The term “leaving a legacy” has a variety of meanings and interpretations. Looking up the definition recently I was not prepared for the diversity of explanations: A gift by will, especially of money or personal property; something handed down from an ancestor; and the most surprising definition referenced surviving computer systems, hardware or software.
Now on the other hand … “ leaving a conservation legacy” has a significant meaning to those in the agricultural and natural resources field. In agriculture, farmers are dedicated stewards of the earth and take care of the land for the benefit of family and others.
Conservation partners across the nation have worked together for more than 75 years to balance productivity while protecting the land and the quality of life. While the techniques and technology has changed over these many years the obligation to future generations has not.
A legacy can also be a negative turn of events that initiate lessons learned. I refer specifically to the legacy of the dust bowl.
The Public Broadcasting Station documentary by Ken Burns titled “The Dust Bowl” chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history.
The PBS website introduction relates that the film depicts the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up.”
This is followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s that nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. The documentary includes vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times and the incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance.
It is a true story about our relationship to the land that sustains us.
An introduction to the documentary was shown during the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District’s recent annual meeting … their 70th anniversary.It was a time to reflect on the value of history and the lessons learned from it and to recognize those who have and are doing the right things on the land.
The meeting attendees commented on how little they really knew of the impacts of the dust bowl nor were they aware that the dust storms continued for more than eight straight years.
Some 850 million tons of topsoil blew away in 1935 alone. The government’s ultimate response was the creation of what is now named the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, formerly called the Soil Conservation Service.
Soon to follow was the organization of the nation’s 3,000 locally-led soil and water conservation districts … positive outcomes of the legacy of the dust bowl. Growing up in a conservation family in the 1950s and 60s I witnessed the installation of many practices on farms that protected the soil, irrigated the land and restored and sustained healthy crops.
Contour strips, farm ponds and spring developments around the county still bear the mark of the early 1950 commitments made by those farmer landowners, at times, still skeptical of the benefits.
Today, as I travel around the county I can proudly see the technical efforts of that pioneer conservation partnership at work which began because of a “dark clouded” legacy and so proud because my father was one of those pioneers.