Fosston Fiber Festival Upcoming; SFA Sheep Networking Group Forming

Celebrating the fiber heritage of northern Minnesota, the Fosston Fiber Festival will showcase local fiber producers and artists from Oct. 2-4 at Northern Woolen Mills, 803 11th St NW, Fosston. The Festival, which includes fiber workshops, shopping, crafts, Northern Woolen Mills tours and more, is free, family-friendly and open to the public.

Information: or 218.657.2502. The Fosston Fiber Festival is sponsored by SFA, the Sustainable Sheep Community Project of Northern Minnesota, and Northern Woolen Mills.

Also, SFA is forming a Sustainable Sheep Networking Group. Click here to learn more.

MSHS Speaker Slate Coming Together: Allen Williams, Jay Fuhrer, and More

Dr. Allen Williams, shown at left above at the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit with co-speaker Gabe Brown, will return to the 2016 MSHS.

Dr. Allen Williams, shown at left above at the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit with co-speaker Gabe Brown, will return to the 2016 MSHS.

It’s time to talk speakers for the 2016 SFA Midwest Soil Health Summit, set for Feb. 17-18 at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn. – and don’t forget that early bird registration is just $125 for SFA members until Nov. 1.

The following soil health experts are scheduled to appear at the 2016 MSHS. More are likely to be added, but this slate is already looking great:

  • Jay Fuhrer, District Conservationist with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Bismarck and a leader of the innovative soil health techniques happening in and around Burleigh County, N.D.
  • Todd McPeak, a producer from Burleigh County, N.D., a world-renowned region of soil health-focused farmers.
  • Dr. Allen Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry as well as a leader in cutting edge grazing methodology.
  • Dr. Wendy Taheri, a microbiologist who specializes in the study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).
  • Dr. Shannon Osbourne, a Research Agronomist who focuses on understanding how soil and crop management options influence the soil environment and how these practices can be developed into production systems.
  • Grant Breitkreutz, a producer in Redwood Falls, will discuss his operation and how he builds soil health.
  • Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will detail the Five Principles of Soil Health and how each is a separate yet vital piece of the soil health puzzle.
  • John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will present “Soil Health Basics,” an introductory class geared solely to first-timers.

Also at the 2016 event will be more of what we keep hearing makes MSHS “the best conference I’ve ever been to:” discussion tables with presenters; the first-evening social time with drinks, food and a casual discussion with MSHS speakers; two days of farmer networking at the beautiful Arrowwood Resort; and a soil health-focused trade show.

Register below. Early bird prices good until Nov. 1. After that rates are $150 for SFA members and $200 for nonmembers.

Cover Crops & Livestock Integration Field Day is Sept. 25 in Verndale

Cows with fencing 500p for websiteJoin the Sustainable Farming Association for a tour of four central Minnesota farms and a look at the results of a three-year Minnesota Department of Agriculture Sustainable Ag Demonstration Grant project on various applications of cover crops in livestock operations.

The event, set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, begins at the farm of Kent and Linda Solberg, 18618 County Rd. 23, Verndale. Watch for the SFA signs.

The tour group will travel via a coach bus to the three other farms: Larry Heitkamp’s farm in Sebeka, Dan and Rosie Middendorf’s farm near Verndale, and Marcus Edin’s farm near Staples.

Cost is $10; lunch is provided. Register below.

Information: gro.n1440807291m-afs1440807291@tnek1440807291 or 1.844.922.5573, Ext. 701. 

Fencing Innovations for Soil Health Field Day is Sept 18 in Marshall

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaFencing innovations have made the integration of livestock into cover cropping systems easier than ever, and the Sustainable Farming Association is hosting a free field day to show how these strategies can result in improved soil health and enhanced profitability.

Join Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 18 as he installs a semi-permanent fence on the Allen Duetz farm, 2866 Co. Rd. 35, Marshall. Solberg, who has 20 years personal and professional fence design and installation experience, will also lead a discussion of the cover crops planted and how Duetz intends to use them to build soil health and improve his farm profitability. Lunch is included; leather gloves, work boots and safety glasses are highly recommended.

