"I was an environmentalist before I was a farmer," Charles Bares says by phone one warm September morning. Bares has taken time out from managing his dairy farm–which comprises 5,000 acres and a few thousand cows–to speak about his support of CBF.
Bares and his family live in upstate New York–outside the Bay watershed. In fact, he's only been to the Chesapeake Bay region a handful of times. Yet, he generously supports CBF's work.
"You're going out there and fighting the good fight, and that's what I appreciated," he says.
Bares strongly believes in CBF's work to support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a plan that he hopes will foster change and influence the cleanup of other polluted bodies of water.
From defending the Blueprint in the courts, to our hands-on restoration work and educational programs, Bares believes that CBF is laying groundwork that will help provide clean water to people all over the United States.
"The work that CBF is doing . . . people are going to stand on those shoulders," he says, adding, "[CBF is at] the forefront of changing opinions and getting policy makers behind you and showing how many people care and how [they] can make a difference."
Bares emphasizes that the American Farm Bureau Federation—the group challenging the legality of the Blueprint—does not speak for all farmers. "They certainly don't speak for me," he says.
Bares traces his passion for protecting the environment to his enjoyment of the outdoors, which began during his childhood in suburban Cleveland. He remembers summers spent fishing, birdwatching, and exploring nature, experiences that taught him to appreciate the environment and inspired him to become a farmer.
Over the years, the amount of time he has spent outdoors has given him a unique perspective on the impact of pollution. As an example, he mentions toads, a species that has been hit especially hard by pollution and habitat loss. He describes seeing the amphibians during summers while he was growing up and compares it to what his children see today. "To my kids it would be unbelievable. It would be like the world is being overtaken by toads!"
Not content to passively watch these changes occur, Bares and his brother formed a company that uses technology to reduce agricultural pollution. Known as Rowbot, the company produces small robots that roll through cornfields applying the exact amount of nitrogen fertilizer that the plants need. This is a departure from traditional farming practices, in which fertilizer is sprayed broadly across fields by large machines. Although the robots are still being tested, the idea holds the potential to reduce pollution and save farmers money.
"[We wanted] to do something that could make a difference," Bares explains, noting that the project utilizes his expertise in farming, and his brother’s background in engineering.
In addition to his company's innovative use of technology, Bares is an advocate for more traditional methods of reducing agricultural pollution as well, including the use of BMPs or best management practices. These techniques, such as utilizing cover crops to prevent erosion, and fencing livestock from streams and creeks, make farming more sustainable. "It [doesn't] take a lot of money, it takes a willingness," he says.
He emphasizes that being a farmer and caring about the environment aren't mutually exclusive. "There are lots of farmers out there who don't want to pollute. They want to leave their creek behind the barn the way they found it . . . for their kids and grandkids," he says, adding, "We all just have to take care of our own little piece [of land] and lead by example."
CBF's Donor Communications Manager
Are you interested in joining the clean water movement just like Charles Bares? Click here.