By Lindsay Rebhan
Our nation finds itself in the midst of a Wild West land grab–a fracking boom and therefore a frac-sand mining boom. The process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) uses sand, water and chemicals to open fissures in the earth to extract oil or natural gas. Wisconsin’s geological history as an ocean provides the perfect crystalline silica sand used for the hydraulic fracturing process. In the last three years, Wisconsin sand mining has grown exponentially, quickly changing the landscape.
“We didn’t completely understand how this issue could affect us so quickly. We were building our farm business; moving, harvesting/planting, learning the community, we thought we didn’t have time to keep up with the frac mining issue around us,” young Wisconsin farmer Andrew French explains. In the list of things new farmers need to keep tabs on–add frac sand mining. Andrew and Khaiti French own Living the Dream Farm, (L.T.D. Farm, Inc.) in Clayton, Wis., located in Barron County.
Andrew and Khaiti are two impassioned young farmers and compassionate carnivores, stewarding 39 acres of land in western Wisconsin. Barron County, like much of Wisconsin, is known for rolling hills, bucolic trout streams and good farmland. “Our land is one of the most important elements of our farm, of course, if the mine operation starts up here–all the smog, noise, and silica dust will cause health issues for us and our animals.” The L.T.D. farmers raise pastured ducks, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and goats, and produce vegetables for a CSA operation.
“The frac sand issue came to our attention this summer. Our neighbors five miles away started to fight a mine next to their property. Then, a week before Christmas, boring started on the property next to ours. We got up to do chores early morning in December and heard a loud noise. It was a big drill like the ones used to drill wells. A mineral company was drilling test holes for mineral extraction. We are now well aware that we have frac sand in this area. This obvious threat to our land and neighborhood concerned all of our neighbors and we almost immediately began to meet and talk about what we could do. We are now just understanding what actually happens in the frac sand mining process.”
Andrew and Khaiti have stepped up to organize and inform their neighbors about the issue, even asking for a moratorium for time to learn more, but have been very frustrated by conflicts of interest and lack of support from their town board. As of now the board is very pro frac-sand mining, with no change to that stance on the horizon.
L.T.D. Farm has equity in their property. They have a great community of small-scale sustainable food producers. “We don’t want to pack up and move. We are one of the three unzoned townships in the county–so we are a big bulls eye,” says Andrew. “We are organizing our neighbors and fighting for a voice in this pressing issue. This winter we are working on our pastured poultry plan, seed orders, etc. It’s hard to plan for the long-term future of our farm–if a sand mine goes in, our health and our animal’s health will suffer almost immediately.”
As in all community matters, this issue is complicated and involves neighbors, families and farm futures. Andrew explains, “We have a neighbor who is actually employed by the frac sand mines as a trucker. Even he doesn’t want a sand mine in his own backyard.”
“Regardless of what happens–we are going to do the best we can. We will continue here or somewhere else, this will not deter us from farming.” Here you have it–the perseverance of new agrarians in the small-scale farming revolution. Clean air, soil and water must be protected in order to grow good food and farming communities. The time is now to come together, to support each other and to keep our food system healthy!
It is vital for farmers (and new farmers looking for land) to take some time to find out what is happening around them:
Meet neighbors. Talk to the community about this issue. Know zoning rules. Organize. Find out if any organizations are actively opposing frac sand mining in the area. Find out where the DNR has permitted new mines. Come up with a plan on what to do to keep frac mining out of the community. Go to the town board, ask for a moratorium. Build coalitions of larger statewide groups.
If you are in Wisconsin and Minnesota check out: Hills Angels and Hay River Frac Watch on Facebook; The Frac Sand Frisbee; Save the Hills Alliance; SandPoint Times; Save the Bluffs; The Frac Sand Weekly
If you have any advice, experience or help to lend to L.T.D. Farm–please email: email@example.com.
Follow along in their farming life online at www.ltdfarm.com.
Lindsay Rebhan coordinates the New Organic Stewards, a joint project of MOSES and Renewing the Countryside.