Executive Director’s Note: Can All Farmers Be in the Same Category?

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Recently, I learned the MN Department of Agriculture has essentially phased out the distinction they’ve been making between sustainable agriculture and other, non-organic brands of agriculture.  Aside from the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant program, you’ll find very little on the MDA website referring to “sustainable” agriculture.

I think for most of us, this might come as a bit of a surprise, especially given how supportive MDA has been of our organization over the years.  Frankly, I don’t expect the change in language on the MDA website is in any way a reflection of a desire on the part of the department to become any less supportive of SFA, but it raises an interesting discussion.

The sustainable agriculture movement of the last 25-30 years or so was a product of the discontent in the land after the farm crises of the 1980s which saw many farmers succumb to the pressures of a farm economy which was heavily rewarding economies of scale and making it very difficult to farm effectively in the small and mid scale.  Pioneers banded together against the brand of agriculture forcing them out at that time.  The enemies were banks, the government, and big ag.  Those pioneers sought low cost solutions in order to survive.  As a result there were many innovative models and techniques that were developed and perfected, such as: reduced tillage, no-tillage, cover crops, and the rise of the organic farmer.

Many of these practices have become mainstream in the past generation.  The modern farmer, regardless of his or her preferred production model may be more sustainability minded than the previous generation.  And while we may differ on the definition of sustainability, there are few out there today who are actively engaging in farming with the intent to waste land resources and knowingly damage the environment.

I understand MDAs decision on “sustainable” agriculture.  It means we have more farmers in our audience.  More farmers moving toward ever improving sustainable production models is a good thing.

Do you think it’s possible for all farmers to be in the same category?  Or, should we be divided into “sustainable” and “conventional” farmers?  I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at john@sfa-mn.org.

Success With Sheep Pasture Walk Set in Medina

Attend a pasture walk all about raising sheep from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sat., Oct. 11, at Red Hawk Farm, 3955 Chippewa Circle, Medina. Learn about the facilities to house and feed your flock, handling your animals, and managing pastures.

Presenters include farmer Julie Humiston, Alternative Livestock Specialist Wayne Martin, DVM and sheep farmer Holly Neaton, and NRCS Grazing Specialist Tom Gervais.

This event is relevant to both those considering sheep or experienced shepherds serious about raising productive, healthy animals. The free, informal event will include plenty of time for discussion and interaction.

RSVP by Oct. 8 to Karl Hakanson at 612.596.1175 or khakanso@umn.edu.

Send Us Your Memories to Celebrate 25 Years of SFA

SFA 25 YEARSBy Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

Next year is a big one for SFA – 2015 marks 25 years since SFA’s formation – and we need your help.

As SFA begins a yearlong series of special events and publications revolving around our Silver Anniversary, we are seeking submissions for a special edition of the yearly CornerPost magazine – SFA-related memories, stories, photos, videos, documents.

This can be anything you have to share that can help tell SFA’s story, whether it happened 25 years or 25 days ago. A selection of these historical nuggets will be published in the upcoming CornerPost edition as well as archived on our 25th Anniversary homepage.

Photos are an especially poignant way to tell SFA’s history, and we encourage you to send as many as possible. They can be whimsical, serious, educational, adorable, or just plain goofy. Information about those pictured along with the photo would be extra helpful.

Even if you want to just send two sentences about what SFA means to you, that would be terrific. No submission is too large or too small, as we are hoping to collect as diverse a range of information as possible.

Additionally, we’re having a video contest: Make a short video (no longer than two minutes) about SFA, sustainability and what it means to you. The videos will be posted on our website, and the best video (as chosen by a panel of distinguished SFA staff) will receive a semi-fabulous prize package of SFA swag as well as free admission to the SFA Annual Conference. Then, at the conference, we’ll play the winning video during the opening plenary session. Deadline for video submissions is Jan. 15, 2015.

Deadline to make it into the CornerPost is Oct. 31, and we can’t return things you mail without prior approval. After that we welcome submissions, but they will only be reproduced on the website.

Email your materials to history@sfa-mn.org, and we’ll start compiling. Or, mail to SFA, Box 192, Princeton, MN 55371.

Deadline for submissions is Oct. 31, and we can’t return things you mail without prior approval.

Thank you for helping us celebrate 25 years of sustainable agriculture in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest!

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

I want to make sure that you know about the 3rd Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Conference: Reintegrating Ag: Local Food Systems and the Future of Cities in which I will be participating. The conference will explore the economic impact as well as the community and environmental benefits that can result from the development of a robust local food system.

Slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, November 11 – 12, 2014 at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the first day of the conference will offer an Urban Agriculture Field Trip on which attendees will get a sneak peak at Los Angeles’ first multi-faceted food production business incubator for local entrepreneurs along with a tour of a blossoming 1.5-acre high school campus urban farming operation in Pasadena and a visit to a hydroponic shipping container farm in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. The second day of the conference will feature panels and keynotes that will explore, among other topics, the following:

  • Reintegrating Agriculture into the City
  • The local food production and commercial potential of controlled environment agriculture in cities;
  • How city and county policy can encourage investment in and support of local and urban agriculture;
  • Business models and technological solutions from irrigation technology to supply chain innovations necessary to augment the growth of local food systems

I would love to see you there. Below are some more details on the conference as well as a link to register along with a promo code that will provide you with a ‘friend’s discount’ of 20% off the ticket price.


  • John Mesko – Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
  • A.G. Kawamura – Former Secretary of California Dept. of Food and Agriculture
  • Nicola Kerslake – New Bean Capital
  • Dwight Detter – Whole Foods Market
  • Daniel Allen – Farmscape
  • Nurit Katz – Chief Sustainability Officer at UCLA
  • Kimberly Kessler – Resnick Program for Food Law & Policy

REGISTRATION & TICKETS: A limited number of discount tickets for those of you in my network are available at 20% off the list price. So register quickly to reserve your spot by going to http://seedstockconference.eventbrite.com and entering the promotional code SEEDSTOCKFRIEND to receive your discount!

Deep Winter Greenhouse Workshop Registration Now Open

A class from the SFA Sustainable Food Production Program, “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy,” will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 31, 2015, in Ashby, Minn.

Dr. Sue Wika’s deep winter greenhouse at Paradox Farm utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage and provides winter greens for local consumers. Photo by Ann Arbor Miller/MPR News.

Dr. Sue Wika’s deep winter greenhouse at Paradox Farm utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage and provides winter greens for local consumers. Photo by Ann Arbor Miller/MPR News.

This newly listed class is distinct from the Feb. 13 Deep Winter class that is offered in combination with the SFA Annual Conference.

During the class, farm owners Sue Wika and Tom Prieve will provide a detailed overview of the construction and operation of their deep-winter greenhouse, which utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage. The greenhouse provides greens for local consumers. In addition, the structure is utilized to produce fodder for the farm livestock. Students will be in the greenhouse to see how greens and fodder are planted and harvested.

This particular Deep Winter class is more in-depth and will provide opportunity for students to “get their hands dirty” in the greenhouse by planting and harvesting greens. It will also cover greenhouse construction in a more detailed manner.

Cost is $100/person. Bring a sack lunch. Beverage and fresh winter salad (grown on site) provided. The class will be held at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Hwy 78, Ashby, MN 56309 (Directions: 7 miles north of Ashby; 10 miles south of Battle Lake). Storm date is Feb. 7, 2015.

Click here to register.