Droughts. Floods. Hurricanes. Tornados. Mass extinctions. A glance at current headlines explains the urgency that so many of us feel about the devastating effects of ecological degradation, habitat loss, climate change, and other grave environmental problems. It’s easy to feel that we are the first to face such devastating impacts, the first to care in the face of overwhelming odds.

The fact is, however, that the conservation movement (which roughly speaking, seeks an imperfect balance between “human” and “natural” forces) is at least as old as the 1660s, and probably much older. In a nutshell, conservation proposes that humans (unlike, say, lemmings or armyworms) can make intelligent choices that mitigate the impacts of our own consumption on the habitats where we live. An armyworm follows a simple biological imperative: consume or die. We can choose a different course—a reasoned, scientifically based approach to sustain ourselves and our environment.

In a pasture, a crowd of students gathers around a leader who shows them a diagram.

Students learn about grazing during an Orleans County NRCD field day.

It’s worth noting that this concept has strong, established roots in American history—with proponents ranging from Teddy Roosevelt, to Richard Nixon, to Barack Obama. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but when you move beyond politics to basic common sense, conservation is the opposite of polarizing; it’s something virtually everyone can agree on.

Take, for instance, the work of the Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District. Established in 1946, the organization has spent the past seven decades quietly supporting landowners and farmers in its Vermont district to, step-by-step, improve the soil, air and water quality of the region.

The organization deploys a variety of methods to achieve its conservation mission, including educating landowners who aren’t participating in the program and children who will grow up to one day be responsible for a piece of the earth. One of their educational activities is hosting an annual field day that brings learning and advocacy to youngsters in the area.

Kids in a farm field with five gallon buckets have fun during a game at an event.

Orleans County NRCD AmeriCorps staff leading an agricultural production water relay.

In 2017, the field day took place on an organic dairy farm, where more than 100 third- and fourth-grade students explored subjects like soil and water health, pasture practices, and other organic farming techniques through hands-on learning stations.

Other projects are aimed at farmers and other landowners. The district provides financial support, for instance, to encourage practices that reduce the environmental impacts of farming and logging, and provides consulting services to individual landowners as well as municipalities.

Kids gather around the soil conservationist to learn about soil, and all are smiling.

Learning about soil textures from a Natural Resources Conservation Service soil conservationist.

This year, the group landed a $674,000 grant to provide farmers with on-farm technical assistance to help remove farm pollution from the regional watershed, which feeds into Lake Memphremagog. This body of water, which shares a shoreline with Canada, contains a phosphorous load that ranges up to 20 percent higher than the U.S. standard for clean water.

That’s bad news for the lake, since phosphorous can choke oxygen out of water, seriously depleting its livability for aquatic life. And since both fertilizer and manure contain phosphorous, helping farmers in the watershed around Lake Memphremagog manage these inputs will make a big difference. The organization will partner with area farmers to implement practices such as grazing programs and erosion control designed to limit runoff.

And that’s good news for the future.

Organic Valley is committed to promoting environmental sustainability and is proud to support the Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District in its work as good stewards of the land.