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Every year at Organic Valley, we highlight Earth Week, and our Human Resources department finds many ways to engage us in connecting with the planet.

One way to engage is the annual highway cleanup. It’s not difficult to find dozens of reasons to skip it every year, but this year, reasons sounded too shallow and I had to admit, it was my turn so I joined the crew to walk the two mile stretch of Highway 131 assigned to our cooperative.

Here in rural Wisconsin, we don’t have trash and recycling pick up but we have transfer centers where we bring our unwantables each Saturday. In other words, we haul our own garbage. While dealing with our own trash is not the most pleasant of tasks, cleaning up after others may be considered more unpleasant. And yet, what better way to remember our connection to the earth than with such a humbling activity.

And so, with day glow vest, gloves and trash bag, I dove into the task. Here is what I discovered. First, the number one item most recovered – you guessed it – is beer cans. Looks like Bud light is first, with Miller not too far behind. Almost no glass bottles and many of the cans were already crushed, as if being prepared for recycling. It is also clear that the public is drinking way too much Mountain Dew and eating way too many potato chips! There is the occasional road kill skeleton and lots of cigarette packages. Also, noted, more people chew tobacco than I thought, given the variety of chewing tobacco tins. Lots of junk food wrappers especially our favorite childhood candy bars like Snickers. I was surprised there wasn’t more Styrofoam. I did come across one of the new corn based Styrofoam containers that actually disintegrated when I picked it up, crumbling into tiny little pieces and disappearing into the earth.

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In our two hours allotted to the task, we picked up 35 full bags of trash and recyclables. While it really felt good to do this, I could not help but reflect on our fast-food society and all the ways it pollutes the earth, garbage along the road the least of it. I am reminded that most of this fast food is sweetened with high fruct0se corn syrup. Beyond the road, surrounding us are acres and acres of corn and corn and soy raised mostly for animal feed and ethanol; just eight percent is grown for sweetener. This year, the USDA has approved a new pesticide to be sprayed along with Roundup since glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) is now responsible for 22 new super weeds. So, now we have to up the dosage to control those nasty pests. This new pesticide cocktail contains the dreaded 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange used in Vietnam for chemical warfare, is genetically engineered to kill everything but the corn and soy. Like glyphosate, it will end up in our bodies, hair, and amniotic fluid and for many will cause reproduction problems and cancer.  If only we could clean that up as easily as picking up trash along the highway.

As I contemplate my connection to the earth and to others, I remind myself that there are solutions! Organic is a solution, celebrating Earth Day is a solution. Thanks to the vision of a former Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, we have a time and reason to honor and celebrate. Let us dine well today, feast on the beauty of spring, know we are part of a most miraculous web of life, and renew our activism and our commitment to work cooperatively together.

Happy Earth Day!