Environmentalism and agriculture going hand-in-hand
On a sunny fall afternoon, SELC Senior Attorney and interim Tennessee Office Director George Nolan was hard at work. But he wasn’t in a courtroom or his office in Nashville – he was surrounded by cattle on his family farm.
The farm boasts rolling hills, pastures filled with wildflowers, a herd of about 20 cattle, and a stream filled with of aquatic life. Nolan moved to the farm when he was just four years old when his dad bought the land in Dickson County, about an hour outside of Nashville. Throughout his childhood he helped raise cattle on the family farm while exploring the woodlands, pastures, and streams.
“We lived in a small house in a creek valley, and it was great,” Nolan said. “I just spent hours and hours in the creek, looking for wildlife, trying to catch fish. Growing up in that environment made me very aware of natural systems and the importance of being in nature.”
Those experiences helped him develop a passion for conservation that he still carries, and it showed the close connection between agriculture and environmentalism – a connection Nolan continues to build on through his work both at SELC and on his family farm, where he still raises cattle with his brother.
“Farmers are dependent on nature to produce products, feed people, and make a living, and so I’ve always thought that farmers and conservationists should be on the same team.”
Nolan said one of the clearest ways that farmers and environmentalists can work together is by fighting to protect waterways from being polluted or overused. Farmers rely on clean water to raise their livestock and water their crops, while unpolluted rivers and streams are essential to healthy wildlife populations. Both urban and rural communities need access to clean, reliable, drinking water as well.
SELC recently worked with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy to ensure the Duck River, which is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world, is better protected from overuse during times of low flow or drought.
On the farm, protecting waterways looks like leaving buffers around rivers and streams to prevent pollution from flowing into waterways and help make pastures and crop fields more resilient to floods, which are becoming more common as the climate changes.
“If a crop farmer farms all the way to the edge of a river bank, then there’s not going to be trees along the bank and during floods, big chunks of the bank will just calve off and fall into the river. That causes sediment problems, problems for wildlife, a lot of different problems,” Nolan said.
Farmers are a key piece of the environmental and conservation movement, and we should all find ways to work together and support each other in order to protect the incredible natural resources that make the South specialGeorge Nolan, Senior Attorney
He says that farmers and environmentalists can – and should – be working together on many other issues too, including pushing for smarter development around growing Southern cities, fighting for cheaper and cleaner energy sources, and pushing back on the proliferation of large, corporate animal feeding operations. Those dirty facilities, known as CAFOs, pollute the air and water, disrupt rural qualities of life, and often times put small, family farms like Nolan’s out of business.
“Farmers are a key piece of the environmental and conservation movement, and we should all find ways to work together and support each other in order to protect the incredible natural resources that make the South special,” Nolan said.