Last week we posted about breaking news in the pinelands to potato lands struggle central Minnesota in After MN DNR requires EAW for Offutt potato field expansion, toxic tater giant drops plans.
On Saturday, the Star Tribune's Josephine Marcotty filled in the story in Major grower backs away from contentious pine-to-potato expansion:
Minnesota’s largest potato producer is backing away from a controversial expansion just south of the Mississippi River headwaters after state regulators insisted on an environmental study of the potential contamination of groundwater.
For local citizens, who for years have been urging the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to consider the wider impact of expanding row crops and irrigation in a region prized for its forests and clean lakes, it’s a small victory. For R.D. Offutt, a major supplier for McDonald’s French fries, the decision seems to be targeted regulation that will force it to take its business out of state, according to an angry letter the company sent the DNR.
The problem has continued to grow. Since 2015, the DNR has issued a total of 25 new high-capacity well permits — including five to R.D. Offutt — and renewed existing ones. And since 2005, the amount of groundwater withdrawn from the Pineland Sands region has doubled, reaching 10.7 billion gallons annually in 2017.
And local residents were still worried. For Mike Tauber, who lives in Backus with his wife and two sons, the breaking point came when he came home and couldn’t see his house because of what he thought was smoke from a forest fire. After he realized it was dirt blowing in the air, he and his wife drove around to find the source — a newly plowed field that used to be a pine forest.
“I always thought our problem would be forest fires,” he said “But it was a dirt storm.”
After that, Tauber began working on another petition, with the help of the grass-roots advocacy group that filed the first one, asking the state to conduct an environmental review. He stayed up late nights writing it, learning the regulatory process and the history of previous efforts. Then he and his wife went door to door asking people sign it. Of the 120 or so people they asked, only three declined.
“There are so many people mad about this issue,” he said. “You can’t feed the world while you’re poisoning your neighbor,” he said.
He ended the 129-page petition by asking, “Do you want to be able to drink water without treating it, go outside without thinking about chemical exposure? Do you want to hunt, fish, and gather, swim in lake, pond or stream?”
He sent it in May. . . .
Last week the DNR informed R.D. Offutt that it would look at the cumulative impact of its pending permit requests on nitrate contamination of the aquifer. That was a far smaller environmental review than Tauber asked for, but it was too much for the company...
Read the rest at the Star Tribune.
The local resistance to industrial agriculture over any other concerns reminds us of a couple of other tales we've been covering. There's a similar story down in Fillmore County where local rural residents are organizing to stop a huge factory farm in Fillmore County's karst country. We've chronicled this tale in posts like Packed house at Newburg Township on using local control to protect community, karst and All citizens are equal, but one thinks he's more equal: massive hog farm shareholder seeks to prevent August 2 Newburgh Township meeting.
And there's the tale of the appeals court upholding Winona County's frac sand ordinance, hard fought and secured by grassroots organizing in the Greater Minnesota county on the Wisconsin border; our most recent posts on this issue are Victory for local control: Minnesota Court of Appeals upholds Winona Co frac sand ordinance and Land Stewardship Project statement on appellate court upholding Winona County frac sand ban.
And yet what will we hear at Farmfest political debates this coming week? It's likely to be pandering remarks about how rural Minnesotans don't like environmental regulation of farming, with a few fawning nods to mining on the Range and Northern Minnesota.
And yet, when rural Minnesotans organize for clean water and healthy landscapes, that pandering seems less an embrace of Greater Minnesota than a betrayal of their values.
Photo: New potatoes from our garden. The straw mulch worked to deter potato bugs, while encouraging insect helpers without the use of expensive ag chemicals.
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