La Crosse leaders said Thursday they’re doing their part to help address climate change and called upon the federal and state government to do the same during an event to encourage the Trump administration to maintain the U.S.’s clean car standards.
Mayor Tim Kabat denounced Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s plans to reverse the clean standards developed in 2012 by the Obama administration in cooperation with automakers and consumers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fuel efficiency standards. The plans were adopted as a way for the federal government to address climate change, the effects of which Kabat said are already felt on a local level.
“We are witnessing the impacts on climate change every year on the local level. They come in the form of more and more serious storms,” the mayor said, referring to storms last July that caused $750,000 in damages.
Through programs to purchase hybrid cars and buses, policies to reduce energy use through more efficient practices and the purchase of more sustainable equipment — such as a project in the works to purchase LED lightbulbs for city hall — Kabat said the city is doing what it can to meet its sustainability goals to reduce the use of fossil fuels, cutting its carbon footprint by 32 percent.
“What we need are national and state approaches that pull all these pieces together in a comprehensive way so that we can address climate change in a way that’s effective and productive,” he said.
Kabat has worked with both local representatives at the state and federal level, and a coalition of 236 U.S. mayors known as “Climate Mayors” to lobby for the state and U.S. to address the threat of climate change.
“What we’re calling for today as a group of local people is for our federal government to be a true partner to us, who not only support our local efforts, but also set strong, high standards at the federal level,” Kabat said.
He was joined Thursday by community leaders who shared his concerns for the future.
“We are here to stand today for clean cars, for our environment, for our health, for our economic well-being and for our future,” said Avery Van Gaard, board member of the Coulee Region Sierra Club.
Van Gaard warned that without immediate and drastic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, millions of people will be left without clean water and food and millions more will be refugees as a result of extreme weather events.
“This is not a hypothetical. This is already happening. This is our future if we don’t take this seriously right now. Fuel efficiency standards are a necessary step to move us away from that future,” Van Gaard said.
La Crosse County Health Director Jennifer Rombalski and La Crosse County board member Mike Giese spoke about the importance of lowering emissions when it comes to the public health and health care costs.
“We know that cars and trucks are really the largest source of pollution in the transportation sector and within that the largest source of carbon pollution in the country,” Rombalski said.
Preventing pollution, preventing the health problems such as asthma caused or worsened by pollution, saves lives, she said.
“When we think about saving lives, I don’t know how we can roll back standards that protect our citizens,” Rombalski said.
She argued that good air quality was a basic need that was essential to a healthy life.
“Wisconsin residents and La Crosse County residents deserve clean air,” she said.
La Crosse County emergency room visits by asthma patients cost an estimated $432,000 in 2014-16, which Giese described as a “very significant cost” to both families and tax payers in the county.
“It’s not the cost that is the most alarming, it’s the fact that these are preventable health consequences of not having clean air,” Giese said. “The anticipation of a rollback backed by the Trump administration is going to have a multiplier effect.”
He praised the 2012 standards, developed as part of a partnership between federal officials and the auto industry.
“That collaboration is still present today and it’s proven to be very successful. To roll that back will only throw chaos into the transportation and energy market that will really advantage no one,” Giese said.
Van Gaard also stressed the importance of the clean car standards in providing affordable transportation, saying gas savings have a significant impact on low- and middle-income families.
“The Trump administration is looking to remove or weaken these standards, and we need our elected officials to hold the line and fight for us,” Van Gaard said.
Ron and Maria Rosmann were organic when organic wasn’t cool.
In fact, the Rosmanns, who were honored as the MOSES Organic Farm Family of the Year in La Crosse on Thursday night, worked their farm organically in the 1980s — before Midwest Organic Farming Services even took root in Spring Valley, Wis., in 1990.
The honor for the western Iowa couple and their children was announced at a dinner that served as the official kickoff of the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, which attracts as many as 3,000 farmers, researchers and vendors to the La Crosse Center.
Using organic farming practices was natural for Ron, who learned the techniques from his dad on the family’s 320-acre farm, where the Rosmanns live and have expanded to 700 acres.
“I grew up on the same farm, and I never gave them (organic farming practices) up,” the 69-year-old Ron said during a phone interview. “My dad had a cow-calf operation, farrow-to-finish and diverse crops. We never gave that up.”
However, they did use chemicals to ward off insects and control weeds on, he said.
“It was diversity and livestock — even though we used pesticides,” said Ron, who said organic practices are grounded in the belief that they are better for the land, their livestock, their family and community. “I never liked using pesticides.”
The farm crisis that bankrupted hundreds of farmers in the 1980s added an economic factor to the decision to eschew putting chemicals on the fields at the rate of 250 pounds an acre, Ron said.
“I was convinced we could save money and not lose production,” he said, adding that his biology degree from Iowa State University in Ames helped guide the process.
Organic farming revolves around the interplay of such factors as fertilizing with manure instead of chemicals and the value of rotating diverse crops to nurture the soil.
Since organic wasn’t the norm at the time, the Rosmanns had to learn for themselves which practices would suit their operation best. They partnered with ISU researchers, and they have conducted more than 40 on-farm research trials over the years. Research projects evaluated ridge tilling, cover cropping, swine feeding, organic flax production, manure application rates and sundry other factors.
With on-farm research, “you have the numbers, real evidence for farmers to look at,” Ron said. “How else can you understand what really works on your own farm?”
Instead of flagging production, as some traditionalists might argue would be the result without chemical boosters, Ron said, “Our yields last year were off the charts. We can get very close on corn,” but not so much on legumes such as soybeans and alfalfa.
