Annual Conference Schedule Announced; Nearly 8,000 Votes Cast

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

You spoke, and we listened – after tallying nearly 8,000 votes from SFA members and supporters, we have developed the schedule for our Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14, 2015, at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.

SFA_AC_The schedule includes the top vote-getters from our survey as well as staff, board and grant-related recommendations. More details and added presenters for each session are still rolling in; for the most up-to-date version of the schedule, visit our Annual Conference schedule homepage. 

With two months until the conference we’ve already registered 75 people for the Conference – clearly the buzz is building about our yearly farmer networking showcase. Without further ado, then, here are the sessions scheduled for the 2015 SFA Annual Conference. More presenters may be added to these sessions, and other changes are possible, but here is what we have so far:

  • Better than California: How to Grow Fabulous Greens During Deep Winter in Minnesota – with Sue Wika and Tom Prieve of Paradox Farm and the SFA Sustainable Food Production Program
  • Deep Winter Greenhouse Networking Group Organizational Meeting – with Carol Ford
  • Navigating the Pinball Game of Finance Options – with Jan Joannides of Renewing the Countryside and Pam Bishop of the Southern MN Initiative Foundation
  • Disruptive Conservation – with Tim Gieseke of Ag Resource Strategies and Jim Chamberlin, SFA Association Board President
  • Fencing Systems – with Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist and owner of Seven Pines Farm and Fence
  • Food Hubs in Minnesota – with Joe Domineer of MN Valley Action Council and Arlene Jones and Jessie Sprout of Brainerd
  • Resources for SFA Chapters – with SFA Network Coordinator Jerry Ford
  • Adjust 2015: Stories From New Farms – with John Mesko
  • Salvaging, Adapting, Repurposing Equipment & Buildings – with Josh Reinitz and Daniel Zetah
  • Youth Conference Kickoff – detailing our upcoming Youth Conference with John Mesko
  • Post Harvest Vegetable Handling: Quality Produce from the Field to the Box – with Lisa Baker of Baker’s Acres Farm
  • Small Dairy Resources – with Kent Solberg
  • Your Legal Questions: Asked and Answered – with Jennifer Jambor-Delgado and Amanda Heyman of Jambor Heyman
  • Integrated Crop & Livestock Systems – with Kent Solberg
  • Sheep Farming Basics – with Wayne Martin from the University of Minnesota Extension
Mary Jane Miller

Mary Jane Miller

Our Culinary Session with Mary Jane Miller is also coming together, and as usual Mary Jane has a full day’s worth of food, drink and cooking demonstrations on tap. This schedule is still being finalized, but as of today the frontrunners are:

  • Cooking With and For Kids – Bring new ideas to the family table and bring the farm to the high chair and lunch box.
  • Start with a Rotisserie Chicken – Get the inside scoop on how to shop for a good roasted bird and taste creative ideas for dinner in a hurry.
  • Grassfed Beef: The Art of Braising – Learn how to coax the best from grassfed beef with long, gentle cooking. Taste braised short ribs, slow cooker Italian beef ragout, and Argentinian pulled beef sandwiches.
  • Stump the Sommelier – Mary Jane will cook dishes that are notoriously hard to pair wines with; Marcus Hanson will take a shot at choosing the perfect wine for each. Taste along and see if you agree!

Remember, for the most up-to-date schedule, always check out our “Annual Conference Schedule and Other Cool Stuff” page. And if you haven’t registered, do so today as the price goes up after Dec. 31.

SFA Annual Conference Tidbits

SFA_AC_Updated Dec. 16, 2014. Note that registration goes up starting Jan. 1, 2015!

  • Chapters: Take part in our Opening Session Chapter Showcase by giving a one-minute introduction of your chapter, and share your happenings from 2014 and what you’re planning for 2015. Or, foster conversation and promote chapter engagement throughout the conference by preparing a tri-fold display to show all your chapter’s projects. SFA Communications Coordinator Jason Walker can provide chapters with display advice, graphics and fonts; email him at jason@sfa-mn.org. To reserve a spot for your showcase presentation and your display, contact Helen Schnoes, SFA Event Coordination Intern: helenaschnoes@gmail.com or 612.741.1591.
  • Through Feb. 1, 2015, we will be collecting SFA members’ most important questions for attorneys Jennifer Jambor-Delgado and Amanda Heyman to answer during a special session at the Annual Conference. At the conference, Jambor-Delgado and Heyman will also provide information about how smart legal strategies can help grow and protect your business. Join us in making this great opportunity a success – send your questions to  hello@jamborheyman.com.
  • Socialize with your farmer friends the night before the SFA Annual Conference during a reception and jam session from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13 at Minnesota Street Market (the food co-op in downtown St. Joseph). Bring the whole family, your instruments, or just drop in to say hello. The event is free, but RSVP by Feb. 9 to lisa@bakersacresfarm.com if you would like to buy a simple soup meal served at the co-op.
  • Art and science projects, cooking lessons and more – the Budding Farmers program is coming to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference. 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.
  • 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 Early Bird rate of $45/members and $55/nonmembers. SFA members should have received a separate email with discount registration instructions. Only SFA members will receive this separate email – new members will upon signup.
  • 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: Get Your Reality Check at MN Organic Conference

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

The MN Organic Conference is right around the corner! January 9-10 is only 3 weeks away!  I’d also like to remind you about the 2015 Winter Workshops that are being held in conjunction with the Organic Conference on Jan. 8, 2015.  There are some really great longer-format workshops available and since they are just the day before the conference, you can make the most of your time!

Special for SFA members!  If you are a paid SFA member, you can attend the “Reality Checking your Farm Plan workshop for free ($25 for non-members). This is one of the results of our Adjust 2015 project which we’ve been working on for the past 2 years.

In the workshop, we’ll review the key difficulties experienced farmers told us they faced early in their farming careers.  We’ll also give you tools to help you avoid the most common of those pitfalls, which will strengthen your plan and ultimately improve your chances of long-term success.  Specifically, we’ll be covering financial benchmarks you should be incorporating into your plan, considerations for business plan assumptions, dealing with and planning for changes in family structure and function as well as tools for building a team of experts to help you launch your business.

If you are thinking about farming, planning to farm, or have just started farming, this workshop will be of interest and benefit to you.  If you have any questions about the program, call me at 763-260-0209, or to register, click here.  See you there!

MSHS Returns With Gabe Brown, Dr. Allen Williams, Jerry Doan & more

Tickets are moving fast for SFA’s second annual Midwest Soil Health Summit, featuring Gabe Brown, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn.

MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table at the 2014 event. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.

MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table at the 2014 event. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.

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

To learn more and register, click here.

Sponsors and Exhibitors: Click here to download the 2015 MSHS Exhibitor Application

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.

Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

We are also proud to welcome Dr. Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry as well as a leader in cutting edge grazing methodology. A co-project leader at the Pasture Project, Dr. Williams is also founding partner and president of Livestock Management Consultants, a founding partner of Grass Fed Beef and chairman of Association of Family Farms.

The exact schedule will be online soon; note that the event begins at 1 p.m. Feb. 18 with “Soil Science Basics” led by John Mesko.

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.

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. To read a profile of the Doans, click here.
  • 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). To view a recent SFA soil health webinar featuring Drs. Lehman and Taheri, click here.
  • Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will discuss Designing Complex Cover Crop Blends
  • John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will lead a bonus 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 A HANDFUL OF TICKETS REMAIN 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.

Just a Few Spots Remain for Latest Deep Winter Workshop

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.

Just a few spots remain – click here to register.

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, please be assured they are still set to 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.

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.