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Wendy Reuer, Published October 05 2012

Thomas farm all about saving for later

Moorhead - No project is undertaken at the Thomas farm near here without a consideration for the environment – and the Thomases have a lot of projects.

The sheer amount of work and multiple projects Noreen and Lee Thomas have implemented on their certified organic farm is why the Clay County Soil and Water Conservation District named the couple the 2012 Outstanding Conservationists, said Kevin Kassenborg, district manager for the conservation district.

“They have a lot of stuff going on. I don’t know how they find time to do it all,” he said.

Besides being named the top county conservationists, Noreen and Lee Thomas were nominated to be recognized statewide.

“Not every year do we have somebody as qualified as these folks,” Kassenborg said. “We just felt they would be a good selection coming from Clay County.”

The Thomases use organic practices that are environmentally friendly to water and soil on their farm outside of Moorhead.

“We’re certified organic, so we don’t use the herbicide or pesticides that go into waterways,” Noreen said.

Along with the general farming practices, they have planted trees around the farmstead and crops to help prevent erosion and give wildlife a habitat.

They also adhere to a seven-year crop rotation with cover crops and buffer zones.

Noreen said they apply compost on fields and have found intercropping helps with pest control.

“We actually take some of the coffee grounds from Concordia College and grow herbs on them,” she said.

Sheep are allowed to graze, instead of trimming down the grasses around the farm.

“They’re kind of our lawnmowers,” Noreen said with a laugh.

Their conservation efforts also move beyond the farm.

Many Fargo-Moorhead restaurants have menus using ingredients they receive from the Thomas farm. The couple built a high tunnel that can be used to raise vegetables into late fall.

Rainfall is collected using barrels. Noreen said about a half-inch of rain can provide 1,000 gallons of water.

The couple also host a “Day on the Farm,” where city folk and students are welcome to stop out and learn more about farming. They have welcomed more than 3,000 visitors throughout the years.

Noreen said she and her husband take conservationism into consideration with everything they do on the farm. Although often not the easiest route, she said, it’s been worth it.

“What we do now affects others. Even the water quality issues affect Winnipeg, so we have to decide what kind of neighbor we are,” she said.

Noreen and Lee will attend the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual convention on Dec. 3 and 4 in Bloomington, when the state outstanding conservationists will be named.

“It’s nice to be recognized. Sometimes you just do that; you don’t realize that people are watching,” Noreen said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530