Winona County is fortunate to be located in the heart of the Driftless Region, an area unique for its geographic and biological features. For this reason we need a Comprehensive Plan suited to such a priceless resource. A plan that protects our bluff lands, wetlands, river valleys, forests and farms. We are home to many rare and endangered plant and animal communities. We are also lucky to be in the middle of the second largest organic farming area in all of the United States. This is something to be proud of, support and protect.
Winona County’s Comprehensive Plan needs to acknowledge these special things and work to save and expand them. This means leading the way in educating ourselves and our children in what it means to be a member of a healthy community. To understand why sometimes private interests must give way to public interests to benefit all members of the community. To understand why we must promote clean air, clean water, healthy foods, access to recreation areas for hiking, canoeing etc., and access to health care and cultural events for everyone.
This requires a plan that builds on what we already have and encourages people to expand on these resources. Things such as:
1) The county working with the master gardeners to create community gardens and bringing the children to participate.
2) Helping to establish community food hubs and providing facilities to keep them open year-round with storage space.
3) Working with Winona Volunteer Services to connect producers and those in need and providing transportation for the elderly and poor to get to these facilities and other local events.
Our Comprehensive Plan needs to acknowledge global warming is already happening and affecting the health of our communities. It needs to start now to adapt what we are doing to protect ourselves and the environment. Things such as:
1) Encourage alternative energy sources and assist public and private projects to get grants and other funding sources to expand.
2) Encourage conservation and reuse policies.
3) Encourage farming practices known to be beneficial such as conservation strips, cover cropping and minimum tillage. Promoting and advocating for programs to put marginal land in permanent vegetation that leads to healthy plant and animal communities and prevents soil erosion and water pollution.
4) Encourage diverse mid-sized farms with a mix of livestock and cropland.
5) Encourage our small organic livestock, vegetable and fruit growers with programs to get local produce into schools and health facilities. These farmers should be promoted via brochures and online sites.
6) Advocate for state and federal policies that help us do the above because research shows that more farmers, not bigger farms, leads to healthy, robust small towns.
As a member of the Land Stewardship Project’s Winona County Organizing Committee, I’m pleased to note that our organization has just completed a new Winona County report, “A County at the Crossroads — The Choice is Ours.” The eight-page report is available to the public, at no cost, here.
LSP member Richard Harle lives in Winona.