Todd and Ann Lemke have been named Outstanding Conservationists for 2015 by the Meeker County Soil and Water Conservation District. They were honored at a December 8 luncheon at the annual convention of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Bloomington, Minnesota.
When the Lemkes first purchased their small farm in northeastern Meeker County, rain run off was causing deep ruts and ravines in the fields. The Lemkes began to investigate what could be done to improve the land and stop the loss of top soil. Buffer strips were added to reduce runoff from the farmland, and windbreaks stopped the fall and winter winds from blowing away the exposed topsoil. Twenty acres of the most eroded part of the field were planted into native prairie grasses and wild flowers.
The Lemkes created wildlife runways of oak and spruce trees. They seeded five acres of trees in a riparian buffer. Working one fall, they collected 60 bushels of black walnuts and acorns, and pails of elm, ash and maple seeds. Using a fertilizer spreader, they broadcast the dried seeds over the field and tilled them in. Ten years later twelve-foot ash and oaks trees and other species now create a woods protecting the heavy clay soil from further wash out.
The Lemkes use their animals to improve the land. Goats were brought in to eat buckthorn, clearing out an acre plot the first year. Pigs helped root the buckthorn out of the soil and prevent new trees from starting. They found that beef cattle had a taste for buckthorn. Larger buckthorn trees were cut down for the cattle to eat the leaves, and the cattle stripped the leaves and top branches off the smaller trees without assistance.
Todd and Ann worked with NRCS staff to create a pasture plan for all but eight of their remaining tilled acres. The seven-year plan, when fully implemented, will provide rotational grazing for the herd of cows and the sheep flock.
Besides the woods and farmland, Ann has worked hard to find other ways to conserve and reduce their impact on the land. The couple put in a 10 KW wind turbine and solar panels which produces about 70 percent of their energy needs.
The latest addition to the Lemke farm has been honeybees. Todd planted strips of clover in the wildlife runways as additional food for the bees as well as replanting a some of the 20-acre native grass area in more wildflower varieties. The hope is to not only provide a better home for their non-native bees but also make more food available for the area’s native pollinators.“Our goals are to improve the land we are responsible for, use the resources it has to offer, and produce great food for our family and friends,” says Ann Lemke. As an added benefit, the native grasses, pastures and windbreaks have brought more wildlife to the area providing better hunting and bird watching.