By Audrey Arner
Founding SFA President Ralph Lentz, 88, of Lake City, Minn., passed away Sun., Oct. 1, at Lake City Care Center. Early in his career he taught high school Earth science in Henderson and in 1965 moved to Lake City and bought a farm outside of town. He was an agricultural teacher as well as the advisor to the Future Farmers of America at Lincoln High School for 30 years. Ralph retired from teaching in 1988.
At that point Ralph became very active in establishing the Sustainable Farming Association of Southeastern Minnesota, now known as the Driftless Chapter. The was the first SFA chapter in the state. In 1991, when SFA incorporated as a statewide nonprofit organization, he shouldered the responsibility of chairing the board for several terms.
Ralph was among the most respected pioneers of grass farming in Minnesota and led the way studying, demonstrating and implementing rotational grazing management in sustainable agriculture systems. He was a dynamic participant in The Monitoring Project facilitated by Land Stewardship Project, to identify and measure indicators of sustainability on grass-based farms in Minnesota. He also served as the state chair of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. Ralph was awarded Outstanding Conservationist in 2013 by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation District.
He affected many SFA members – some beginners, some established farmers – to steer their operations toward stability and perennialization with a keen attention to water quality. He traveled to Russia several times teaching students about progressive sustainable farming practices in the U.S. and hosted annual spring dinners of “Where the Wild Things Are” for Slow Food Minnesota.
Ralph will be remembered as a teacher, father, grass farmer, veteran, grandfather, fisherman, Boundary Waters explorer, canoeist, devoted friend, observer of nature and a continuous learner. He wanted to die with his work boots on.
Ralph is survived by sons Michael Lentz of Red Wing and Kevin Lentz of Ann Arbor, Mich.; daughters Deborah (Richard Andres) Lentz of Chelsea, Mich.; Julie (Steve) Prigge of Lake City; Lisa Lentz of Ann Arbor; grandchildren Nick (Tesla Noreen) and Alex Krause of Lake City; Miles and Corey Lentz of Eugene, Ore.; and Ariana Andres of Chelsea; four great grandchildren; and one sister, Jeanette Degenaar of Eagan. He is preceded in death by his ex-wife, Gerrie Lentz, four sisters and one brother.
Editor’s Note: Audrey Arner is a longtime SFA member and friend of Ralph Lentz. She owns and operates Moonstone Farm in Montevideo with her husband, Richard Handeen, a member of SFA’s Board of Directors.