SFA Chooses Winter Sustainability Conference Interns

Katie Harris

Katie Harris

For the second consecutive year, SFA has tapped Sustainability Conference Interns to help plan our winter conferences and become a part of our farmer networking organization. This year, three interns were picked from a diverse, deep pool of applicants: Katie Harris, Helen Schnoes and Kelsey Wulf.

Harris (top right), who will work alongside Livestock & Grazing Specialist Kent Solberg, is a student at the University of Minnesota with a major in Food Systems – Organic and Local Food Production Emphasis. Harris, of Anoka, works at Grass Roots Cooperative in Anoka, has volunteered at Mill City Farmers Market and has studied sustainability in Ecuador.

Helen Schnoes

Helen Schnoes

Schnoes (middle right), who will work alongside Event Coordinator Jerry Ford, just received her Master of Regional Planning degree from Cornell University. A Minneapolis native, she has extensively studied food systems and co-funded Sitka Salmon Shares and has experience planning several local foods events.

Wulf, who will work alongside Communications Coordinator JasonWalker, is a familiar face at SFA events and graduate of the Sustainable Food Production program.

Kelsey Wulf

Kelsey Wulf

Wulf, who lives in Detroit Lakes, has worked on several farms, including Seven Pines Farm and Lida Farm. She has also been selected to help with SFA’s 25th anniversary celebration, and has written and compiled several submissions for the upcoming CornerPost and an online historical archive.

SFA thanks everyone who applied for our sustainability internships.

Danielson Elected Association Board Vice-Chair

Charlie Danielson

Charlie Danielson

Charlie Danielson, a farmer from the Duluth area and member of SFA Lake Superior Chapter, was elected Vice-Chair at the SFA Association Board of Directors meeting on Fri., Oct. 24, at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.

Danielson, owner of Up North Farm, is a permaculture educator and farmer who works with nature to rebuild the soil while creating a diverse career in creating a more sustainable food system.

“I am happy to help connect our regions around the state in creating a more sustainable and secure food system while protecting the soil and water that we borrow from our future,” he said.

Danielson, who joins the SFA Board as the Lake Superior delegate following the resignation of former Vice-Chair Eric Ament, was unanimously elected to the position.

The SFA Association Board of Directors meets three times a year: February, April and October.

From the Executive Director: Adjust 2015 Coming to MN Organic Conference

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Winter is here. Earlier than most of us would like, but it’s here, and that means conference season. Hopefully, you’ve already registered for the Midwest Soil Health Summit on Feb. 18-19, 2015, as those seats will sell fast. And I know you wouldn’t let SFA’s Annual Conference on Feb. 14 pass you by. It’s the perfect winter-time warm up!

NFRC_Adjust2015_RGBHowever, there’s another conference you really should be thinking about: the MN Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Organic Conference.  I just got my registration packet in the mail recently, and I’m going to be there.

SFA will have a booth, and SFA will be offering our very first Adjust 2015 Workshop! Yes, you’ve heard about Adjust 2015 for the past two years now, and we are ready (almost) to launch the curriculum!

As a reminder, Adjust 2015’s “New Farm Reality Check” Curriculum is designed to offer beginning farmers that one final run through of their plans before they embark on an important farm business. We’ve asked hundreds of farmers to tell what the initial hurdles were in their businesses, and what they would do over again to avoid them. We’ve identified key components of flexibility and planning success that will help beginning farmers to avoid potentially disastrous situations.  Come early to the MN Organic Conference, and sign up for the “Reality Checking Your Farm Plan” Winter Workshop.  It’s FREE for SFA members!

The MN Organic Conference, easy to get to in St. Cloud, loaded with information, and SFA will be there too! Don’t miss it.

Update: Additional Deep Winter Greenhouse Class Added

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.

After the first two sold out, we’ve added another SFA Sustainable Food Production Program “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy” class: from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Ashby, Minn.

NOTE: This class is in addition to the sold-out Deep Winter classes already scheduled for Jan. 31 and Feb. 13. If you already registered for those courses, be assured they will take place as scheduled. 

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. Registrants: Don’t forget to 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. 8, 2015.

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Recently, I was invited to attend the 2014 Seedstock Conference in Los Angeles, an annual event that highlights innovations in agriculture, beginning farming, and local food issues. Being set in California means an emphasis on solutions for the massive drought affecting the state, as well as urban farming. Seedstock organizers recognize SFA’s leadership in farmer-to-farmer networking, and the need for better connections between West Coast and Midwestern agriculture.

This year, I was discussing, among other things, the importance of good business planning for beginning farmers. Because of our work on Adjust 2015, I was asked for my thoughts on what are the most important aspects of a good business plan. From what we’ve learned and from the collective wisdom of the Sustainable Agriculture movement, those keys are: Flexibility, Benchmarks, Exit Strategy, Sensitivity Analysis, and Professional Development. Over the next few issues of SFA Connect, I’ll share a bit more on some of these concepts.

NFRC_Adjust2015_RGBFlexibility. In food and farming, there are so many variables: supply and regulatory issues, weather effects, labor issues, and family concerns. Farms, even large ones are typically classified as small businesses and as such face an uphill struggle from the start. These are often growing businesses, in a competence market requiring unique relationships with suppliers, customers and other producers. This interdependence creates great opportunity as well as great risk. The more dependent a business is on these connections, the greater chance problems can arise, requiring the business to respond with flexibility. According to the Purdue University Agriculture Economics Department: “Strategic risk management requires the capability to be flexible. Flexibility is the managerial/organizational capacity to change in response to changing circumstances. To be flexible, a farm must have the resources and skills to successfully change strategies regarding key strategic business choices, such as business enterprise focus, financial/organizational structure, marketing and channel linkages, growth/downsizing, etc. “

This is what Adjust 2015 has researched, and a good bit of the New Farm Reality Check curriculum we are developing will focus on building flexibility into business plans. Look for this to become available at the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14, 2015, at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.