Climate Land Leaders turns two

In early 2020, we were planning the final details of an in-person launch of Climate Land Leaders. And then COVID hit. We quickly moved the launch to Zoom, and, in March, a group of 20 gathered to share about the land they owned, the conservation they had completed — and their plans to do more.

Two years later, 45 individuals who collectively control more than 11,500 acres in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are providing each other community and support to respond to the climate crisis through this Initiative. (See the map for the farm locations.)

We’ve been busy!

  • Climate Land Leaders have shared conservation tips with each other 35+ times.
  • Experts presented 20+ times.
  • Climate Land Leaders discussed 7 books and movies on land ownership, climate change and conservation.
  • Members explored 8 topics on equity and farmland ownership.
  • The cohort visited 2 farms in 2020.
  • The cohort held a public event at the Sharing Our Roots Farm in 2021.
  • 20 attended an in-person retreat in early 2022.
  • 27 had one-on-one calls with Dr. Sharon Weyers, USDA Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Weyers also visited 4 farms for more sampling.
  • Dr. Weyers helped develop a soil testing protocol, which Climate Land Leaders are now using.
  • Climate Land Leaders participated in federal and state policy initiatives on climate change and agriculture.
  • Climate Land Leader Wendy Johnson published an editorial in the Des Moines Register calling for policy support for perennial agriculture.

We recently surveyed Climate Land Landers on our effectiveness (included here) and asked a few to share reflections on the past two years.

“We were so looking forward to meeting everyone at that first retreat. The disappointment, coupled with worry and uncertainty when everything shut down due to Covid-19, was overwhelming. What a two years it has been,” says Sylvia Luetmer (MN). “I am continually amazed by the growth and commitment of this group to make an impact on climate and agriculture through positive relationship-building and the sharing of ideas.”

Sally McCoy (IA, WI) loved visiting the Sharing Our Roots Farm, which the group did in fall 2020 after months of lockdown. “I saw my sisters after missing many family gatherings. I was able to see lots of Climate Land Leaders in person, whom I had not met before, and learn from the staff about their work. It was a breath of fresh air!

“I also appreciated having regular meetings where I could hear people talking about their commitments to the land. During the two years of the pandemic, it was encouraging to see familiar faces, working very hard to save our world. That kept me going,” Sally says.

For Ruth Rabinowitz (IA, CA), the 2022 in-person retreat was the most memorable. “After nearly two years connecting virtually on zoom, to finally meet face-to-face to laugh, cry and learn from each other was powerful. We all were brave to travel during a pandemic, but we put this opportunity high on our priority list and combatted fear of flights and travel in the face of Covid-19. Stronger together was the message,” Ruth says.

Says Carol Bouska (IA, MN). “My sisters and have been Climate Land Leaders from the beginning. Since then, on our farm we have restored a wetland, planted 4,500 trees and shrubs, added cover crops, planted 37 acres of prairie strips and done multiple baseline soil tests and land walks.

“Without question, we would not have accomplished all of these things without being involved with Climate Land Leaders. The relationships developed with other Climate Land Leaders has helped us move forward quickly with our efforts: encouraging us, assisting us and holding us accountable. I know that I speak for all of my sisters, and probably for the other Climate Land Leaders too, in saying that this group has been invaluable to me, especially during very difficult times. It has given us purpose and helped us address climate change with our land assets.”

Climate Land Leaders visit the Sharing Our Roots Farm

There are so many people to thank for our first two years: All of those who participated in and helped us grow Climate Land Leaders. Our Guidance Committee (Carol Bouska, Meg Nielsen and Julie Ristau). Dr. Sharon Weyers, USDA Agricultural Research Service and so many other knowledgeable experts. The Sharing Out Roots Board and staff. Funders Morgan Family Foundation, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, McKnight Foundation and many individual donors.

To the next two years!