SFA’s Annual GrazeFest Event at Mill City is June 7; Book Signing, Cooking Demos, and More

Jason Walker

Jason Walker

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

SFA’s annual GrazeFest series event returns June 7 to Mill City Farmers Market, held between the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

Again this year SFA’s Mary Jane Miller will be cooking on stage with food from the market as well as grass-fed beef from Living Song Farm. We’ll have a family-friendly SFA booth with a few freebies, 2-for-1 Garlic Festival coupons and plenty of SFA folks on hand, and the vibrant market itself with its 60-plus vendors is always worth the trip.

secret-atlas-cover-1500px-webNew this year is a book signing of “The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food,” which features a chapter written by me, “Open Arms, Open Farms,” that features several SFA farms, including Jerry Ford and Living Song Farm. Both Jerry and I will be there to sign copies of the book, in which maps and illustrations complement journalistic essays that take readers deep into the history, culture, and gastronomy of the Upper Midwest.

SFA at Mill City is our main urban event, reaching an audience of consumers who purchase food from our member farmers yet may not be aware of our organization. It’s a great way to help people learn about sustainable farming in general and the importance of supporting local farms and SFA.

Mary Jane’s samples of Jerry’s beef will be worth the trip alone, but it’s also a great time to pick up the “Secret Atlas” and talk local food. We’ll be there from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and hope to see you there.

If you’re interested in learning more or purchasing the “Secret Atlas” – which includes SFA members’ Living Song Farm, GrassStain Farm, Lakeside Prairie Farm and Round River Farm, as well as a wide array of other essays on Upper Midwestern food – visit the Heavy Table’s bookstore.

Farm Skills 101: Low Student-Teacher Ratio, High Level of Practical Knowledge Make Course A Great Value

SFProduction LOGOGetting a good bang for your buck is rarely guaranteed in the world of sky-high college tuition.

But not for students in SFA’s Sustainable Food Production Program, which teaches various real-world sustainable farming skills in an on-farm environment. Not only does Farm Skills 101 teach students the hands-on skills needed to become successful sustainable farmers, it’s a great value, too – SFP also boasts a low student-teacher ratio that leads to a fairly intense, in-depth experience.

Dr. Sue Wika

Dr. Sue Wika

Farm Skills 101 consists of around 50 hours of on-farm education in three weekends of fun and fulfilling learning. As instructor Dr. Sue Wika is fond of saying, “These are days in the field, not field days.” Students must dress properly: pants, closed-toe shoes, gloves and safety glasses are required. Topics include Fencing Strategies for Forage-based Livestock Systems, Compassionate Animal Husbandry and Handling, Pasture Management and Grazing Basics, and Farm Equipment and Tools.

Wika said the Farm Skills 101 was developed for both students with some farm knowledge as well as for those who didn’t grow up on a farm.

“It’s a way to experience and learn some of those skills ‘farm kids’ acquired through daily interaction with farm processes,” she said. “The course is designed with a low student-teacher ratio, so the experience will be empowering.”

And then there’s the bang-for-your-buck factor. Tuition for the Fall 2014 semester of Farm Skills 101 is just $1,025, and scholarships are available. For the amount of knowledge packed into this course – students learn not in theory, but in practice – Farm Skills 101 tuition is a smart investment in the future of anyone considering a sustainable farming career.

Fall 2014 classes are Oct. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18 at farms near Alexandria, Minn. All students receive a free one-year SFA membership.

To enroll, visit this link and view payment information. To learn more or view a more detailed curriculum, visit the SFP Program homepage or contact Dr. Wika at paradoxhomestead@gmail.com.

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

SFA was created out of the Land Stewardship Project specifically for the purpose of establishing a Farmer-to-Farmer Network® organization. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, LSP realized there was a need for a separate organization that would serve in this networking capacity. Recently, SFA has been working to carve out a unique spot in the Upper Midwest sustainable ag landscape related to this purpose. It is what we bring to the table in the broader discussion of sustainability, sustainable ag, local food, etc … Specifically, we’ve:

  • Successfully registered the trademarked phrase “Farmer-to-Farmer Network®” with the US Patent and Trademark Office,
  • Produced a brand identity around this trademark which is gaining a fair amount of exposure
  • Invested heavily in staff resources to support and build this network

In the work of sustainable agriculture there is a need for organizations in our sector to be clear about what we do and don’t do, so we can all have our unique and strong position, which, when linked with each other, results in a stronger, more productive movement as opposed to when several organizations conduct overlapping programming. So, in keeping with that understanding, SFA has sought to be the Farmer to-Farmer Network® organization wherever possible. Whether the issue is local food, nitrates in the water, agroforestry, educating beginning farmers or farm to institution, if SFA is involved, at the Association level particularly, we see our primary role as providing and supporting the farmer network around that issue.

