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Original Stewards of the Land

When Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1972, he had a vision. "Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures."

One state away, Michigan dairy farmer Jim Reid carries on the legacy Nelson described. On his Jeddo, Mich. farm, Reid embodies respect for his animals and care for the earth, with the ultimate goal of sustainability being a personal one. “I want to be able to pass this farm on to my children and grandchildren with the land in better shape than when I had it,” he says.

The Reid farm is one of many dairy farms throughout Michigan to have become verified through the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), an innovative, proactive program that helps farmers create sustainable environmental care plans to meet state and federal laws.

As a second-generation dairy farmer, Jim and his wife Pam know the importance of caring for the land. “There is so much we do on a daily basis that supports sustainability,” says Jim. “Everything we have, and everything we produce for other families to enjoy, is dependent upon the health of the land and our animals.”

For the Reids, that means careful attention to land and water usage, as well as installation of 96 solar roof panels on their barn to harness energy and reduce the farm’s annual electricity costs by about 30 percent. They’ve also built retention walls to prevent erosion and stop sediment from entering nearby rivers and streams.

“Dairy farmers have already made great strides,” says Jim Reid. “Producing a gallon of milk is more environmentally friendly than ever, using 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water than in the past.”

The Oesch family of SwissLane Dairy Farms, a fourth generation farm in Alto, Mich. has embraced the MAEAP program as a way to implement a new nutrient management plan, protect local water supplies, and continually improve the health of its land. “Caring for the environment is a way of life for us,” says Annie Link, a dairy farmer at SwissLane. “Our family has been on this land for 100 years. We want to be here for another 100, and I want my kids to be able to farm this land just as we are proud to do.” 

Michigan’s dairy farmers work every day to not only provide fresh, locally produced milk, cheese and yogurt, but to ensure the sustainability of the land for future generations. To learn more about the environmental sustainability efforts of Michigan’s dairy farmers, visit www.milkmeansmore.org.