The Gulf Connection
Our Uplands Farmer group has had the privilege of building a relationship with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico to better understand how our farming practices here in Wisconsin affect the lives of many downstream.
Since 2016, our group has worked with fishermen from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi through the exchange of stories, information, and cultural exchanges to better understand their challenges so that we can better inform our work to protect the quality of our and our neighbor's water and soil.
Uplands farmers wanted to understand how their practices impact water quality and learn how to monitor streams themselves. When asked shortly after the formation of our group if we were interested in developing a relationship with Gulf of Mexico fishermen, we immediately agreed.
Water from Iowa County’s streams carrying agricultural run-off makes it way down the Mississippi River more and more each growing season. When nitrogen from Midwestern fields enters the Gulf of Mexico, it feeds algae blooms. As the algae die off, microbes break it down and consume oxygen so fast that fish, shrimp and other marine life suffocate, creating what is known as the Gulf "dead zone." Unfortunately, this zone grows larger each year, and as of 2018 has roughly reached the size of Connecticut, drastically affecting Gulf of Mexico fishermen's ability to harvest fresh, quality seafood.
As these issues of water quality in the Gulf and soil health in Iowa County persist, our group has worked diligently to adopt and promote best management practices here in Wisconsin and has hosted more than a dozen public educational events through trainings, dinners, field days, and farm tours.
The Farmer - Fisherman Relationship
In 2016, our Uplands group invited fishermen from Louisiana to share their experience first hand over a Cajun feast they prepared for us, and farm tour the following day. After stories were told, gifts were exchanged, and shrimp étouffée was devoured, the fishermen left Wisconsin with many new friends and advocates to their struggle. “The people I met with and talked to in Wisconsin, as much as they’re concerned about their farming and what’s going on here, I see that they really are concerned about what goes on in our area, too,” noted Louisiana dock owner Roxanne Sevin.
Six months later, 12 Wisconsin farmers, family, friends, and reporters accepted an invitation for a mid-March trip to Louisiana’s bayou country. Cajun hospitality included fabulous food, trawling for shrimp in the Gulf, a tour of a shrimp processing plant, discussions with Gulf scientists, and a stay in Sevin’s second home next to the Gulf itself. Michael Dolan explained the trip’s impact: “The nutrients running off our fields are contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. I feel more of a connection to the people down here, and I really don’t want to negatively impact their lives.” In November 2017, Uplands farmers hosted a second visit from Gulf fishermen, this time from Mississippi and Alabama, as well as Louisiana. Mississippi fisherman Ryan Bradley described the trip: “It is important for fishermen, farmers, and resource managers to meet face to face to discuss these issues so that we can humanize the problem and connect it to those whose livelihoods depend on one another. It’s very encouraging to see that Wisconsin farmers are enthusiastic about sustainable farming practices.”
Since then we've hosted more events here in Wisconsin with our fishermen friends, have helped open markets in the north for their sustainably harvested seafood, and have traveled down to Mississippi to explore the impact of ever increasing floodwater entering the Mississippi river system via the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Seeing how the Spillway diverts floodwater into Lake Pontchartrain (which feeds into the Gulf) and observing how it kills natural oyster beds further increased our consciousness of the importance of increasing water infiltration in soils on our farms to reduce the quantity, as well as the quality, of water traveling down the Mississippi. Throughout this process, our two groups have become close, helping house and feed each other, hunting here in Wisconsin and fishing down in the Gulf. We are incredibly grateful for our relationship and are continuing to work together to understand the impact of our farming practices outside of Wisconsin, as well as the necessary interdependency of our collective work.
View pictures of our 2017 trip to the Bayou below!
Check out Wisconsin Foodie's Episode featuring our farmer-fisherman group!