Feeling a bit stuffed full of turkey, stuffing, and cranberries from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast? Did you know cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America and were eaten by the Native Americans long before Europeans arrived? When the Dutch arrived around 1655, they thought cranberry flowers resembled crane’s heads and dubbed them “craneberries,” which later evolved to cranberries.
Today, you can thank cranberry growers like Linda Rinta and the Rinta Family Farm of West Wareham, MA, for the cranberries on your table. In fact, Linda was just selected as the recipient of the 2020 New England Leopold Conservation Award®. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes those who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife resources in their care. (In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac; Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage. He wrote it was “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”)
Like Aldo Leopold, Linda Rinta sees herself as a “sand farmer.” Linda brought a conservation ethic into her marriage to third-generation cranberry grower, Paul Rinta. As cranberry farms faced new environmental regulations in the 1980s, Linda returned to college to study environmental science and public policy. She wanted to be part of the change that was affecting their livelihood.
Since then, local, state, and national protections for wetlands have evolved. So has Linda’s role as a leader and advocate for conservation farming. Through her work off the farm, and an elected post with the Plymouth County Conservation District, Linda has spent 35 years educating others about how farmers can protect the environment while using natural resources to grow a crop.
Water, Pollination, & Planning
Cranberry growing is dependent on available clean water and the ability to store and move it efficiently. Water usage on her farm has been reduced through a renovated irrigation system. In addition, Linda’s efforts led to the adoption of two of the most critical cranberry water-use conservation practices. Tailwater recovery ponds and bypass canals are now industry standards for efficient and conservation-focused cranberry farms.
Linda raises honey bees and has planted acres of habitat for native bees and insect pollinators. She has sought innovative ways to locate pollinator habitat around solar arrays and cranberry bogs, while protecting pollinators from pesticides.
She even grows Cape American Beach Grass as a nursery product on the farm’s wetlands and sandy areas. The grass is used for restorations of sand dunes and other fragile coastal ecosystems.
Linda not only farms with a conservation ethic, but shows others how to do it. Part of her farm business includes a conservation planning service. It helps other growers document their management practices and those they plan to do to comply with environmental regulations. She’s at home in both the cranberry bog and in meetings with politicians and environmental leaders. When speaking with fellow farmers about the importance of providing pollinator habitat next to cranberry bogs, she’s well aware of what it takes to make a living off the land.
Two enormous challenges “hit our family farm like a tornado in 2018,” according to Linda. “My husband, the manager of our farm, the man who could and did fix everything, and supported and promoted all of my conservation efforts over the years, died without teaching us everything he knew,” she said. Linda says farming has never been for the faint of heart, but her husband’s death coupled with a steep drop in cranberry prices put the farm’s resilience to the test. One of their grown sons stepped up to manage the cranberry bogs.
Today, Linda manages the property, grows and sells beach grass, and will continue conservation planning work. Above all else, she embodies the Leopold land ethic with a commitment to farmers and responsible stewardship of the cranberry country she loves.
Earlier this year, owners of forestland and farmland in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and forestry conservation leaders.
The Leopold Conservation Award
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award® annually in 21 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. In New England, the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, and regional partners: New England Forestry Foundation, American Farmland Trust-New England, and the Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative.
“We are pleased to present this award to Linda Rinta and the Rinta Family Farm for the implementation of innovative water-use conservation practices in the water intensive production of cranberries, their focus on pollinator habitat and protection of pollinators from pesticides,” said John Piotti, president and CEO of American Farmland Trust. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
“What distinguishes Ms. Rinta is not only her long history of sustainable land stewardship but also her achievements in educating others and making it easier for other stewards to follow their dreams and connections to the land,” said Bob Perschel, Executive Director of New England Forestry Foundation. “It’s also wonderful to see this award going to a conservationist who farms cranberries, a crop that’s strongly associated with New England, in a way that protects the New England environment.”
Earlier this year, owners of forestland and farmland in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and forestry conservation leaders. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.