The event is free, but an RSVP is appreciated for planning purposes below or by contacting Solberg at gro.n1440807291m-afs1440807291@tnek1440807291 or 1.844.922.5573, Ext. 701. 

This event is made possible with support from The Pasture Project.

Pasture Project


Garlic Festival Links Farmers, Eaters for Fun-Filled Day


SFA Member Bruce Bacon describes his (hopefully) winning entry into the SFA Garlic Festival Garlic Growing Contest to SFA Executive Director John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

The 2015 Minnesota Garlic Festival is in the books!  The 10th annual version of this highly successful (and wonderfully smelly) event was great fun for all who attended.

This event is a great example of how SFA leads our sustainable agriculture community in many areas, including farmer-to-farmer networking.

Of course there were many people there who came from Hutchinson and nearby communities, as well as the Twin Cities and beyond. In addition to great food, entertainment and fun, these folks had a chance to interact directly with many SFA member farmers.

I personally was engaged in several conversations about farming, and SFA’s educational, mentoring and networking capacity. The average non-farmer that I spoke with was amazed at the breadth and depth of our organization and the services we provide to each other in terms of communication, networking and mutual education.

All in all, a wonderful, family friendly event that highlights the importance of sustainable agriculture in a fun, unique way.  To learn more about how the SFA Garlic Festival “tricks” people into learning about sustainable agriculture, check out my conversation with SFA Garlic Festival Director Jerry Ford below.

Stay Tuned to SFA for updates on the 2016 SFA Garlic Festival!

Ready to Learn ‘Reality Farming?’ Enroll in Farm Skills 101


Are you ready to learn what it’s really like to be a forage-based livestock farmer? Do you need boots-on-the-ground farm experience in a relaxed environment led by farmer educators?

Deep RootsAre you ready to learn “reality farming?”

SFA’s Deep Roots Farm Skills 101 fall semester provides the hands-on skills new farmers need to succeed once they’re on the land. Registration for our fall semester is now open, and a few spots remain for anyone looking to build competence while learning from experienced teachers in a student-focused environment.

The hands-on Farm Skills 101 course teaches pasture management and grazing basics; fence construction, both permanent and temporary; compassionate animal husbandry and handling; and farm equipment maintenance and operation.

Farm Skills 101 students gain experience and build confidence as part of a supportive learning community, which continues as students join SFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Network organization. Farm Skills 101 classes take place on two farms in central Minnesota – these are days in the field, not field days. Farmer-educators Sue Wika, Ph.D., Tom Prieve, DVM, and Kent Solberg, MS, lead a class limited to 6-8 students, creating an outstanding learning environment.

New this fall: In addition to the on-farm instruction, students will also have opportunity to discuss some of the classic literature relative to sustainable farming via an online learning community. One exciting component of the online curriculum is the Adjust 2015 New Farm Reality Check, a comprehensive project led by Executive Director John Mesko.

The on-farm classes meet Oct 2-3, 9-10, and 17-18. The online learning community commences the last week of September.

Tuition is just $1,250 and includes lodging and local foods suppers. Scholarships are available. To learn more about the curriculum, the teachers or to register, visit or contact Dr. Sue Wika at gro.n1440807291m-afs1440807291@eus1440807291.

From the Executive Director: Power of Diversity at Up North Farm

SFA board member Joel Rosen (from left), Up North Farm owners Kristin Gibbs and Charlie Danielson, and John Mesko celebrate Festival of Farms 2015.

SFA board member Joel Rosen (from left), Up North Farm owners Kristin Gibbs and Charlie Danielson, and John Mesko celebrate Festival of Farms 2015.

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

John Mesko

John Mesko

Another successful Festival of Farms event was held by SFA chapters in 2015. Those of you who participated as hosts, volunteers and attendees have all gotten a feel for the importance of telling the world what we are doing in sustainable agriculture. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in this year’s event around the state.

Lisa and I were fortunate enough to attend the Lake Superior Chapter event held at Charlie Danielson’s and Kristin Gibbs’ Up North Farm, just north of Duluth.

