A Farmer's Wealth Is In the Land; But What Do I Mean by Land?
Remarks by Jessica Wiskus March 7, 2022
[Background: During a Webinar opposing the Navigator CO2 Pipeline sponsored by the new coalition, “No Illinois CO2 Pipelines,” Mar. 7, 2022 (now available on YouTube) Iowa’s Jessica Wiskus gave an eloquent statement defending the land and all it provides us. Every farm family and every land holder throughout the Midwest can appreciate Jessica’s stirring defense of the land against those who would seize and destroy it using eminent domain for their private gain.]
Thanks so much Joyce [Blumenshine] and thank you to everyone who's joining us tonight.
A week or so before Thanksgiving I received a certified letter from Navigator notifying me that my property was in the pipeline corridor. Well, I have to admit that at the time I didn't really know much about carbon pipelines – how they were different from other pipelines, but I started to do some research, and what I learned sent me knocking on my neighbors’ doors.
Of course, the map that navigator gave me wasn't very good but since I'm the daughter of a 6th generation Iowa farmer it didn't take too long to figure out whose fields and farmhouses would be affected. After talking with my neighbors, I decided to organize a local meeting about the pipeline and at that first meeting over 100 people attended.
Well, I live in a rural community where trust, integrity, and honesty are all very high and so my neighbors and I have stood together against this pipeline ever since that meeting. We've distributed yard signs, we've cheered each other on at public meetings, we've sent letters to the Iowa Utilities Board and we have pledged that we are not going to sign voluntary easements with Navigator. We’re going to fight this thing first, and our little group has grown in numbers, joining with a statewide nonprofit organization to help us fight against the abuse of eminent domain.
Why are we so opposed to the carbon pipelines?
Look, we know very well that individuals sometimes have to make sacrifices for the greater good. We know it because that's how our families have survived here for so many generations. We help each other, we stand for something greater than just ourselves as individuals, but these carbon pipeline projects are not for the greater good.
For one thing, carbon pipelines are uniquely dangerous. You will hear more about this in the presentations to come, but I will just say that, in Iowa at least, Navigator’s route puts farm houses, ballfields, churches, historic buildings, Native American burial mounds, and even school districts in the pipeline corridor.
I know that maybe we're considered too rural for corporate executives to care about but we live here, our families live here, and we have built our communities here. Secondly, we're opposed to the use of eminent domain for these carbon pipelines. Eminent domain takes away our land, what we love, and gives over its use to a private company for their profits.
And what will this look like? As it turns out, Iowa recently-experienced kind of test case of modern pipeline construction when Dakota Access came through our state in 2016. Photos here, graciously provided by an Iowa farmer who went through it, show evidence of mixing of soils, compaction, draining of water into surrounding fields, damage to the tiling, and more.
This farmer was not alone in his heartbreak. Last fall a report in Iowa Farmer Today about the Dakota Access pipeline quoted a professor from ISU; he said “Our findings show extensive soil disturbance from construction activities had adverse effects on soil physical properties which come from mixing of topsoil and subsoil as well as soil compaction from having machinery.”
You see, the pipeline company obeyed the letter of the law when they separated out the topsoil from the subsoil but then they drove over the topsoil while they were building the pipeline, mixing the soils, and they worked the land under extremely wet conditions, compacting the soil; the tiling was never made right and farmers were left with reduced fertility, problems with erosion, and lowered yields. In this photo you can see the scar two years later.
All of this has direct financial consequences for rural families, of course. And that's not to mention the damage that pipeline construction does to ecological systems like restored prairies, wetlands, forest reserves, and conservation lands. If you have acres in CRP, the federal Conservation Reserve Program, I urge you to contact your FSA [Farm Service Agency] officer as soon as possible to learn more about what pipeline construction would mean for your contract.
Bringing to bear the power of condemnation through eminent domain would trigger a whole host of consequences for land owners and that's why my county’s Farm Bureau, citing potential infringement on the private property rights of Iowans submitted an objection to the Iowa Utilities Board against Navigator’s proposed pipeline, stating, “Representing Linn County Farm Bureau members we are requesting the Iowa utilities board to deny the use of eminent domain for navigator LLC at this time.”
You see, this pipeline deeply offends farm families out here. It's not just about our land, it's about the land -- the land that feeds the world, the land that we all care for, the land we steward, the land fertile and rich that we want the pass to the next generation. The soil that we have here is irreplaceable. Mother Nature took a thousand years to make it, but a pipeline would undo all of that.
A farmer's wealth is in the land – everyone knows that – but what do I mean by land? Soil is a part of what land is about, no doubt, but that isn't all that I mean when I say that a farmer's wealth is in her land. Land for many of us means something more than just a line on a balance sheet. Land isn't just a possession, it isn't just dirt – it's about our heritage and it's about our hope.
Land for us is about the abundance of life that is rooted in the Earth and that fundamentally is not of our own making. One of my neighbors said to me “It's not like the land is a part of me but like I am a part of the land,” and he said it well. That's the gift bestowed on us by the land. It places us face to face with something greater, something true. And so, the wealth of the land isn't about what we own – it's about to whom our lives are responsible: to corporate executives, to private investors, to powerful politicians or to the gift of life that we are called to steward.
Private corporations want to take the part of the wealth that is seen on a property deed, but they disregard what the land really means. They disregard the part that is the true gift. It’s because of this that we will not sign voluntary easements with these pipeline companies.
And look, it takes strength to stand up to powerful corporate and political forces, but that strength doesn't have to come from you or from me alone. I would just ask you, please, after this webinar, please go outside and consider all the strength that Mother Nature has shown you and what you might show for her in return, and know that your neighbors are considering the same thing.
Think about joining together as we're doing in Iowa, however you can, standing neighbor to neighbor to protect the land.
Thanks, thanks so much for listening to something that is very, very close to my own heart and I believe close to yours.