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2019 Conservationist of the Year

Virginia Homme named 2019 Chippewa SWCD Conservationist of the Year


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Tom Warner, SWCD District Manager, presents a Redlin print to Virginia Homme, 2019 Chippewa SWCD Conservationist of the Year, in recognition of her strong commitment to conservation practices.

The Chippewa County SWCD Conservationist of the Year may have put the years of making hay, tending to cattle and raising crops behind her, but caring for the land remains her passion.

Virginia Homme lives on a very diverse, 17-acre farm site that is part of a quarter section in Granite Falls Township. The property has belonged to the Homme family since the early 1940’s. Farming has been a tradition for the families of Virginia Homme and her late husband, Paul, for generations.

A ditch runs through the fields and farm site on its path to the nearby Minnesota River.  To protect against erosion and improve water quality, Virginia has planted buffer plots on slopes next to the ditch.

She had the first planted as a native pollinator plot in 2018. She said it has proven to be very successful.  It blooms with a succession of colorful, nectar-bearing flowers through the length of the growing season.

It’s pleasing to the eye, and provides habitat for wildlife too. This past summer, a wild turkey chose to nest in the middle of the plot.  Now, wild turkeys are part of her neighborhood.

Homme had the second plot planted with a mix of native grasses and forbes to benefit pollinators in the fall of 2019. Like the first plot, it is coming into its own and doing well, she said.  The native perennials hold the soil with their roots and provide year around cover on the ditch slopes. The plants protect against wind and water erosion that would otherwise wash the rich glacial soils into the ditch and  Minnesota River.

It takes commitment. Virginia and her son, Erik, hand weeded box elder seedlings and other, undesired plants. She enlisted a neighbor’s help too. He used his old Alice Chalmers tractor with a belly mower to perform mid-season mowing.

Virginia Homme made this site her home in 2008. She said that she realized right away that a portion of the area where the ditch flows through the farm site looked like a natural place for a wetland or small pond.

She presented the idea to the Chippewa County Soil and Water Conservation District staff this past summer.  They enlisted the help of an engineer, who agreed with her assessment and also saw the benefits it could provide. A wetland at this site could help slow the flow of water from a large Conservation Reserve Program wetland that is located upstream and across the road from this quarter section.

Weather and funding permitting, Homme said she is hopeful the wetland project will happen this year.

She’s also made her mark on the local landscape by making her home a model for energy independence and reducing our carbon footprint. Her home is heated and cooled with an energy-efficient geo-thermal system. In late August of 2010, she sought to further reduce her carbon footprint by turning to solar and wind power to produce the electricity to power her system and light her home.

Green Energy Products had a system online for her by late fall. She now has a 3.7 KW wind turbine and a 6.44 KW solar panel at work. She received a 30 percent tax credit for the costs of installing the systems.  She points out that the costs of installing either are much lower today.

Solar has proven to be the better value for small scale production, according to Homme.  It costs less to install than wind and doesn’t require the maintenance. The solar panels have saved 146,000 pounds of CO2 from being added to  our atmosphere. The wind turbine saves about 20 percent more of the CO2 total.

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Virginia Homme sought to reduce her carbon footprint by turning to solar and wind power to produce the electricity to power her energy-efficient farm and home. (Photo courtesy of CURE)

Her recent accomplishments are in keeping with a life-long commitment to good stewardship.

Virginia and her husband Paul graduated from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota and married as the Korean war flared and a draft was in place. Paul joined the Air Force and remained in his military career for 21 years.

Yet during most of those years, the family would use their vacation and leave time to return to Granite Falls to help Paul’s father with the haying and his cow calf operation.

When Paul retired in 1976,  the couple began farming on the family land.  They built an energy efficient house on the bluff of the Minnesota River across from the Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Hawk Creek Township, Renville County.

(Paul died suddenly at age 74 in 2004, just nine months shy of what would have been the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.)

Some of the fields they farmed were river bottom land prone to spring flooding. By the early 80’s,  there were even summer floods that ruined their crops. One year, there was even a fall flood.

The couple went to a lot of meetings in hopes there would be steps taken to slow the upstream water and reduce flooding, but to no avail.

They enrolled a portion of the flood prone land in the Reinvest in Minnesota or RIM wetland program.  The remainder is protected from erosion as pastures and used for rotational grazing for grass fed beef.

The steep river bluff on this land is restored as well, thanks to our conservationist. In 2017 she was able to work with the short-lived Working Lands program. It provided cost-sharing assistance to remove invasive cedars from the bluff and allow native seeds to once again emerge. The hillside was historically a dry prairie, and these special grasses and forbes once again make this a special landscape.

Thousands of visitors to the Upper Sioux Agency State Park enjoy the view of the restored bluffland, the floodplain wetlands, and the waterfowl and other wildlife they attract. Most of them are unaware of the individual who has made this possible. With her recognition as this year’s Chippewa SWCD Conservationist of the Year, perhaps more people will now realize how much Virginia Homme has done to protect our lands.

Written by: Tom Cherveny, WCTribune