This permaculture-style homestead shows off the power of diversity and working with animals to build healthy soil while creating many value-added goods. Since 2007, Charlie and Kristin have raised 12 species of animals for milk, meat, eggs, tillers, fertilizers and friends. They grow a mix of annual and perennial plants along with mushrooms – as well as ideas for those with a new piece of land or looking at ways to creatively grow on others.

The day started with an overview of soil health and permaculture principles, followed by a tour of the farm where those principles were demonstrated in action. Up North Farm uses Hugel beds en masse, and many other techniques which drive diversity of plant and animal species.

Greater Mille Lacs Farm Tour & Potluck is July 12 in Aitkin

Greater Mille Lacs RGBGreater Mille Lacs chapter will host a tour of two member farms followed by a potluck, starting at 3 p.m. July 12. The event is free and open to the public, but please RSVP so we may properly plan.

The first tour begins at Mathew and Katie Nix’s Righteous Oaks Farm, 35372 295th St, Aitkin. Items of interest at Mathew and Katie’s place include animals on pasture (broilers, goats, pigs, cattle, bees), high-tensile electric solar-powered pasture fence, an in-progress solar powered water system, and a portable sawmill.

From there, the tour will progress to Debby and Kevin Flowers’ farm, 27793 360th Ave, Aitkin, for a tour and potluck supper. The Flowers are transforming into a sustainable farm, raising potatoes, corn, pumpkins, sunflowers, oats, rye and wheat as well as dairy goats, chickens and pigs.

Please invite anyone who might be interested in learning more about SFA in the Greater Mille Lacs region.

RSVP/Information: gro.n1440807291m-afs1440807291@scal1440807291ellim1440807291retae1440807291rg1440807291.

From the Executive Director: SFA has completed the Adjust 2015 Project!

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Adjust 2015 was designed to uncover the common issues farmers face in launching farm operations. Our survey findings from farmers all over the country have helped us to develop the New Farm Reality Check Curriculum.

Many of the most common issues, including soil health education and the importance and need for community building have been incorporated into SFAs Deep Roots Farmer Development Program.

Our website is home to several tools and templates farmers can use to navigate issues like, employee management, defining family roles, working with children, and establishing financial benchmarks to measure farm success.

Adjust 2015 was funded by NCR SARE and was a product of our collaboration with Renewing the Countryside and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.

Options Abound Across State for Festival of Farms 2015: Duluth, Pelican Rapids, Alexandria, Ramsey, & More

SFA’s Festival of Farms™ is an opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture, network within the community, and have fun at various farms across the state. The Festival is unique to each event, but the goal is the same—to build a unified sense of SFA’s presence in communities across Minnesota and tighten connections within the local food community.

Listed below are the various events planned this summer by SFA chapters and members. For a comprehensive description of the following events, visit our Festival of Farms homepage.


Charlie Danielson

Charlie Danielson

Lake Superior Chapter is hosting a tour of Charlie Danielson’s Up North Farm and Restoration from 1 to 3 p.m. Sat., July 11 at 6551 Bergstrom Rd, Duluth. This permaculture-style homestead shows off the power of diversity and working with animals to build healthy soil while creating many value-added goods. Since 2007, Charlie and his partner Kristin have raised 12 species of animals for milk, meat, eggs, tillers, fertilizers and friends. They grow a mix of annual and perennial plants along with mushrooms. Idea for those with a new piece of land or looking at ways to creatively grow on others.

Topics covered will be soil health, animal husbandry with rotational grazing, biomimicry, and how to start small with big ideas. This is geared toward beginning farmers but would benefit any farm.

Informationn/RSVP: moc.m1440807291rafht1440807291ronpu1440807291@eilr1440807291ahc1440807291.


Lake Agassiz Chapter Festival of Farms, “Building a Community of Farms in Lakes Country,” will be 1-4 p.m. July 11. The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at at Lida Farm, 44593 25th Ave, Pelican Rapids; and then move to Lost Farm just a few miles down the road.

