Five conservation resolutions for your new year

2023 – it’s a new year and with it comes all the good intentions to start a new habit – whether that means to eat healthier, exercise more, read more books, or get outside more. Regardless of whether you classify yourself as a ‘resolutions’ person or not, there are some great opportunities out there this spring to help you pick up some environmental stewardship kudos!

Plant some native trees and plants.

Planting a tree is a tried and true conservation message, but let’s take it a step further. Plant native, meaning plant trees, shrubs, and plants that have evolved to live in our region. Native trees and plants require less water, less fertilizer, stabilize the soil, and they provide food and shelter for local insects and wildlife; or in effect, you’re winning all around.

There are a growing number of resources to help folks ‘plant native,’ from printed resources, online workshops, and funding opportunities. Blue Thumb is a great resource in our area – the organization is a public/private partnership that promotes native plants, raingardens, shoreline stabilization projects and turf alternatives to reduce runoff and improve water quality. Aside from hosting a wealth of information, they also work to promote the statewide Lawns to Legumes program – if you live in Minnesota, you can take five minutes and apply for a $350 grant to help plant some pollinator-friendly plants (deadline to apply this year is January 18th!).

The Lawns 2 Legumes program encourages people to create pollinator friendly gardens in their yards or along their shorelines.

If you have a larger tree planting project you’re thinking about this year, make sure you reach out to your local soil and water conservation district – you’ll find they offer an annual tree sale where you can get bundles of bare root trees and shrubs for very reasonable prices!

Tree sale information if you live in east-central Minnesota:

Start a composting habit

Here in the U.S., we send approximately 30-40% of our food supply to a landfill every year – equating to approximately 218 lbs of food per person. Aside from that food waste taking up space, the typically low oxygen environment in landfills means food waste doesn’t fully decompose. In fact, it usually rots and releases methane – the most potent of greenhouse gases.

Composting not only removes your food waste from landfills, but the end product can improve your soil’s health and structure in the garden. Plus, it’s just fascinating watching the amount of food you can put in a compost pile and see it literally shrink as it becomes soil. Several counties usually host a spring sale where they offer composting bins (and rain barrels!) at a discount – check your local county website come March.

Attend a virtual or local workshop

Sometimes you need inspiration or a confidence boost when it comes to exploring or trying something new. The explosion of webinars has definitely made it easier and more convenient to learn about any topic you might be interested in, and once you have some ideas, you might be inspired to attend some local workshops on such topics.

Our conservation partners are already hard at work putting together programming for the year, so here’s a few options (follow links for more information):

Examine your home water use

While you could definitely classify this one as the most ‘adult’ (aka boring) of resolutions, it packs a punch when it comes to impact. Make some time this spring to conduct a quick water leak check of your residence. Water leaks waste upwards of 10,000 gallons every year in an average household, and 10% of households have a leak that wastes upwards of 90 gallons per day. Worn toilet flappers, drippy faucets, and hidden ruptures in irrigation lines are common causes of water leaks and the water loss (and water bill!) adds up fast.

Our home water meter highlighted by my youngest daughter.

Here’s a quick test for leaks in your home. Find your water meter (usually in your basement) that keeps a running tally of the amount of water that has been used in your house. Write down the current number on the meter and then leave the house for a couple hours – making sure NO water is being used in the interim (no running dishwasher, no washing machine, etc). When you come back, if the number on the water meter is the same as before – congratulations! No water leaks!

Make connections to your local food chain.

One of the things I love about living in this part of the world is that a few miles from our house, there are farms. I want my girls to grow up in a place where they are able to make the connection that food doesn’t start on a grocery store shelf. We are fickle farmers’ market goers, so my personal goal for this year is to not only frequent my local farmers’ market more often, but even take the leap and explore CSA (community-supported-agriculture) options nearby. With CSAs, you pay an upfront fee at a farm and every week throughout the growing season, you’ll get a box of seasonal produce (there are also meat CSAs out there too). There is a catch though – that upfront fee is an acknowledgement that farming in of itself is a risky business; if a late season frost catches and kills the some emerging crops, your box is going to be pretty lean. But that’s the name of the game when it comes to farming – with a CSA, you’re taking on some of the risk that all farmers experience.

I think that’s a worthy experience to have though, and I’m excited to become more acclimated to the seasonality of different vegetables and figuring out ways to fix them.

The Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association has a great map of farmers’ markets across the state. And Minnesota Grown is your first stop for exploring CSA options. I’m also going to plug Farm Direct Minnesota, which originated as a Facebook group that connects farmers and their products directly with consumers. My husband loves canning tomatoes, and through Farm Direct Minnesota, we’ve connected with a tomato farmer who grows our canning tomatoes every year. It’s been so fun, delicious, and feels so good to support a local farmer!

Look at those beautiful tomatoes and makings of pasta sauce!

So get out there – set a few conservation intentions this year!