‘It’s Time For The Next Impossible Goal’: 5 Questions with Conservationist Jodi Goerzen

Jodi Goerzen is a Manitoba Mennonite, whose love of maps and water led her to study at the Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources at the University of Manitoba. Today she manages the Seine-Rat River Conservation District, a grassroots environmental organization based in her hometown of Steinbach. Under the direction of the Board, Jodi leads a strong team of watershed professionals who implement projects that protect and enhance land and water resources across Southeastern Manitoba. 

(Erin’s note: This is the first “5 Questions” feature based on a conversation. Jodi and I met at Sawney Beans and I wrote down her answers. And, it was a lot of fun. So, this one will feel a little more conversational than the other “5 Questions”.)

What drew you to working in Conservation?
Hmmm, you know, it’s not something I actively pursued… I mean, I remember as a kid in the 80’s, seeing all the “save the earth” campaigns… but I didn’t think too much about it. After I graduated from high school, I went to Canadian Mennonite Bible College. I was only there for two years, but by the time I left CMBC, it had become Canadian Mennonite University. I briefly considered maybe becoming a pastor… but I knew that would be a difficult fight, to try to be a female pastor. Both of my parents were teachers, so I thought about that… but ultimately chose not to go that way. Then I got to the University of Manitoba and had to pick a major, I had to figure out what I wanted to study in-depth… and it ended up being maps and water! So I took Sustainable Development. I remember we had to choose an issue, preferably local, to do a project on. So I chose the social implications of the hog industry, rather than environmental. It’s almost like the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons. Like, there’s water everywhere, if everyone does what they want with it, pretty soon your natural areas are going to be gone, and that’s such a tragedy to not think about the common good anymore. So I guess I saw need in my own backyard. I began working for the Seine-Rat as a summer student… and all these years later, I’ve stuck with it! It’s been great, we’ve been able to adapt to so many different areas. I mean, nobody wants to hurt the earth or dirty the water on purpose. Nobody sets out to deliberately do that. So we all have something in common.
And you know, now that I think a little more about it… my mom has a terminal illness, and they don’t know where it comes from… but they’re thinking that it does have an environmental component to it, but they don’t know, so it made me think… so, there’s also that very personal aspect too, regarding what drew me to working in water conservation.

Have you noticed any Mennonite land practices that have impacted the way our land is today?
Mennonites are tenacious, and came here to work the land that no one else would… they brought with them that “leave no sod unturned” mentality… the idea that “we can farm the unfarmable”. It’s not a bad thing… but it’s not a methodology we need anymore. Now it’s time for a shift to the next phase. It’s time to ask ourselves how we can produce just as much, if not more, in a more sustainable way. It’s time for the next challenge, the next impossible goal. Time to apply that resourcefulness, that innovation, to finding the balance, and using those strengths to move forward. Because farmers are the solution. If every farmer increased their organic matter by 1 or 2 percent, there’d be enough room to hold water on the land and reduce your nutrients. But it takes years, and everyone to want to do that… some are doing it already. It’s happening.

What are some things we can expect to see and learn about when we visit Tourond Creek Discovery Centre near Kleefeld, and Rosenthal Nature Park near Mitchell?
When they built the lagoon in Mitchell, they used the clay from Rosenthal, which is a historic Mennonite village site from the late 1800’s. They’ve found artifacts there! So, the digging left a hole, so we partnered with the Rural Municipality (CIO Luke Lahai) to create Rosenthal Nature Park. A teacher from Clearspring Middle School, Sheldon Hiebert, had his class create and launch a floating duck nesting island, because when they have nests, the ducks are safe from predators. Also at Rosenthal there’s a trail system, so you can walk through the trees, it’s really beautiful.
Tourond Creek Discovery Centre is open to the public as well, and we have interpretive signs, trail system, wetlands, in the summer one of the activities kids can do is something we call “critter dipping” — how many bugs you find indicates the health of the ecosystem. I mean, you’ll also find trees, poison ivy, wood ticks — all that fun stuff. (laughs) Someone even went on a winter scat hunt, identifying what animals hang out at Tourond Creek in winter according to their droppings. You could almost call it a SCAT-venger hunt, if you will. (more laughter)

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when it comes to water rehabilitation here in Southeast Manitoba?
It’s really difficult because the farmers blame the city and the city blames the farmers and when that happens it’s hard to address the issue. We do find the nutrient loading is coming from the farm and city… but about 60% is from natural sources like cattails! So we’re trying to figure out how to get the urban and rural folks to fight the natural issues and work together, so if we could start that conversation to help this, that would be huge. When cattails are mowed down, they decompose into the man-made waterways. We don’t have the same issue in swamps, because swamps clean the water and have a lifecycle of their own. But the man-made ditches where cattails are a nuisance, they plug up drains, and so they get mowed and mulched and that releases even more nutrients, which is not helping. We did just get a grant to remove these from the waterways, working with the International Institute of Sustainable Development.

What’s your favourite local place to enjoy Mennonite cuisine?
My mom’s place! I love her schnetki. She’s given me the recipe about 25 billion times but when I make it, it’s just not the same. Then there’s her soups, schobel zupp and cabbage borsct, pretty much anything she makes. There’s always food on the table at her house, when I was in school, my friends used to come over and she always made sure they left fed.