Monday, June 13, 2011

River Revival--Working Together to Save the Minnesota River

Attended a "watch party" last night for a video documentary I had more than a little to do with creating.  It concerns the efforts that are being made to clean up the Minnesota River.  A good time was had by all.  Turns out the kind of people who take it upon themselves to establish wildlife preserves come with all sorts manifestations of Minnesota Nice as standard equipment.  So a BIG effort was rewarded with a lot of appreciation.  Everyone needs to feel appreciated and this is especially true for someone like me who writes about the various highly depressing economic and environmental catastrophes afflicting our planet.

The Minnesota River is sort of the red-headed step child of the state's waterways.  It is not the legendary monster that dominated the economic development of the state.  That would be the Mississippi.  It is not a scenic river crashing through primal wilderness.  That could be any number of rivers from the Rainey on the Canadian border to the Root in the southeast.  The Minnesota is not a scenic river by any means--in fact, it is pretty difficult to even see from ground level.

The Minnesota is an unpretentious stream that wanders through some of the world's most productive agricultural land.  And not surprisingly, most of the problems facing the river are directly related to the ongoing need to feed a hungry world such as soil erosion and the run-off of the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used to power the high yields of modern agriculture.

My role in the making of this documentary was pretty minor--a least time-wise. I was listed in the credits as a technical advisor which mostly meant that I helped the videographer / editor navigate the transition to high-definition production without spending a ton of money.  But since this production was small, we all had to wear multiple hats so I also wore one that might have been called "spiritual guru."

I grew up near the edge of the Minnesota River watershed.  My father was a preacher but since virtually all the members of his church were farmers, I developed a sympathetic concern for the problems of the people of the land.  This experience was so deeply ingrained in me that when it came time to write the first sentence of Elegant Technology I wrote, "In the beginning, there was agriculture."  It is a sentiment I agree with from my bone marrow outward.

So when I was asked for input into the making of River Revival my suggestions centered on how farmers and their problems should be treated.  I pointed out that:
  • Farmers on the northern prairies are a lot of things but "ignorant peasants" is not one of them.  The ignorant peasants were driven off the land a long time ago and those who remain are some of the most creative problem-solvers around.
  • The people who will ultimately solve the pollution problems of the Minnesota already live on the farms and small towns out on the prairie.  Outsiders cannot fix these problems--they can only annoy the folks who can.
  • Any suggestions that farming is a practice that can be eliminated or even curtailed is simply not appropriate for this area of agricultural production--it is MUCH too important to the global food supply.
The videographer of River Revival found some of these clever, caring, problem-solving farmers to feature in his discussion of agriculture's contribution to the pollution of the Minnesota.  They were great--right out of central casting.  I was pleased but more importantly, during the Q & A after the doc had been shown one big guy piped up and said, "I am a farmer and documentaries like this usually portray us as the bad guys.  So I was especially happy this documentary showed how hard we work to do the right thing by the land and the river that runs through it."


River Revival will be on YouTube probably this week.  In the meantime, this is some video I shot of the harvest not far from where I spent my childhood.  As you can see, I am NOT the professional documentary maker even though I do know how the equipment works.

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