From the Executive Director: How You Can Build a Network

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

What makes SFA’s farmer network unique? When you look over the landscape of sustainable agriculture today, there are many “farmer networks” in existence. What makes a network, and why is SFA’s network unique?

A network, as we are using the term here is defined as: “a group or system of interconnected people or things.”

Twenty-five years ago, at the founding of SFA, the idea of farmers networking together to solve the issues of sustainability was a relatively new concept. There were networks, of course, but many of these were bonded with the glue of political partisanship. Such networks are very effective navigating the politics of any issue, but really struggle to provide solutions for issues that cross political lines, and food and farming is one of those issues.

Today, SFA is a Farmer-to-Farmer-Network® organization and is really a network of farmers who work independently and interconnectedly to solve their own issues around sustainability as well as the broader issues of local foods, healthy communities and the sustainable agriculture movement in general. In other words, our network is designed to help individual farmers become more successful, as well as elevate the conversations around food and farming, bringing about a sustainable future across the board.

Building a professional network of clients and contacts for your business involves how you relate to people. Developing a professional network includes awareness of people who interact with your business, having a positive attitude about people, communicating effectively with people, and doing the things that build strong relationships.

The strength of any network is really found in the interactions of individuals to help build it. And you may be asking, “OK, how can I help build this network?” Here a list of things you can do within SFA that will help both you and the bigger sustainable agriculture picture:

  • Be Aware. Opportunities are all around you, and yet if you are not aware of them, they may as well not exist. Reading SFA Connect is a great way to be aware.
  • Have a helpful attitude. Being an effective networker isn’t just about what you do; it’s also about your attitude toward what you’re doing. Your attitude influences everything in your life — the goals you set, the risks you’re willing to take, the way you approach people, your willingness to approach people, the way you respond to people, and much more. Volunteering at your chapter and recording your volunteer hours is a great way to demonstrate helpfulness. It’s fun too! Your attitude not only affects what you do; it also affects the way people respond to you. Your attitude can create a barrier and turn people off, or it can communicate with people that you want people to interact with you.
  • Hone your communication skills. Networking happens through conversation. After mastering the art of small talk, you will feel more comfortable meeting new people and developing rapport. By developing rapport with people, you will be able to turn small talk into opportunities to make requests and be a networking resource. Attend a chapter meeting, workshop or conference connected to SFA. You’ll have a chance to communicate with other like-minded farmers.
  • Develop relationship-building habits. A network exists as a series of relationships and connections between people. People must relate with and respect one another in order for a valuable networking exchange to happen. Building relationships is your first priority when networking.

Editor’s Note: Adapted from “How to Build a Professional Network.” John Wiley & Sons, publishers. Accessed: March 23, 2015

Next Soil Health Webinar is April 3 with Dr. Shannon Osbourne

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaOur next free Keep Cattle in Minnesota webinar is set for 1-2:30 p.m. April 3 and will feature Dr. Shannon Osbourne of ARS in Brookings, S.D.

Dr. Osborne is a Research Agronomist with the US Dept of Agricultural-Agricultural Research Service whose research focuses on understanding how soil and crop management options influence the soil environment and how these practices can be developed into production systems that maintain or improve our soil resource conservation and environmental quality, while providing production efficiency.

This webinar is free and open to all. Click here to register.

Dr. Osborne’s presentation will focus on the impact of crop diversity, no-till, cover crops and residue removal on soil health properties, including soil physical properties and their interaction with soil biological properties. Specific information will included how crop diversity and cover crops impact soil aggregation, carbon and components of soil organic matter.

For more information on these and all SFA KCIM webinars, visit our Keep Cattle in Minnesota homepage. These webinars are presented with support by The Pasture Project.

Our two previous webinars, including the most recent from March 6, ”Strategies for Implementing Cover Crops,” led by Livestock & Grazing Specialist Kent Solberg, are also archived on our KCIM homepage.

New SFA Resource Now Available: Beginning Grazier Handbook

Grazier handbook LOGODesigned to assist the beginning grazier in designing and implementing a grazing system, our new Beginning Grazier Handbook is a starting place to quickly and easily find pertinent information. Most of the resources listed include website links for additional interest-specific grazing information.