Many other organizations have built and maintain a farmer network as a part of their work; at SFA, the network is our work. The sustainable agriculture community also recognizes this.

We hope other organizations partner with us to make good use of the resources our community has put into developing this network. To the extent that our collective audiences benefit from a streamlined communication plan and clear, thoughtful programming, we offer up our work to the collective movement. It’s the role we play.

Free Regional Plant Swaps in Pine River, Wadena

SFA_Central_RGBEarly notice of a unique horticulture event – free, regional plant swaps are planned May 16 in Pine River and May 31 in Wadena. A Plant Swap is just as it sounds: an opportunity to trade all kinds of plants, plant materials, and garden supplies. All are invited, and now is the time to get ready for your choice of 2-7 p.m. May 16 at the Hunt Utilities Group campus, 2331 Dancing Wind Rd SW, Pine River; or 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 31 at Green Island 850 Scheer Dr NE, Wadena (right north of town off Highway 71).

Take cuttings, prepare slips, and sort seeds of you favorite or unique plants in order to be prepared. If bringing items to swap, please label or create signs, as 10-foot spaces are provided. Bring pots or packaging, and instructions. Tables and chairs will be available in Pine River; in Wadena, you must bring your own tables and chairs.

Call or email ahead to hold a free space for yourself and your trades, or with questions. Pine River attendees should contact Jim Chamberlin at jchamberlin@hugllc.com; Wadena attendees contact Kent Scheer at rscheer@charter.net.

This event is co-sponsored by SFA Central Chapter.

SFA Board Approves USDA Definition of Sustainable Agriculture

The SFA Board of Directors has approved the USDA Legal Definition of Sustainable Agriculture as SFA’s official definition. The USDA definition reads:

The term ”sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Click here to view the USDA definition on its website. To learn more about the SFA Association Board of Directors, click here. 

SFP Farm Skills 101 Now Enrolling for Fall Semester

Group shot - 900p for websiteOur Sustainable Food Production program is a much-needed beginning-farmer curriculum that emphasizes all three tenets of sustainability, plus provides extensive skills training. A unique aspect of SFP is its commitment to community development and mentoring, a perfect fit with SFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Network® organization.

The program is now accepting enrollment for the Fall 2014 semester of Farm Skills 101, which covers the hands-on essential skills necessary for a forage-based livestock producer. The class teaches students the ideal methods to elevate handiness while building community and competence. Scholarships are also available; apply on the enrollment form.

Farm Skills 101 consists of around 50 hours of on-farm education in three weekends of fun and fulfilling learning. These are days in the field, not field days.Participants will need pants, closed-toe shoes, gloves and safety glasses.

Topics include Fencing Strategies for Forage-based Livestock Systems, Compassionate Animal Husbandry and Handling, Pasture Management and Grazing Basics, and Farm Equipment and Tools. Instructors are all farmer-educators: Sue Wika, PhD; Tom Prieve, DVM; and Kent Solberg, MS. Each possesses both real-world experience and the educational background to provide comprehensive sustainable food production education.

2013 SFP graduate Nicole Moore said the program’s curriculum directly empowers the student.

“Physical involvement in a process makes a lasting impression, allowing the student the space and time to discover questions or thoughts related to the experience that would otherwise have never been conceived if she or he had only read or heard about the process,” she said. “With this approach, students walk away with tangible, demonstrable skills. What’s more effective a learning tool than, at the end of the session, being able to walk onto your own property and build yourself a reliable fence? Can’t beat that.”

Fall 2014 classes are Oct. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18 at farms near Alexandria, Minn. Friday classes run from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Pack sack lunches and breakfasts; a Friday local-foods supper is included. Housing is available at Faith Haven Camp on Eagle Lake for a modest fee. Free primitive camping is available at farm site.

Also, all students receive a free one-year SFA membership.

To enroll, visit this link and view payment information. To learn more or view a more detailed curriculum, visit the SFP Program homepage or contact Dr. Sue Wika at paradoxhomestead@gmail.com.

Becca Carlson of Northfield Joins Association Board

Carlson, Becca for Board pageBy Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

Our association Board of Directors welcomed a new face at our latest board meeting – Becca Carlson is the new representative from the Cannon River chapter.

