There is no doubt about it, it is Winter on the northern plains. A cold, clear morning on Thursday, February 12, Abe Lincoln’s birthday, was followed by snow in the afternoon, the snow providing the frozen ground with a blanket of protection from the brutal, bone-chilling conditions that followed. By the morning of Wednesday, February 18, the temperature was double digits below zero, and the “wind chill” was at 30 degrees below. The good news was that us Dakotans will have a couple of more weeks to toughen up before conditions improve. Two hundred years ago, the native Dakota people who were part of this land called this time of year the “starving time,” when most supplies put up the preceding Fall had been used upand when nothing moved on the prairie, except for the wind. One hundred 25 years ago, this was the time of year when our European immigrant ancestors, homesteading on the prairie, came the closest to losing their minds, and some of them did, in the dreary depression and numbing cold of February, when Autumn’s abundance and holiday cheer had been left far behind, and the hope of Spring was not yet visible. Today, though, there is no threat of starvation or depression, with Valentine’s Day dinners, Buffalo Suppers and Great Northern Pike Fish Fries to expand the waistline, winter fishing derbies to expand horizons and the hope of winter vacations in sunny, southern climes to brighten outlooks. As our Minnesota neighbor, the nasaly toned Bob Dylan, raspily droned half a century ago, “The times, they are a’changin!” and we can all be thankful for that.
Despite Winter vistas as far as the eye can see, there are some who see beyond the horizon to the coming Spring and are preparing for it. Those folks are called farmers, and one of the farmers from this community, Joe Breker, recently received a national award for his work in soil conservation, and in developing the skills, techniques and equipment that assist other farmers conserve the nation’s soil and water resources. A report on Joe’s award was recently posted on the Coteau des Prairies Lodge web site at cdplodge.com, and is reprinted here: “If you have stayed at the lodge, it is likely you have met Joe Breker. He is sorta like the lodge mascot. He dresses up like a farmer and provides entertainment by coming to the lodge in the morning to have coffee with our guests. Wait a minute, he actually is a farmer. He even has a farming code name, No Hoe Joe. He is a no-till farmer. Get it? No Hoe Joe? Joe takes his no-tilling seriously. After all, he has been at it for over 30 years! Joe no-tilled before no-tilling was cool. What is no-tilling, you say? We dare you to ask No Hoe Joe! But until then, we’ll give it to you in a nutshell. No-till farming is a conservation practice. By eliminating or drastically reducing the use of soil tillage, no-till farmers conserve moisture, reduce wind and water erosion and reduce compaction. No-tilling also improves soil biodiversity (microorganisms and worms) which leads to more organic matter and greater soil fertility. Joe recently attended the National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati, OH and received the Responsible Nutrient Management Practitioners Program Award along with two other farmers, one from Maryland and one from Pennsylvania. Read More