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Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes tours a local organic produce farm
Mandela at Harmony Valley
ORGANIC GROWER Rich-ard DeWilde, left, wel-comed from left to right, Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, and the Wojahn children Briar, Ambrosia and Clover.

VIROQUA - The rain and lightning held off just long enough, turning the humid and occasionally sunny day into the right setting for a beautiful walk around Harmony Valley Farm. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, organic produce farmers Richard DeWilde and Andrea Yoder, and Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn, discussed the opportunities and challenges facing the Driftless region today.

DeWilde pointed out a native bee pollinating one of his white clover erosion control pollinator strips and noted "with the declining of the bees, our efforts with prairie plantings and inter-cropping pollinators provides essential places for habitat."

Wojahn described to Barnes the impacts that flooding has had on our communities and natural resources and added, "our farms need tried-and-true ways of preventing runoff, and there is not nearly enough funding for farmers and technical assistance at the local level to meet the large demand."

The group viewed the clear trout stream that has endured repeated erosion blowouts and where plumes of runoff have covered portions of the fields.

Yoder noted that the problem is beyond the bats and the bees. 

"Runoff and extreme rain events are impacting more than just wildlife,” she said. “It is really a human health and economics issue as well."

The Wojahn children, Clover, Briar, and Ambrosia, enjoyed plucking the perfectly ripe and sweet strawberries while the lieutenant governor gestured towards them and remarked, "That is why we need these changes right now, it is for the kids growing up in these rural areas." Lt. Gov. Barnes continued, "safe drinking water has to be balanced with healthy and profitable farms in the Driftless and across the state."

Wojahn asked the lieutenant governor if he was optimistic about real changes happening in the budget or through the Speaker's Water Task Force hearings taking place around the state. 

"It is not looking great in Joint Finance Committee right now," replied Lt. Gov. Barnes. "But the hearings show that land and water conservation, and how it impacts water and public health, is important to all people in Wisconsin."

As the drizzle started to pick up, it was clear that the silver lining in the sky was still a little ways off. The children grabbed a few quick last strawberries, as Yoder and DeWilde thanked Lt. Gov. Barnes for hearing their perspectives from Harmony Valley.