Australian Farmer Completes Trek to Midwest Soil Health Summit

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

Evan Lewis for Connect:homepageFebruary’s SFA Midwest Soil Health Summit drew a crowd from at least five states and Canada, but the easy winner for farthest traveled was Evan Lewis.

Evan (right) came all the way from South Australia to attend the Summit. He had been searching the internet for Gabe Brown, came across SFA’s homepage and liked what he saw, and then decided to make the trip, his first to the U.S.

“We have various issues with our soils that I believe cover crops can help to alleviate,” he said. “I’m keen to see if we can adapt the principals to our no-till system.”

Evan’s trip, though, got off to a bad start. Horrible, actually. His travel agent had booked his flight not to Alexandria, Minn., but Alexandria, Louisiana. He emailed me the night before and said he was in the wrong Alexandria and would try to make it the next day, but that his “Gab With Gabe” ticket could probably go to somebody else.

Luckily, though, the air travel system came through. Evan arrived in Minneapolis on Feb. 19 and hopped on a shuttle to Alexandria, where he arrived a little after 4 p.m. in time for the limited-ticket confab with Summit keynote Gabe Brown.

Evan and I tried to connect during the Summit, but every time I saw him he was busy chatting and networking with other farmers in attendance. However, after getting snowed in at Arrowwood Resort on Feb. 20 due to a nasty winter storm, I was able to have dinner with Evan as well as also-snowbound Kent Solberg, Jerry Ford, Jane Jewett, Cassie Dahl, Dan Tiffany and Dan Fabian. Despite being stuck at Arrowwood, it was a great evening of conversation.

Evan has returned to Australia but said he’s interested in returning to Minnesota again and possibly bringing some farmer friends for an SFA field day.

“My challenge now is to adapt the concepts to our own climate and conditions,” he said.

Healthy Soils on Diverse Lands Topic of Forage Council Workshop

KCIMThe Crow Wing River Basin Forage Council held its 14th Winter Workshop, “Cover, Cattle, Crops – Keeping Healthy Soils, on Diverse Lands, at the Center of Profitability,” on Feb. 11 at Central Lakes College in Staples.

The workshop was sponsored in part by the Keep Cattle in Minnesota Project, a collaborative project of SFA, NRCS, and Grazing Lands Conservation Association.

Over 80 people turned out to hear presenters Ken Miller and Joshua Dukart, both District Technicians with the Burleigh County (N.D.) Soil Conservation District. Miller and his wife operate a 2,000-acre ranch near Fort Rice, N.D. Dukart, a Certified Educator of Holistic Management, remains involved in the management of the family ranch and teaches regularly throughout the US and Canada. Through diverse cover crops, rotational grazing, and crop rotation, they explained how farmers have increased soil carbon, reduced inputs of fertilizers and herbicides, and increased farm production all while improving wildlife habitat and water quality. Dukart was adamant of the need to get cattle back on the land, stating “that science has yet to replicate what comes out the back end of a cow.”

For more information about the Crow Wing River Basin Forage Council, contact Jim Chamberlin at

Organic Management Workshop Upcoming in Verndale

Jim Chamberlin

Jim Chamberlin

Staples Area Farmers Market Association is hosting an event, Organic Management Workshop, focusing on gardens, seasonal high tunnels, and hoop houses, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Verndale Community Center, 109 1st Ave SE, Verndale.

The workshop is designed to address local needs for organic production practices of low income, small producers of horticulture crops in central Minnesota. Speakers will answer questions and make recommendations on soil health, organic fertilizers, organic pest management, and composting.

Speakers include high-tunnel expert Terrance Nennich as well as SFA members David Birky, Arlene Jones, Kathy Connell and SFA Association Board President Jim Chamberlin.

Cost is $8 by March 15 and $12 thereafter; both fees include lunch and materials. Send a check payable to Staples Area Farmers Market Association and contact info to Lois Detloff, 21390 County Rd 24, Bertha, MN 56437, or click here here to download a brochure and registration form.

For more information, contact Deb Erickson (218.445.5147), Lois Detloff (218.924.2704) or Mel Wiens (218.894.2715).

Lake Superior Chapter Plans Farmers Take the Stage

Please join SFA’s Lake Superior Chapter for an evening of musical and variety talent presented by our members and supporters – SFA_LakeSuperior_RGBFarmers Take the Stage, set for 7-9:30 p.m. March 21 at Clyde Ironworks, 2920 W Michigan St, Duluth.

All area farmers, SFA members and supporters are invited to perform their music, poetry, or other act at this event. If you are interested, please contact Joel Rosen at or 218.389.3306

A $10 suggested donation goes directly to the work of LSSFA.

Cover Crop Workshop & Information Exchange in Worthington

NRCSCurious about cover crops? Have you ever stopped to wonder how cover crops would work for you? Explore the possibilities of cover crops on your land by attending the Cover Crop Workshop and Information Exchange at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College campus in Worthington from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 11. Preregistration for this event is preferred as the first 50 farmers to preregister will have their registration fee waived and receive a free lunch. After that, registration will be $10 to cover the cost of lunch.

