While water may be top of mind for you this summer as you head to lakes and rivers and down countless glasses of ice-cold water, I’ve spent pretty much my entire career thinking about our water, and what I can do to keep Illinois drinking water clean and safe. After all, I drink the same water and enjoy nature’s beauty just like you.

A farmer’s responsibility is to ask ourselves this question: “What is the potential impact of this farming practice on the land and water resources?”

No action, positive or negative, should precede the asking of this question. The same goes for water quality.

My name is Jeff O’Connor. I live in northeast Illinois near the small town of Irwin, population less than 100. We grow soybeans, corn and wheat. The O’Connor family settled this area in the late 1800s and has been farming it ever since.

In 1989, my grandfather invited me to our local Kankakee County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) meeting. He never made it to another one, and I never left. A soil and water conservation district’s purpose is to look at the farmer-land-water relationship and find ways to improve it. Our greatest potential for growth comes from times when we initially feel the most uncomfortable. Becoming involved with the SWCD was no exception. I was a fresh college graduate, stepping into an arena filled with lifelong farmers from all corners of the county. To say that I felt out of place, with nothing to contribute, was an understatement. I remember sitting in a back corner of the board room for what felt like a year before adding to any discussions.

While uncomfortable at first, it’s been rewarding ever since. For the last 25 years, I’ve served as director for the district, and for 30-plus years I’ve been able to hear about, and often see, the newest ideas in land conservation long before the general farming community has. I’ve never felt like an innovator, just a very early adopter.

And nothing gives you an appreciation for clean water like visiting another country and seeing what it’s like to go without it. On a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, my wife and I saw firsthand street sewage and polluted water resources. That experience instilled in me to never take clean water for granted, and to do whatever I can to continue improving this resource.

Continue reading the full story via watchusgrow.org by clicking HERE.

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