Lida Farm is a 20-acre vegetable farm in operation for over 10 years that features diverse marketing strategies, integration of small-scale livestock production, and innovative methods of season extension including a deep winter greenhouse.

Lost Farm is a beginning-farm operation focused on self-sufficiency while exploring local markets for sustainable products. Enterprises include pastured livestock, market gardening, sustainable woodworking, and value-added food preservation.

Please RSVP online here or by calling Noelle Harden at 218.280.5253.


Lakeside Prairie Farm

Lakeside Prairie Farm

Central Chapter is hosting Festival of Farms from 12:30-8 p.m. on July 11 with a bus tour to and from three local farms, a local foods dinner, and more.

The event begins and ends at the City Park in Alexandria (118 City Park Rd). Buses will transport attendees to each of three SFA farms: Lakeside Prairie Farm, Berry Ridge Farm, and Fruitful Seasons Dairy. These farms feature draft-horse power, grass-fed beef and dairy, pastured pork and chickens, berry production, vegetables, high tunnels, oats and wheat. Then, at 6 p.m., a local foods dinner will be prepared for attendees by chef Eugen Wittemann.

To register, or for more information, visit


Plum Creek GarlicSustainable Farming Association is hosting a free Garlic Growers Field Day & Gathering for Festival of Farms from 2-6:30 p.m. Sun., July 12, with Plum Creek Farm.

The event begins with a field day at the farm, 2547 195th St, Clearwater, MN 55320, for a look at Chris and Joanne Kudrna’s garlic, and have some open Q&A time. Dr. Carl Rosen will be there for the really technical questions.

Around 3:30 or 4 p.m., the group will head to Chris and Joanne’s house, 3655 Plum Creek Drive, Saint Cloud, MN 56301, for potluck and more conversation. The possibility of starting a “garlic growers association” under SFA’s nonprofit umbrella will also be discussed. The event will end by 6:30 p.m.

Please reserve your spot by contacting Jerry Ford, gro.n1440807291m-afs1440807291@yrre1440807291j1440807291, 763.244.6659.


Garden Farme is again hosting its Picnic Scientifique, “Soil as System,” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat., July 11 at 7367 175th Ave NW, Ramsey. The event is free and no registration is required.

The day will include a garden walk with Garden Farme’s Soil Sci Committee on “Testing for Soil Health;” Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center will present a summary outline of aboveground impact in “Soil, Society, Economics;” and another garden walk on “Soil System Linkages – Determined or Stochastic?”

Information: Bruce Bacon at gro.n1440807291tm@no1440807291cabb1440807291 or 763.753.5099.


Living-Song-FarmUniversity of Minnesota Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service are teaming up with SFA to sponsor a special “warm-up tour” on “Grazing Management and Pasture Forage Quality” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thurs., July 9, at Living Song Farm, 7616 25th Street SW, Howard Lake, MN 5534. This event is free and no registration is required.

Jerry Ford, who has been rotationally grazing since 2006, will be the host. Other speakers include Tom Gervais, NRCS grazing specialist; Julie Reberg, NRCS District Conservationist; and Rod Greder, Wright County Extension Educator.

Animal productivity and farm economics can be enhanced by improved pasture management. Successfully establishing a rotational grazing system and wisely managing pasture forage grasses and legumes can lead to higher carrying capacity and improved gains in grazing animals. Well-planned fencing and watering systems are needed to maximize efficient pasture use. Some local and federal programs can provide financial and technical assistance for graziers wanting to establish high-density grazing systems on their farms.

At this field day we will be presenting management strategies to help improve your bottom line from pastures while also enhancing soil health and protecting water quality. Tools like the rising plate meter, the grazing wedge, and the refractometer to measure forage quality will be demonstrated. Marketing beef, sheep, lamb and poultry produced on pasture will be discussed, as will grazing in the certified organic program.

Registration and program begin at 10 a.m. Some walking will be required, and sturdy shoes or boots are recommended. Lunch will be provided.

Information: Rob Greder, Wright County Extension Office, at 763-682-7381 or ude.n1440807291mu@41144080729100der1440807291g1440807291.