Thirty years ago, on the ride home from middle school track practice, my friends and I lamented the state of trash alongside our country roads. In that 20-minute drive, we created a plan to clean up our piece of the planet. We delivered hand-drawn flyers to every house in town announcing: "Earth Operation." It was our first community cleanup, and we scheduled it for Earth Day, April 22.
That day, small groups of local volunteers fanned out across town and then, out a mile in all directions, filled bags with trash. We collected aluminum cans, took them to the recycling center and earned enough money to purchase two trees to plant in the churchyard.
Earth Operation had a five-year run in our small town.
This year, Earth Day turns 50 amid intense discussions about agriculture and the environment, driven often by the need to prove sustainability or lack thereof.
Although sustainability is the buzz word du jour, I am happy my grandfather looked farther ahead. According to Webster, to sustain is to maintain. If my grandfather had stuck with status quo practices, my family wouldn't be farming today.
As we end one harvest and prepare for the next spring, our family always asks, "How do we keep improving?" Some years, the answer has been big: building a machine shed or putting up a grain bin. Some years, the answer is harder to see: focusing on soil fertility, monitoring soil moisture and investing in new software that promises more data that equals better efficiencies.
These conversations remind me of those my friends and I shared as we enthusiastically planned our Earth Operation so long ago. What I realize now is farmers were sustainable before it was cool.
So this Earth Day, I challenge you to share your enthusiasm for your own Earth Operation: your farm. As farmers, we live and die by our ability to manage the natural resources put in our care, and that is a good story to share.
Katie Pratt picks up trash along roadways and writes, tweets, farms and "likes" agriculture from north-central Illinois. Find her blog at the illinoisfarmgirl.com, and follow her on Twitter @KatiePratt4.
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