the chance to talk with Don Arnosti of Minnesota Environmental Partnership about his idea to tax producers for the pollutants in the products they produce. The tax idea is a way to hold pollutors accountable or direct them towards other nonpolluting options. Ray Cox spoke about his phosphorus bills, H.F. 257 and H.F. 1401, which set strict limits on phosphorus levels in common household products, but the bills could not even get a hearing in the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy, of which he is Vice Chair.

I also spoke with former State Senator Steve Morse, now with the University of Minnesota, about the turns of energy policy in the last legislative session. He expressed frustration with the outcome of the nuclear energy debate and our continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy production. In particular, I asked him about plans for the proposed Mesaba coal gasification power plant approved by the legislature for Northern Minnesota. First introduced as H.F. 964, which Ray Cox co-authored, the power plant may bring some jobs to a depressed area, but it will bring far fewer jobs than was touted. On the other hand, it will increase the amount of carbon, mercury, and other emmissions it will spew into the atmosphere – power plants are the leading source of mercury in our waters, so much mercury that only small fish should be consumed and children and pregnant women should not eat the fish in Minnesota.

Thanks should go to the CRWP and their many supporters for organizing an event that makes us think about everyday changes we can make to improve life for future generations to come.

CRWP Board Chair George Kinney making the booth rounds at the Cannon River Festival, on Bridge Square in Northfield.

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