GRCA maps environmentally-friendly farms in Waterloo region

Farmers can get a bad rap when it comes to preserving the environment, but a new website hosted by the Grand Rivers Conservation Authority is promoting local farmers as conservation role models.

Stories from the Field website includes 29 stories of conservation on farms

Stories from the Field, a website, features 29 farmers and stories of how they are using their crops and land to improve the condition of the soil and water on their properties. (Submitted by Natalie Loo)

Farmers can get a bad rap when it comes to preserving the environment, but a new website hosted by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) is promoting local farmers as conservation role models.

Stories from the Field features 29 farmers and stories of how they are using their crops and land to improve the condition of the soil and water on their properties. 

"We've heard some really good things about that website," Sue Brocklebank, a conservation specialist with the GRCA, told CBC News. She works with farmers on conservation projects and helped compile stories for the website.

"I know it makes the landowners who are on it really proud to see their work showcased that way. It's almost a thank you. A way of us saying thank you to the work that they've done."

A screenshot of the map found at Stories from the Field, a new website hosted by the Grand River Conservation Authority. (Grand River Conservation Authority)

Farmers as environmentalists

While farmers often get blamed for everything from soil erosion to the decline of the honey bee, she said many are working hard to protect the land where they live and work.

"This is a business for them, but they want it to be a sustainable business. They want to be able to pass it down to the next generation," she said. "They do often want to do things that are obviously good for their operation, but also benefit the environment there as well. I think that can be surprising to some people." 

She hopes people outside the farming community will visit the website and learn something new about where their food comes from. She also hopes farmers will use the site as a source of new ideas. 

Over the past twenty years, the conservation authority has been helping farmers find ways to make their farms more ecologically sound by introducing things like winter ground cover and natural wind barriers. 

But Brocklebank says advice from another farmer is always easier to swallow than advice from outside the farming community, which is the whole idea behind the website.
The wild flower gardens on Angie Koch's farm north of St. Agatha are featured on the new website, as well as other farm projects that aim to improve soil and water quality. (Fertile Ground Farm/Facebook)

A resource for farmers

Farmers can go on the website, see what their neighbours are doing, and decide what projects might work on their own farms. 

Angie Koch was surprised to learn that her farm north of St. Agatha was featured. 

Koch, who farms garden vegetables, has been using narrow plots of wild flowers to attract pollinators to her fields. She has also participated in the conservation authority's water quality programs.

She said other farmers have shown a lot of interest in her methods over the years, but has mixed feelings about the new website.

"I'm not sure if the Grand River Conservation Authority site is something that farms visit regularly," she said, "but they should. There's great resources there."

She said it's encouraging to see the conservation authority thinking broadly about conservation and including farmers in the conversation.

 "I think GRCA has been ahead of some other conservation authorities in paying attention to that and not just looking at... things that are really localized to waterways, but looking more broadly at agricultural management practices as having a positive or negative impact on our ecosystem health," she said.