PRESS EDITORIAL: The man who ennobled dirt

It’s all about dirt.

For decades, Andy Holschbach has been editor of a newsletter he created and named Ozaukee Dirt. When the conservation newsletter first appeared, some folks thought the name was a tongue-in-cheek play on words. It wasn’t. It was Holschbach’s way of emphasizing that the earth’s soil is the fundamental key to the quality of the environment and its land, water and air.

Delivering that message has been Holschbach’s mission for the 37 years he has served as director of the Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Department. The legacy he leaves to the people of Ozaukee County when he retires next week is a local microcosm of Earth’s environment that is much healthier than when he began his work here, with important natural areas preserved and principles in place to protect the county’s land and water in the future.

Ozaukee County is known for being the smallest county in Wisconsin in land area and the richest in the state in per capita income. But those are meaningless factoids. The distinction that matters is that Ozaukee is acknowledged as a leader in government-aided conservation practices, far advanced over most other Wisconsin counties. Holschbach made it so.

Lions Den Gorge Nature Preserve, the treasured 73-acre park that conserves some of the most significant geological terrain and flora and fauna habitat in the region and provides public access to nearly three-quarters of a mile of Lake Michigan beach, exists in large part due to Holschbach’s efforts in facilitating the acquisition of the land by the county.

He gets deserved credit for other successful county land preservation initiatives and for the encouragement of private land owners to adopt conservation practices, but his most impactful contributions are less obvious. You could say they are covered with dirt.

As a missionary relentlessly preaching the importance of healthy soil as a requisite for cleaner water and sustainable agriculture, Holschbach changed the culture of farming in Ozaukee County.

He led the Clean Farm Families initiative in the county, introducing farmers to practices, which were unfamiliar to many of them, that revived the vitality of the soil in their fields. In time, some of Ozaukee’s most successful farmers came to embrace such changes as no-till farming, the use of cover crops, interseeding corn fields with shade tolerant plants and buffer zones.

Farmers are by nature traditionalists who have little time to worry about the environment as they perform some of the hardest labor of any occupation, endure the frustrating whims of weather and government and work the land in ways generations of farmers have always done it. Holschbach understood all of that, and was, in effect, able to speak the farmers’ language. Gradually, a number of farmers not only put the measures he advocated into practice, but became leaders in the clean farming movement.

The message they heard from Holschbach is that no-till farming, cover crops and buffer zones benefit farmers, the public and the environment by letting water soak in, preventing erosion of precious topsoil and keeping silt and runoff from carrying harmful fertilizers into waterways.

Holschbach closed his case with the argument that healthy soil makes farming more profitable, produces food that is more nutritious for humans and animals and releases less of the carbon dioxide that fuels climate change.

When a respected public employee retires after a long career, generous accolades from fellow officials can be expected, and many of them were quoted in a news story about Holschbach’s retirement in Ozaukee Press. But it tells a lot about his impact on the land and water he worked so hard to protect that one of the most admiring comments came from a farmer.

Here is what Town of Belgium farmer Matt Winker said about Andy Holschbach: “He is an excellent leader. He is very educated, and his passion for the environment, for cleaning up our water, for farming in general, is unbelievable. He can teach and motivate.”

Holschbach leaves big shoes for Ozaukee County to fill. No doubt his successor will find some dirt in them.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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