Earlier this week, farmers from Wisconsin traveled to south Louisiana to meet with fishermen in Terrebonne Parish to learn about fishing, the Louisiana wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
This wasn’t the first time these two groups met, however. In September 2016, the fishermen were invited to travel to Wisconsin to see how farms up north operate.
Margaret Krome, policy program director at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wis., and one of the organizers of the collaboration, said the idea was to connect the farmers who were genuinely concerned about water quality with the end users: the fishermen in the Gulf.
“We wanted them to see our community and understand why we care about farming and why we care about our farming practices being good,” Krome said. “It’s not only that it’s good for water quality; it’s good for profits. It’s how farmers stay in business, is not losing their nutrients down to the Gulf. They don’t need them; we need them on our farms.”
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by excessive nutrient pollution coupled with a few other factors that reduce the oxygen that is necesary to support most marine life near the bottom of the ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa deliver a good portion of the nutrients to the Mississippi River. That process contributes to the dead zone, Krome said.
Finding a time for the two groups to travel across the country was a tough task, said Krome, but after a few hurdles, they decided the best time for the fishermen to travel north would be September.
“I never realized that there are people that do the same thing as us, just on a different level,” said Roxanne Sevin, owner of RCP Seafood in Cocodrie. “They farm the land and we farm the sea. It’s really basically the same thing. They can walk out of their house and they have cows, eggs, pigs. We walk out and we have oysters, shrimp, fish.”
On the farmers’ to-do list in south Louisiana was a kayaking trip near LaPlace to see the swamps and bayous, visiting a shrimp-shelling station and meeting with Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium scientists to learn about the dead zone.
They also went out to sea with shrimpers to learn about the jobs of fishermen. Michael Dolan, owner and operator at Seven Seeds Farm in Spring Green Wisconsin, said learning how to shrimp was one of his favorite parts. Overall, he said, he enjoyed learning the similarities between the two jobs.
“I had a really good time making this connection with these fisherman and just getting to know their lives and how striking the similarities between farming and fishing have become,” Dolan said.
To finish off the trip, the groups collaborated for a dinner Monday night that featured grass-fed steak and vegetables from Wisconsin and seafood from South Louisiana.
Krome said she hopes the collaboration will continue in the future, because the two groups have begun forming a connection.
“It’s a community and relationship and an understanding that we all feel a connection, and I think they feel a connection too,” Krome said. “We’re not alone. Everybody seems to feel that connection. It’s pretty cool.”