Beer is a water-based agricultural product. Its three main ingredients are water, barley, and hops, and we are acutely aware that we need healthy, flowing rivers and thriving farmland in order to keep making this sweet, sweet nectar. For this reason, water stewardship and sustainable agriculture are two of the main areas of focus of our philanthropy program. We greatly admire all of the folks working toward a sustainable future for water and agriculture, and we want to highlight one of our recent water stewardship grant recipients here on the blog today.
The Wetlands Initiative was founded in 1994 and is dedicated to restoring the wetland resources of the Midwest to improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and reduce flood damages. Their vision is clear and straight-forward: wetlands are more valuable wet than dry. The work that they are doing to promote this vision is pretty phenomenal: they are promoting the use of wetlands by farmers to naturally reduce nutrient pollution resulting from runoff of agricultural fertilizers. Before we get into the details of what that means, let’s back up for a moment and talk about what a wetland is, and why they matter so much to us. A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water (at least part-time), and which is distinguished by its unique aquatic vegetation. A few types of wetlands that y’all may be familiar with depending upon your surroundings include mangroves, swamps, and marshes. Wetlands are arguably the most biodiverse type of ecosystem on the planet, providing habitat for countless species of plants & animals, and countless recreational opportunities for us humans. What’s more, they filter, clean and store water for their surrounding ecosystem. Or as the folks over at defenders.org put it, they’re the Earth’s kidneys! The importance of these storage and filtration functions cannot be overstated. By providing floodwater storage, wetlands can naturally handle significant flood events, avoiding the devastating effects that a flood can have on buildings, habitats, lives, and pocketbooks. By providing filtration, wetlands naturally remove high concentrations of contaminants and nutrients to ensure downstream ecosystems continue to thrive. And this is where the folks at the Wetlands Initiative (TWI) come in.
A number of our major rivers, deltas and basins are experiencing very high levels of nutrient loading from human activity, with devastating results. The Gulf of Mexico experiences a dead zone each year, roughly the size of Connecticut. This is an area where an unnatural amount of nutrients spill out, resulting in algae blooms, resulting in a low-oxygen environment in the water, meaning nothing lives there. The biggest contributor to this phenomenon? Agricultural fertilizer! The solution, according to TWI? Wetlands! Despite all of their benefits, the amount of wetlands in the U.S. has decreased significantly (up to 90% in some areas) in the past 200 years. The good folks at TWI have been working for the past 20 years to revive the Midwest’s wetlands. The project that they are working on right now could very well be the key to reversing this trend of wetland loss and dead zone growth. By partnering with farmers to precisely place small wetlands near farmland, TWI is working to show farmers that this practice can be both environmentally and financially beneficial for them. We know in our heart of hearts that American farmers are nothing short of heroes. They work long, tough seasons and often find themselves struggling to turn a reasonable profit for their effort. We know that the solution to a complex issue like this needs to be both environmentally and financially sustainable in order to succeed. And that is exactly what TWI is working to achieve here. Check out their website to learn more about their work.
We are honored to connect with TWI, and to connect with Midwestern farmers through them, and we look forward to hearing more about the great work they are doing. Next time you are navigating an American waterway, be sure to toast the good folks at TWI. It only seems appropriate to drink a Portage Porter while on the water, so perhaps you should fill a river-safe metal growler with it before you set out, eh?
Paddle on! -- Ginger