The Handbook includes:

  • Technical assistance – a list of “go-to” people who can provide advice to help you achieve a successful grazing system.
  • Information on training, educational opportunities, mentors, networks, and organizations to help you gain knowledge of grazing and grazing systems.
  • Production resources that provide you with reading materials on grazing systems.
  • Farm business planning information that helps farmers understand the business side of grazing – recordkeeping, business planning, and marketing opportunities of your products.
  • Where to go in Minnesota for loans and grants to help with financing the infrastructure needed for a grazing system.

In the appendices are lists of businesses that supply equipment and seeds for grazing systems. Use this list to find suppliers and negotiate the best value when purchasing. The goal of the handbook was to provide information; listing does not mean we endorse any of these suppliers.


Click here to download the SFA Beginning Grazier Handbook.

This handbook was compiled by SFA as part of the Keep Cattle in Minnesota Project, with support from the Minnesota Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Pasture Project.

Farm Solutions Podcast – Deep Roots Farmer Development

The Deep Roots Farmer Development program is Farmer-to-Farmer Networking designed to help other farmers get started in agriculture and food systems.  One of the key components of DR, which is making it so unique and so successful in the marketplace of Ideas is the concept of Mechanical Solidarity. Its a sociological term which really gets at the need we have in agriculture for community.
I spoke recently with Dr. Sue Wika, the DR Design leader about the unique approach DR is taking and about the kinds of students who are finding DR to be helpful.
Following the interview is a mention of some upcoming Deep Roots classes.

NOTE: The Spring 2015 semester of Farm Skills 101 is sold out. Fall 2015 registration is NOW OPEN HERE.

Farm Skills 101 consists of around 50 hours of on-farm education in three weekends of fun and fulfilling learning. These are days in the field, not field days. Participants will need pants, closed-toe shoes, gloves and safety glasses.

Deep Roots programs include small class sizes and individualized attention. Every student engages in the activities. This is real-world, real-time education. 

Fall 2015 classes will be held Oct. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17 at farms near Alexandria, Minn. Friday classes run from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Pack sack lunches and breakfasts; Friday local-foods suppers are included. Tuition also includes housing at nearby Faith Haven Camp.

Register below for “Nuts and Bolts,” a workshop designed for those with a desire to farm but with little or no experience with common farm tools and equipment. In this workshop, students will gain practical experience with farm tools and materials.

Get prepared for the upcoming season of food production by participating in this Deep Roots Farmer Development Program workshop. You will increase your handiness while developing competence with farm tools and materials. Get the edge for summer farm internships by listing this course on your resume! This is also an appropriate preparatory course for Farm Skills 101.

Bring a sack lunch.

Small class size guarantees that all students receive ample individual attention. Course instructors are seasoned farmers.Students should have gloves and safety glasses and wear closed-toe shoes and long pants.


  • Common hand tool identification and use on the farm
  • Hands-on operation of common tools
  • Ergonomics and body mechanics
  • Common hardware identification & use: nails, nuts, bolts, staples, screws
  • Building materials, such as lumber
  • Small carpentry project completed during class
For more information, contact Dr. Sue Wika at gro.n1429609630m-afs1429609630@eus1429609630 or 218.747.2202.
Registration Link:
More information is at

New SFA East Central Chapter Hosting First Meeting

A new SFA chapter is forming in the East Central part of the state, and all are invited to the first official chapter meeting, set for 6 p.m. March 29 at Kimberly-Glen Town Hall in Aitkin.

Admission to this event is free and no registration is required.

The purpose of this meeting is to elect a Chapter Board of Directors and discuss the direction and goals of this new Chapter. Here are the particulars about the event:

  • Date: March 29, 2015
  • Time: 6 pm
  • Location: Kimberly-Glen Town Hall 32631 Dam Lake St, Aitkin, MN 56431
  • Cost: Free

For more information, contact Jerry Ford at gro.n1429609630m-afs1429609630@yrre1429609630j1429609630.