What farmer in his right mind would invite the EPA out to visit?
The answer is Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, Ind. He was recently named a Master Farmer, but he was on the map of friends of soil conservation and the environment long before he received the award. In fact, it's likely one reason judges selected him for the award.
Starkey, Brownsburg, farms on the urban fringe. A large part of his farm drains into the Eagle Creek Watershed, which furnished water to Eagle Creek Reservoir. The City of Indianapolis draws drinking water from the reservoir.
"We have to be good neighbors, and it is the best way to farm for us anyway," Starkey says. He is 100% no-till and uses cover crops on almost all his acres. He farms in partnership with his nephew, Jeff Starkey.
Eight years ago, Starkey began cooperating with Bob Barr of IUPUI in Indianapolis. The researcher works on environmental issues. He has sampled Starkey's farm during that period, and noticed his tile lines carry less sediment and nutrients than the creek they drain into.
Starkey opens his farm lane to just about anyone who wants to learn – farmers, the farm management tour a few years ago, even John Deere when they made a huge introduction of new equipment in Indianapolis a while back.
Starkey especially enjoys when farmers come to visit and share ideas about no-till and cover crops. The goal is better soil health, he says.
Last fall, he hosted a listening session for farmers with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelley. This summer, several EPA staff members visited his farm, not once but twice.
Was he nervous or upset they were coming? No, he was excited.
"We have a story to tell and we want them to see that what we do can make a difference," he says. "We can reduce sediment and nutrient load on our own as farmers."