I thought I heard the trill of a red-winged blackbird on my running route today. Last week I saw what must have been a hundred turkey vultures soaring to and roosting in one sycamore tree along the Blanchard River between Ottawa and Glandorf. Robins are the traditional heralds of spring, but those cheeky birds pop up between snowstorms throughout the winter months. The other two bird species fly the coop each fall, at least as far as southern Ohio.

On March 12, Ohio State Extension’s Jim Hoorman spoke to a small crowd at the Putnam County Educational Service Center. While a snowstorm closed school and raised road advisory levels outside, Hoorman talked about one effective way to combat flooding by planting radishes, winter peas, red clover and other cover crops. He said that the plants’ roots hold the soil in place, reducing soil erosion. By reducing soil erosion, the plants also reduce both the rate and quantity of water that drains off the field. In tandem with field tiling, although less of it due to the cover crop effect, 80 billion gallons of water could be slurped up and out of Main Street.

We have an agricultural industry that is the biggest business in Northwest Ohio. It takes in a lot of land that could act as a sponge during flood events, land that could make good use of the retained water. So, what’s the hold up? Hoorman says the biggest stumbling block to increasing the percentage of farmers who plant cover crops is tradition.

In my mind’s eye, I see my grandpa driving the Farmall as it pulls the wagon that I’m riding in, mown Sudan grass falling all around me. I know now that this eight-inch grass is used as an organic cover crop, hay or silage. Grandpa probably planted it for all three, especially as fodder for his Jersey cows. I just thought it smelled really good and it was fun to watch my uncles throw linseed oil at each other while they painted the new collecting wagon.

Grandpa hadn’t always planted Sudan grass. He was always trying new things, new ways to boost production of that rich, buttery Jersey milk. I was in college when he landed a contract with County line cheese, a major coup in his farming career.

As our planet seeks to right itself, change is all around us. Those red-winged blackbirds are a good month ahead of schedule. The town of Hinckley had its annual buzzard festival on March 15, yet I saw my first turkey vulture of 2014 on March 1. Beekeeping is moving inside village, town and city limits as apiculturists try to keep honeybees flying, pollinating and spinning the sweet stuff. If a cover of clover intertwined with six-foot radishes can keep people in their homes and help revitalize a downtown or two, maybe that’s worth trading a few traditions that could be holding up positive changes.