The farm, which is a few miles outside of Harlan, grows crops of organic corn, soybeans, oats, rye, hay, succotash and different varieties of the family’s signature popcorn.
The Rosmanns also raise organic beef, pork and chickens, with organic eggs as a bonus product. The operation generates about 1,000 tons of compost from 2,000 tons of manure to replace chemical supplements, Ron said.
Ron and Maria operate Rosmann Family Farms along with their sons, David and Daniel, and Daniel’s wife, Ellen. Their third son, Mark, remains involved, but he works for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. David’s wife, Dr. Rebecka Tompkins Rosmann, is a psychologist at Creighton University’s Center for Health and Counseling in Omaha.
They grow crops in five-, six- and seven-year rotations, with ridge tillage within row crops whenever possible. They have planted trees on terraced fields to promote soil health and enhance wildlife habitat. They also employ cover crops, grass waterways and buffer strips to improve soil and water quality.
Livestock is integral to the farm’s economic and soil health. They feed the cows and hogs the cover crops and crops that can’t be sold.
They also graze cattle within the crop rotations. They move the cattle according to plant growth stages and recovery periods. They manage hogs in a deep-bedding system that provides access to the outdoors.
The Rosmanns, who have have lobbied at federal and state levels for organic research support, also have campaigned against antibiotic overuse in livestock production.
Recognizing that food deserts can exist even in the midst of a cornucopia of crops, the Rosmanns created several spinoffs to promote organic foods.
Maria operates Farm Sweet Farm, a retail store they built near their home. The store features products from their farm and other farms in the area, as well as fair-trade coffee, chocolate, spices and crafts.
“We got our own label about 20 or 21 years ago,” selling beef and pork as a private company in grocery stores in Des Moines and Ames.
Necessity was the mother of inventing the store: The Rosmanns’ meat sales volume outgrew the capacity of the eight chest freezers they had at the time. The Rosmanns built the store in 2012 on their property for a couple of reasons.
“We wanted people to see our farm, with a real farm store on a farm,” Maria said.
“Instead of shipping products, we wanted to change eating habits and opinions about organic foods,” Ron said.
Daniel and Ellen own Milk and Honey, a restaurant in Harlan that serves local, organic fare. They also have a distribution business, Farm Table Procurement and Delivery, which buys local produce, milk, meats and other products for resale to urban restaurants and stores.
Many participants in the MOSES Organic Farming Conference attended the organization’s Organic University on Thursday, with courses geared to helping young farmers shift to organic methods, as well as offering seasoned farmers the opportunities to keep up with trends and issues.
The conference gets into full swing today and continues through Saturday.
La Crosse residents have been allowed to keep small flocks of chickens since June 2011, and several other county communities have since followed suit. People in platted neighborhoods in La Crosse County’s towns, however, have not been allowed to keep chickens.
That could change soon.
For about two years, a growing number of town residents have been egging on county officials to change the residential zoning ordinance so townfolk in platted subdivisions can keep chickens. Charlie Handy, a planner in the county’s zoning department, said major ordinance update projects put chickens on the back burner.
County residents have been lobbying the La Crosse County Board’s Planning, Resources and Development Committee to consider an ordinance. They spoke on the virtues of keeping chickens during the public input portion at the beginning of the meetings, and their pleas have been answered. The committee will hold a public hearing starting at 6 p.m. Monday on amendments to the zoning ordinance to allow chickens.
“The public is definitely engaged, which is good,” said Handy. “It’s a real positive thing.”
Handy has drawn up proposed amendments that would allow people who live in residentially zoned platted town subdivisions to keep five small animals — rabbits, chickens (excluding roosters) and other fowl — per acre, with a maximum of 10 animals per household. Those keeping chickens and other “household livestock” would have to fence the area where the animals would be kept.
If a coop is built to house the chickens, the structure would have to be at least 25 feet from the property line — the normal setback for an accessory building in the county zoning ordinance is 3 feet.
Under the proposed ordinance amendment, before people can keep household livestock, they have to have all neighboring property owners sign the permit form indicating their approval.
A lot of elements of the ordinance amendment could change after the public hearing, and Handy figured the neighbor approval requirement might end up being removed. “I’m guessing if we get a significant discussion by the public on that issue, there’s enough interest to change that,” he said. “That’s a guess.”
When Hardy presented the first draft at a committee meeting in December, committee chair Tina Wehrs expressed some hesitance about the neighbor approval requirement. “Sometimes neighbors have other issues and might not want to sign because of other reasons,” Wehrs said.
The La Crosse chicken-keeping ordinance doesn’t require any neighbors to sign off before issuance of a permit, but if complaints are raised, permit renewal requires the approval of 50 percent of neighboring property owners.
Gabbie Hansen, a town of Onalaska resident whose zoning allows her to keep chickens already, has been one of the proponents of the county’s chicken ordinance change. She’ll likely be at Monday’s hearing arguing for some other changes in the ordinance.
For one thing, she’d like to see the setback for chicken coops 25 feet from neighboring houses, as it is in La Crosse, and require the setback from the lot line to be 10 feet. She’d also like to see the number of animals allowed increased to five per quarter acre, with a maximum of 15.
“I think this is reasonable for a healthy chicken flock population in our Wisconsin winters … without being cumbersome,” she said.
Handy said he didn’t see the ordinance change being too controversial. If he’s right, the county board could give final approval as soon as the April 19 meeting, which would mean the ordinance change would likely be in effect by May 1.
People should be aware, Handy added, that restrictive deed covenants in some town subdivisions might not allow chickens, despite what county zoning says.
“We definitely don’t want to run afoul of that,” he said.