Protecting our Drinking Water
Safe drinking water is at the top of the list when it comes to prioritizing city services. One of the ways we’re protecting our water here in Edgerton is by growing a perennial wheatgrass called Kernza in our wellhead protection area.
A wellhead protection area is a surface and subsurface land area regulated to prevent contamination at a well or well-field supplying a public water system. The program was established under the Safe Drinking Water Act and is implemented locally by the State of Minnesota.
WHY PROTECT THE WELLHEAD?
In the fall of 2017, the City of Edgerton entered into a contract with a local land owner to rent 125 acres of farmland around our well. This land is part of our wellhead protection area. Doug Brands, our Water Supervisor, was instrumental in securing this land and also in connecting us with resources to help cultivate it in a safe, cost-effective way. Prior to renting the 125 acres, the City of Edgerton had contracts with several local landowners to keep their land inside our wellhead protection area in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). Those contracts also remain in place.
How we manage our wellhead protection area is critical to the drinking water we supply our homes and businesses in Edgerton. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides used in traditional farming can work their way into our water supply and eventually into our well. The well water is pumped to the treatment plant, where it is analyzed and treated by our public works department to ensure safety and quality. From there it heads into the water tower, waiting to be used by families and businesses.
Good water from the well means less treatment is necessary to deliver safe, high quality drinking water.
It all started with conversations Doug had with Aaron Meyer from the MN Rural Water Association. Those conversations then lead to discussions with Dr. Jacob Jungers, a University of Minnesota agroecologist. Doug also applied for and received a grant from the State of Minnesota's Clean Water Fund to assist in the cost of renting the land and cultivating Kernza. The Clean Water Fund was established to assist public water suppliers in protecting their drinking water sources.
WHERE DOES KERNZA COME FROM?
The Land Institute in Salina, KS, is responsible for domesticating Kernza. In 2013, it began collaborating with the University of Minnesota, where agronomy professor Don Wyse leads the Forever Green Initiative. This team of researchers, farmers, food producers and entrepreneurs is developing and promoting the use of new crops that enhance water and soil quality. Here’s a short video produced by BTNLiveBig that highlights the U of M’s work with Kernza called Minnesota Cultivates the Crop of Tomorrow as part of the Forever Green initiative. Kernza produces edible grain for up to five years, during which time it requires little or no tilling (it's a perennial rather than an annual wheatgrass). It has a much deeper root system than common wheat, with roots sinking to 15 feet. It absorbs water and prevents runoff, reduces erosion, boosts soil and water health, and keeps carbon locked in the ground.
WHAT DOES KERNZA TASTE LIKE?
Beth Dooley’s Star Tribune article titled “A new grain – Kernza – finds its way into products” describes the characteristics of Kernza and even provides a few recipes using Kernza pasta. The grain is sweet and nutty in flavor. It has more bran and fiber, more protein, and less raw carbohydrate than traditional wheat. It also has less gluten, although it is not gluten free. Claire Brown writes about Kernza being a step towards a new trend in agriculture in her article titled “Climate-friendly perennial grain Kernza gets major new support – from your Cheerios” in The New Food Economy. Our local friend and nutritionist, Ann Marie Busker, experimented with Kernza in her own kitchen. The cookies, muffins and scones she shared with us were delicious.
WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH KERNZA?
General Mills agrees that Kernza might be a game changer. The food giant has committed to buying a significant quantity of Kernza for use in its Cascadian Farm line of organic cereal products, and has pledged a $500,000 grant to the U of M's Forever Green Initiative.
One of the first places in the country to serve products made with Kernza is the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis. A local Minneapolis brewery, Bang, is making several beers using Kernza. Patagonia, through their Patagonia Provisions division, is also brewing a Long Root Ale using Kernza. And Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis is distilling it into bourbon that should be ready in 2022.
WHERE CAN I BUY KERNZA FLOUR and other KERNZA PRODUCTS?
Perennial Pantry has several Kernza flour products available, including a pancake and waffle mix. We've also found other companies and individuals selling Kernza products. Search for "Kernza products" in your browser and see what you find! We're sure it will be delicious!
WHY CHANGE THE WAY WE FARM?
Cascadian Farm Organic (a division of General Mills) invited thought leaders from food, climate change, agriculture and culture to discuss the future of food and farming at the launch of their event in San Francisco, California on April 10, 2019:
Want to learn more about General Mills' plans for Kernza? Follow the Deeply Rooted for Good campaign.