Calling All Budding Farmers to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference

Art and science projects, cooking lessons and more – the Budding Farmers program is coming to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14 at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.

 SFA member Monica Irwin of Northfield launched Budding Farmers in 2013 after years of experience working within the local food system as a farmer, farmer’s market manager, community educator, and good food activist. The goal of the program is that all kids should know where their food comes from and why they should be eating healthy food.

At the SFA Annual Conference, registered children will complete art, science and cooking projects, and move around playing imaginative games. Also, each child will go home with plenty of fun activity pages and materials, including a seed-sprouting kit, so they can be a Budding Farmer at home.

“We’ll be doing hands-on agriculture-themed activities that focus on the Budding Farmers motto: ‘Learn, Cook, Grow – I’m a Budding Farmer!’” said Irwin (right).

Registration for children’s programming is just $10 – Budding Farmers students will return to their parents for lunch, and parents may want to pack snacks and drinks for their students to have during class time. Children attending must be between 3 and 12 years old and potty trained; kids under 3 are welcome to attend the conference but are the responsibility of their parents. Click here to register.  

To read more about Monica and Budding Farmers, visit her homepage or read this 2013 article from the Northfield News.

Volunteer Registration Now Open and Other Annual Conference News

  • Volunteer registration is now open – all 2015 volunteers receive a newly designed SFA t-shirt. Volunteers are needed to be session monitors, help with parking and registration, setup/teardown, and more. To volunteer or to learn more, contact SFA Volunteer Coordinator Gretchen Boyum at 218.535.1567 or boyumfarms@gmail.com.
  • Register through Dec. 30 at the rate of $45/members and $55/nonmembers. SFA members will receive a separate email with discount registration instructions. Only SFA members will receive this separate email.
  • Vendor/Exhibitor Registration is open as well. Visit our Annual Conference homepage to download the proper form.
  • Scholarships to attend the SFA Annual Conference are available for current students and require a volunteer commitment; for more information, email Jerry Ford at jerry@sfa-mn.org.

From The Executive Director: Send us your memories, your thoughts, things you’ve learned

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

SFA has played a major role in the advancement of sustainable agriculture over the last 25 years.  Founded in 1990, SFA’s Farmer to Farmer Network™ organization has helped to develop and promote foundational practices in agriculture; some of which have become mainstream.

For example, in 1990, reduced tillage and no till agriculture was somewhat obscure for most farmers.  Today, zero tillage, particularly in soybean production has become the standard.  Today, farmers are smarter about chemical applications, there are more farmers markets, more farmers selling direct to consumers and more beginning farmers than ever.

These advances would not have succeeded without the network of SFA farmers, who over the years have shared their insights and learnings with neighbors and friends through SFA chapters and involvment in SFA events.  If you’ve been around SFA for any length of time, you’ve had a hand in this as well.  Send us your memories, your thoughts, examples of the things you’ve learned.  Its time to celebrate the accomplishments of all of sustainable agriculture!

Upcoming Webinar: Building Farm to Institution Markets

Nov. 6 webinar postcardA free webinar and survey to help Minnesota food producers grow, “Building Farm to Institution Markets,” is set for 3-4 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 6.

This webinar is for farmers, ranchers and producers currently selling to, or interested in selling to, schools, child care centers, hospitals or other institutions. It will provide an introduction to farm to institution practices and benefits. It will focus on how the needs of the producer can be matched with the needs of the buyer, accessing the potential of this rapidly expanding market channel. This webinar pairs with a new survey that invites producers to share their input on farm to institution opportunities, barriers and resource needs.

Presenters scheduled to appear include:

  • SFA member producer Greg Reynolds, who will discuss his experience with farm to institution sales
  • Andrea Northup from Minneapolis Public Schools, who will talk about the institution’s perspective
  • Ryan Pesch from University of Minnesota Extension, who will talk about the market potential of institutional sales

This is a project of: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Renewing the Countryside, and Sustainable Farming Association.

Click here to register.

Keep Cattle In Minnesota Field Day is Nov. 1 Near Sebeka

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaThe Sustainable Farming Association is hosting a Cover Crop Field Day as part of its Keep Cattle in Minnesota project from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 2014, in the Sebeka/Verndale area. The event is free and open to the public, and no RSVP is required.

During the Field Day, attendees will review two fields planted to complex cover-crop mixes; one is planted to a cool-season mix and the other to a warm-season mix. These mixes were designed to stimulate soil microbes, build soil organic matter and provide livestock forage. Cattle will likely be utilizing at least one of these fields the day of the tour. There will be a soil pit in the second field to view cover crop root action and growth.

The tour begins at Larry Heitkamp’s Yellow Rose Organic Farm on County Road 12 seven miles east of U.S. 71 in Sebeka, or three miles east of the Co. Rd. 12 and Co. Rd. 23 intersection. Watch for SFA signs.

After the program at the Heitkamp farm, the group will caravan to the second stop, Kent and Linda Solberg’s farm, at 18618 Co. Rd. 23, Verndale.

The Keep Cattle in Minnesota project is funded in part by MDA Sustainable Ag and Energy Grant and NRCS. For more information about SFA or Keep Cattle in Minnesota, contact Wayne Monsen at wmonsen@gmail.com or visit our KCIM homepage.

After Last Year’s Sellout, Midwest Soil Health Summit Returns With Gabe Brown; Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for SFA’s second annual Midwest Soil Health Summit, featuring Gabe Brown, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn.

Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

The MSHS, newly expanded for 2015, also will feature Dr. Allen Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry.

Brown, the keynote speaker, owns Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., and is a pioneer in diverse cover cropping who has used no-till techniques for two decades. At the 2015 MSHS, Gabe will discuss soil health programming for beginners as well as lead a separate program for advanced farmers – if you attended the previous MSHS, rest assured this year’s version will include plenty of fresh information from Gabe.

Gabe Brown chats during the 'Gab With Gabe' session at the 2014 MSHS.

Gabe Brown chats during the ‘Gab With Gabe’ session at the 2014 MSHS.

Last year’s MSHS was a sellout; register now to guarantee your spot. Walk-up registration will be dependent on pre-registration numbers, and SFA members receive a $50 registration discount. Click here to register.

Also scheduled to appear:

  • Jerry Doan, farmer from Black Leg Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., a multi-generational family farm that emphasizes soil health.
  • Dr. Michael Lehman, a research microbiologist whose studies include evaluating soil microbiological responses to agricultural management practices.
  • Dr. Wendy Taheri, a research microbiologist who specializes in the study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).
  • Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will discuss Designing Complex Cover Crop Blends
  • John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will lead a program on Soil Science Basics
  • Ian Cunningham, a cow-calf producer and veteran cover cropper from Pipestone County, Minn.

Also returning this year is our exclusive “Gab With Gabe” networking session from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 18, 2015, with Gabe Brown. ONLY 10 TICKETS will be sold at $50 each for this chance to network one-on-one with a soil health pioneer. You must register for the MSHS separately – this ticket will ONLY get you into “Gab With Gabe.” Click here to register for “Gab With Gabe.”

Need a room? Arrowwood Resort is a family friendly location with ice fishing, cross country ski trails, snowmobiling, ice skating, broomball, and more. For more information or to reserve a room at the special MSHS rate of $99, call the resort at 320.762.1124.

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.

CONFIRMED SPEAKERS INCLUDE:

  • 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.