Becca is farm manager at Seeds Farm, a diversified vegetable and animal farm near her native Northfield. Becca is a St. Olaf grad who is committed to learning how she can produce healthy food for the community while being a good steward of the land. Becca said she feels lucky to be a part of SFA’s bustling network.

“I wanted to be a SFA state representative to help share with the state what our Cannon River chapter is involved in and vice versa,” she said. “Plus, it’s a great opportunity to meet more farmers and soak up new information.”

Because of her love for the outdoors, Becca said she has found a way to spend most of her time outside year-round. Besides farming, Becca works winters as a dogsled guide in Northern Minnesota. But her love of food is pretty powerful, too.

“I love everything about food – thinking about it, growing it, harvesting it, cooking with it, eating it, and mostly, sharing it with my community,” she said.

To learn more about Becca and Seeds Farm, visit seedsfarmproject.com.

The SFA association Board of Directors meets each October, February and April; the April 2014 meeting is this Friday (April 25) at the College of Saint Benedict. If you have questions about the Board, contact your chapter’s board member or email me at jason@sfa-mn.org.

Market, Piloting New Chef-Driven Model, Seeks Vendors

LindenHillsFarmersMarketLogoThe Minneapolis’ Linden Hills Farmers Market (LHFM) season begins June 1 and continues every Sunday through October. The market is piloting a brand new chef-driven farmers’ market model, offering both wholesale and retail sales on the same day and in the same location. This is an innovative coming together and vendors are being sought for the 2014 season!

Local farmers growing unique varieties and local food entrepreneurs cooking up artisanal foods are encouraged to apply. LHFM is especially interested in those vendors able to price their products for both the wholesale and retail markets, and produce enough to sell to both types of buyers. There is flexibility built into this model. Vendors are able to rent a stall for a day or stay for the entire season. This is an excellent opportunity to meet new wholesale buyers and diversify customer bases.

Contact Libby Wyrum to learn more about this new type of market. She can be reached at 612 867 0854 or by emailing libertywyrum@gmail.com.

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Do you support sustainable agriculture?  If you’ve been taking the time to read this newsletter for any length of time, then I’d say you do.  Getting informed is the first level of involvement in any cause.  We are very happy you’ve decided to have SFA be a source of informaiton for your benefit and edification.

Would you like to be further involved? Step 2 would be membership.  Have you renewed your SFA membership?  I want to thank the many folks who have done just that in the past few days.  I know it’s hard to keep track of all the groups and organizations vying for your time, and your membership. If you were a member of SFA at one time, maybe you’ve forgotten to keep it going.  Here’s one way to make sure you won’t forget your SFA membership: become a sustaining member!  Its easy, and you’ll never have to worry about us reminding you again.  Many folks have opted for sustaining memberships this season.  To do so, just click here.  

Of course, your membership can also be easily renewed online by credit card or by check.  To pay by check, see the membership form here.

And finally, thanks again for your continued support of SFA.  Your membership in our organization strengthens our movement, and is helping to make sustainable agriculture the preferred brand of agriculture now and in the future!

*********************

Follow me on Twitter: @johnmesko.

Voting Now Open for 2015 SFA Annual Conference Topics

Ten of the session topics at this year’s Annual Conference were chosen by you, SFA’s members and supporters, using an online application that allowed you to vote for your favorite topics as well as submit your own. The top vote-getting topic, Root Cellaring, was a standing-room-only session led by root cellar builders Jerry Ford and Greg Reynolds as well as the esteemed John Fisher-Merrit, who dazzled the attendees with the details of his affordable yet highly customized root cellar that has significantly enhanced his farm’s revenue stream.

With this year’s SFA Annual Conference fresh in your minds, it’s time to start thinking to our next annual gathering, set for Feb. 14, 2015, again at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.

We have opened voting for the 2015 Annual Conference session topics – click this link to begin voting. The more votes we tabulate, the more accurately we can tailor the session schedule around your wishes. One thing we hear a lot during an after the Conference is, “there were so many good sessions I had a hard time choosing.” If there was a session you missed in 2014 but still are interested in, be sure to input that topic into the website. Some of the topics already submitted include:

  • SFA_AC_Cover crops and soil health
  • Fencing
  • Integrating crops and livestock
  • Hogs on pasture
  • Root cellaring
  • Agroforestry
  • New crops
  • Season extension
  • Seed saving
  • Grazing for beginners

Make your voice heard – submit your own ideas and vote early and often.

Also, photo galleries from both the 2014 Annual Conference and inaugural Midwest Soil Health Summit are available on each conference’s homepage. Check them out!