Weaving People and Nature Together
June 14, 2023 by Alyson Levig
Michael Birchard and Peace Mitchell are now certified stewards of water quality through the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), a voluntary program that certifies producers using conservation-minded practices to protect water quality. Their multigenerational black-owned farmstead, Frog Tree Farm, operates under a canopy of Pines, Firs, and Oaks nestled along the Crow Wing River. Photo: Peace Mitchell and her father Henry.
Mitchell's parents purchased the original 150 acres near Verndale, Minnesota in 1971, where they raised their own produce and meat off the land. Portions were divided off and the remaining 107 acres are what is Frog Tree Farm. Tree stands replaced old pastures, and the parcel exchanged hands down the family line to Birchard and Mitchell, where the land is utilized to create and sell sustainable evergreen wreaths while reconnecting with family and surrounding nature.
"The Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program provides us with the opportunity to let others know they are buying a product from someone who is interested in protecting water quality and the environment," Birchard said.
The family-oriented process is rooted in conservation as only healthy trees are selected to provide the needed materials, while overly harvested trees are left to recuperate. Clean cuts are also used to harvest small branches which aid in the tree's recovery. Afterward, the branches are hauled and placed into a ring that are secured a hand press. Overall, the operation takes roughly 20 to 40 minutes to make a single wreath, depending on the travel time to harvestable trees.
"The environmental awareness and skill show honor to our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before us, who taught us and also provided this land," Birchard explained. "And it honors our children and grandchildren who will come after us when we pass the land and knowledge down to them."
Besides their water quality certification status that was earned on April 5th of this year, Birchard and Mitchell have also obtained the Climate Smart endorsement—a relatively new extension of MAWQCP. Five endorsements are available for certified producers to obtain: Climate Smart, Soil Health, Wildlife, Integrated Pest Management, and Irrigation Water Management. These achievements provide additional recognition to those who are going above and beyond to integrate conversation into their farming operations. Birchard and Mitchell hope to receive as many endorsements as their unique operation will allow.
"The program and its endorsements express that we are using the resources we have with good purposes," Birchard said. "It also shows the calibration between the county, state, and landowners in doing the right thing for the benefit of the environment."
Overall, Birchard and Mitchell plan to use the Frog Tree Farm to supply more opportunities for individuals to reconnect with nature and learn more about the sustainable practices implemented within their operation—a connection both believe has been disrupted for far too long.
Photo: Alyson Levig of Wadena SWCD and Michael Birchard.
Posted In: MAWQCP