As a creature of habit, my days often follow similar patterns. In fact, days and weeks tend to flow into one another and I sometimes lose track of the calendar…Every once in a while, my routine is interrupted by an epiphanic event. Sometimes this event is a positive experience; sometimes this event is inherently negative in nature. Regardless, it motivates me to redefine normal.
One of the largest epiphanic events that occurred early in my tenure at the feed yard transpired when agents from the Environmental Protection Agency chose to perform a spot inspection of my feed yard. Normally, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality routinely inspects the feed yards across the state of Nebraska to ensure compliance with government environmental regulations; however, every once in a while the EPA comes across the region and randomly re-inspects a few of those feed yards to further ensure compliance.
The inspection began when the agents walked into my office, flashed their federal badges and informed me that if I lied to them that I would go to prison. What followed was one of the most unpleasant events in my life. More than ten years later, I still I remember clearly the blatant antagonistic nature of the inspection, and I have to admit that I was completely unprepared for it. I was a naïve twenty-four year old woman trying to learn how to run a business and care for animals. Despite the challenges that I faced daily as a young woman entering the world of cattle feeding, I had never before been confronted with such obvious enmity.
This was my first direct personal involvement with federal government regulation and it is one that, even today, I have a hard time moving past. That day redefined normal. Gone was my youthful naivety. The experience brought into question my idealistic American belief that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and it shocked me to my core.
In the days that followed the inspection, I was filled with internal struggle as I tried to realign my patriotism and figure out how the combatively natured inspection correlated with environmental stewardship. One of the complaints of the agents was that I had failed to mark a zero down in my weather records on the days that we received no precipitation (I only marked down rain/snowfall amounts on the days that we received moisture). I am enough of a rule follower that I changed my routine to accommodate the demands of the agency, but all the while I struggled to figure out the positive and practical impact that this change would have on the environment.
Gaining strength to get past the notion of “Once bitten, twice shy”…
More than a decade later, I took a deep breath and made the decision to voluntarily participate in a federal EQUIP cost share program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to make environmental improvements at my feed yard. The nature of this agreement was based on collaboration, and consequently was much more within my comfort zone. As I signed the paperwork, I prayed that this experience with the federal government would be better than my first one…
Today, I have a state of the art livestock waste control facility to move effluent water out of my cattle pens and into a lined holding pond for storage until it can be used for liquid fertilizer and irrigation water on my crop field north of the feed yard. The new drainage system and durable plastic lined waste control facility allows for better pen drainage, and protects the ground water that flows underneath the feed yard. It’s increased size (compared to my old livestock waste control facility), also gives me the ability to make better use of the effluent water for irrigation purposes during the crop growing season. While this was a huge financial undertaking for me, it was an important proactive move for me to make to reduce the environmental footprint of the feed yard and I am so very proud of it.
Right about the time that the project was being completed, I received a phone call from someone who worked at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in the water quality department. He asked me, “Anne, why did you volunteer to build a new livestock waste control facility? It was expensive, and we did not tell you that you were required to do it.” I responded, “It was the right thing to do, and the cost share program made it a financially viable undertaking.”
The entire answer to his question actually goes a little bit deeper than that…I had a strong desire to redefine normal in my relations with the federal government. I was searching for a way to work collaboratively to improve the environment, and to demonstrate that the combative and intimidating nature of my previous experience with the EPA was both ineffective and unnecessary. At the very core of my being, I wanted to lead by example and demonstrate that a positive attitude and collaboration leads to effective change.
I refused to give up on my belief that collaborative entrepreneurship is the true American way…