On Beane Farm something is always happening. From acquiring heritage hogs to trimming giant oak trees to churning ground and tending my year-round garden, I simply never relax. With the latest improvement on our little homestead, however, I just might have to sit peacefully beside the water and enjoy the view.
That’s right, we are building a pond.
As an avid outdoorsman and fisherman, I’ve always wanted a pond. Having water right outside my back door is a dream come true. Without a drop of water collected in the contoured earth, I’m already envisioning a stocked pond with catfish, throwing a cast-net at dusk to catch live-bait before heading out to the Mississippi River for some nighttime flathead catfishing. The icing on the cake, beginning this spring, will be the evening chorus of frogs and insect life around the water’s edge. It will be music to this country boy’s ears.
I grew up on a 5-acre farmstead where my brother and I, as young children, desperately wished to have a pond. With my father’s lack of interest and the necessary investment looming, my brother and I started to build one on our own, using only shovels. He was 12, and I was 10. Naively, we spent months taking every free opportunity we had, which, as kids, was a lot of time, digging and laying out the perimeter of our one-day pond. As we trenched a 3-foot perimeter tunnel over about a half-acre, we had the dimensions of our dream pond slowly transitioning into reality. As our outline was polished and evenly dug out, we worked our way inward, standing on top of the high ground and, with each shovel full, our walk to the outer perimeter grew longer. And in the south Arkansas heat, even tough boys grow weary.
As my parents surely found pleasure in watching us literally kill time creating a pond by hand, they eventually saw the physical toll and our real desire. My dad gave in and, with help from a friend, he borrowed a backhoe and bulldozer and finished the job. In two days, he finished what would have taken us two years by hand, and he dug it to 10 feet versus our arms-length depth. My passion for having a pond never died, but I’m certainly thankful I didn’t have to use a shovel to kick off the effort this time around.
When my wife, Heather, and I bought our property in Vicksburg, several areas immediately adjacent to our home posed extensive erosion concerns. We live within the Loess bluffs of Vicksburg and, as a result, have steep slopes contrary to the flat areas of the Mississippi Delta. With our house, outbuildings and pens bordering the eroded areas, my goal since move-in day has been to find a way to fix the problem areas. The issue has always been that a lot of ground needed to be worked, and it would require heavy, earth-moving equipment. All the problem areas are adjacent to or in densely forested areas. The sheer expense was scary to think about, particularly with a mortgage, regular bills and seemingly never-ending school loans.
As I researched ways to affordably address these pressing erosion concerns — we were literally losing ground — I discovered the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that offers landowner assistance programs, called Conservation Plans. These plans include cost-share programs designed to aid farmers, even small-time farmers like me, in protecting the land and resources they manage. This is a valuable program not only to the farmer enrolled in a Conservation Plan, but it also benefits water quality on- and off-site by minimizing erosion of sediments by improving highly erodible areas.
Once I discovered the programs, I jumped at the opportunity to get Beane Farm in the queue. I performed all the necessary paperwork and, within a year or so, our farm property was selected for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP). Our land was surveyed and the results led to the installation of a grade-stabilization structure. The structure is designed specifically to assist with stopping erosion. Upon award of the EQUIP contract, my role was to identify a contractor to perform the dirt work, levee and spillway construction and someone who could also clear the trees. This would allow the ground to be graded and sloped to minimize erosion.
This summer, the land-clearing commenced and, over the course of a month and a half, we cleared debris, cleaned up trash dumped years ago in the eroded gullies and began the dirt-moving to create the pond. Although our pond will be only about an acre in surface water, the footprint to perform the slope stabilization was roughly three acres. Needless to say, the densely forested property had a major makeover. But the end-product was well worth it and my dream of having a pond is coming to fruition.
Although I’m impatiently waiting for rain to fill up this large hole next to our house, I’m also excited at all the opportunities that lie ahead. Deer have already begun to skirt the woodline to investigate their new watering hole. Heather, although not too excited about how open it is around our house due to the massive tree removal, has begun discussions of new trees to plant, where a sitting area near the pond will go and where the fence line will be so our dogs can roam the fresh ground and pond.
With all the travel I do for my job, getting the pond installed and all the timelines worked out, sometimes in my absence, was a huge undertaking. The reward from the efforts one day will provide a perfect venue to relax. The cost-share assistance programs made the opportunity possible, and I’m grateful that, while protecting natural resources and limiting erosion concerns, I will also be able to fish right outside my back door.
Photos by Nathan Beane