Guest Post: Marathon County Group Unites Community Around Conservation
River Alliance of Wisconsin is pleased to partner with Eau Pleine Partnership for Integrated Conservation (EPPIC) a Marathon County community partnership group focused on finding solutions to soil and water quality issues. Today, we’re glad to welcome them as guest authors on our blog. Here is a conversation between Jason Cavadini and Mike Tiboris. Jason is an agronomist, Assistant Superintendent at the UW’s Marshfield Agricultural Research Station (MARS), and a member of the EPPIC board. He and his family own Cavern Point Farm, a pastured beef farm in Central Wisconsin. Mike is the Director of the Clear Water Farms program at River Alliance.
MT: How would you describe EPPIC, is it primarily a farmer group?
JC: EPPIC’s main goal is to unify people around the conservation of the soil and water that we all depend on. It’s a partnership of stakeholders who are working together to build resilience into our natural resources, communities, and local economy. While agriculture is a prominent part of this in our area, we realized that, if we’re truly going to find solutions to soil and water quality issues, we needed to get the entire community involved. It’s not just farmers, it’s everyone. Soil and water quality affect everybody in some capacity, and the group reflects this.
So, EPPIC consists of stakeholders who represent a spectrum of interests, which includes farmers, farm groups, lake stewards, environmental organizations, state and county agencies, agronomists, equipment dealers, and others. Our mission statement is: “Integrating resilience into the natural resources, community, and economy of the Eau Pleine Watershed.”
MT: How did the group start?
Origins: In 2017, many of us felt that we were doing enough “novel” things in the area, and demonstrating enough novel practices at MARS (Marshfield Agricultural Research Station), and we wanted to share this with people beyond specialists at state agencies and researchers. So we decided to bring people together for an event we called “Common Ground.” The goal was to think of all the stakeholder groups around the issue of water quality and soil health, and rally them together. The understanding was that all these groups are out fighting the same fight independently, in their own ways. We wanted to create a platform for all of those groups to gather together around the same table.
That event was a huge success and led to the formation of EPPIC. The goal of EPPIC is sort of a continuation of the mission of the first Common Ground event but with every stakeholder group we are aware of in our region who has “stake in the game” when it comes to protecting our natural resources, and really our culture, in North Central WI.
MT: It’s a unique model, and there’s real power in that inclusivity. It not only identifies who has a stake, but gives these groups, which are all interested in slightly different aspects of water and soil protection, an opportunity to work cooperatively. So, what sorts of goals does EPPIC have for the future?
JC: The overarching goal is to be a community-led watershed group, not just a farmer-led group. We really take that seriously. Farming is a huge part of what we do, but we want to encourage everyone to understand their role. We want to get more people educated about water quality and soil health and to do outreach and collaboration that isn’t limited to farmer-focused events. That means bringing people to farms for demonstrations and outdoor classrooms and labs, holding community events that represent the entire spectrum of perspectives on soil and water conservation. And we want to create a governing structure for the group that can help create longer-term infrastructure for what we learn and do.
MT: What about the hurdles? EPPIC is located in one of the most highly impaired tributaries of the Wisconsin River, and most of the sources of that pollution are agricultural. How well received is EPPIC’s work?
JC: It is a major success that we even have a group like this. Our region has historically been characterized by old practices. Destructive farming practices are part of the culture here, and it feels like a personal offense to some people to hear that they aren’t doing the right thing for our land and water. They’re being asked to change how things have always been done. But we are seeing a change in thinking. It’s frustratingly slow, sometimes, but we have seen change.
It’s a big step to just get people to do the things we all know are a first step in the right direction, like cover cropping, and not routinely disturbing the soil through tillage, or other efforts to curb runoff. Still these are just the first rung in a ladder of change necessary to make the food system more resilient and sustainable. And it has to be adopted in a sustained way that can survive expected disruptions like more seasonal flooding, or even unexpected ones like a pandemic.
MT: What can we do as members of the general public, or consumers, to support EPPIC or other similar groups in our own parts of Wisconsin?
Well, first, it’s important to remember that it’s part of EPPIC’s mission be a community-minded organization that is thinking about more than just farm practices, but about how the communities around the farms and the consumers of their products are essential to conservation. Average people need to gain a stronger understanding of the complexity of our food system and its vulnerabilities. People don’t need to understand all the science behind conservation, necessarily, but they do need to know how difficult it is, what the consequences of change are, and how important it is to support good practices.
If we want to see change, we need to see wholesale change that includes changes in the public. We will only get wholesale change if consumers demand it and then support it. People’s interaction with their food has to go beyond the price they pay for it. Even if you’re not living in our community, you can help by managing your own property well, and voting for good environmental practices through your food choices.