To preregister, contact the Nobles County NRCS/SWCD office by calling 507.376.9150 ext. 3 or stop in the office at 1576 McMillan St. Please preregister by March 10.

The day will include cover crop basics and looking at the benefits they provide for our soil, crops and biology; as well as a farmer panel with three farmers from around our area who have started using cover crops in the last five years. Hear how they got started, what they have learned and the adjustments they’ve made to make cover crops work for them.

This workshop is sponsored by the Nobles County NRCS and SWCD along with Sustainable Farming Association, the Okabena & Ocheda Watershed District, Nobles County Corn & Soybean Growers Association, MN West-Worthington Campus and numerous other partners.

Midwest Soil Health Summit a Sellout; Brown, Bieber and Co. Deliver Inspiration, Education

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications and Membership Coordinator

Midwest Soil Health Summit keynote speaker Gabe Brown of Brown's Ranch spent much of the conference engaged in farmer-to-farmer networking with attendees.

Midwest Soil Health Summit keynote speaker Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch spent much of the conference engaged in farmer-to-farmer networking with attendees.

Soil health is a red-hot topic for farmers, and our sold-out Midwest Soil Health Summit last week was brimming with excitement, knowledge, energy, and farmer networking.

Farmers came from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Saskatchewan, and even Australia to hear soil health pioneers Gabe Brown and Richard Bieber as well as soil research expert Wendy Taheri, SFA’s own expert Kent Solberg, Burleigh County’s Jay Fuhrer, and Ryan Stockwell of the National Wildlife Federation, as well as local producers Carmen Fernholz, Larry Heitkamp and Dan Middendorf.

The Summit kicked off Feb. 19 with the sold-out “Gab with Gabe” reception, where ten ticket-holders were treated to an intimate audience with Gabe Brown as well as SFA’s John Mesko and some fine cheese from SFA member Deb Pikovsky’s Star Thrower Farm.

The general sessions of the Summit began that evening with dinner and a casual conversation with John and Gabe. Rick Bieber was there, too, joining the conversation, and already it was evident that unique perspectives and cutting-edge soil health techniques were in abundance.

On snowy, icy Feb. 20, the Summit’s full day, a capacity-busting crowd of 140 jammed Arrowwood Resort, and it was pretty cool the way Gabe, Richard, and the rest of the Summit slate were so willing to share their knowledge and experience – even offering their personal contact information to Summit-goers for future questions and advice.

Especially cool was the session Kent Solberg led on cover cropping. Gabe, Richard and Wendy were in the audience, as well as producer panel member Carmen Fernholz, and each jumped in to Kent’s presentation when relevant to offer advice and perspective. It was an inspirational session jam-packed with knowledge that no one in attendance will ever forget.

I heard lots of positive feedback regarding the Summit, but the thing I heard the most was “You should do this again.” That’s about the best thing to hear when putting on a first-ever event, isn’t it?

Special thanks go out to SFA’s Jerry Ford, who did the most groundwork making sure the event went off without a hitch, as well as SFA’s Sustainability Conference interns Kelsey Wulf, Paul Stewart, Whitney Oxendahl and Matt Andrews.

Executive Director’s Note

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Soil Health is on the tip of a lot of tongues these days.  The raging success of the 2014 Midwest Soil Health Summit just confirms its importance to today’s farmers.  The conference was a sold-out day and a half of programming.  With a great blend of expert large-audience lecture, smaller breakout sessions and targeted one-on-one programming, attendees were well informed, educated and invigorated about the prospect of soil health.

John Mesko

John Mesko

Soil Health is what happens when the naturally regenerative processes in our soils are allowed to work, unhindered by unnecessary tillage, harmful pesticides and improper fertilization.  When aided by the addition of cover crops, judicious use of grazing and creative management, soils can overcome years of abuse, and over time become additively productive.  Sustainable agriculture means we are able to produce indefinitely.  When we focus our efforts on soil health, not only are we able to produce indefinitely, we are able to increase production over time.

Add to this the reduction of input costs, the resiliency of cash crops against extreme weather events and the diversity that comes with marketing livestock, you have a recipe for taking the boom and bust out of farming that has traditionally trapped many in an unending cycle of overproducing the wrong product at the wrong time.

If you were at the Midwest Soil Health Summit last week, you heard a vision for this type of agriculture.  If you weren’t at the Summit, you need a vision for this type of agriculture.  We can help with that.  Stay tuned for more information about future Soil Health programming from SFA.

Finally, special thanks to SFA’s Event Coordinator Jerry Ford, who, along with SFA staffers Kent Solberg and Jason Walker made the second major conference for SFA in 10 days a HUGE success!

Association Board Elects Executive Committee

The SFA Association Board held a meeting on Feb. 7, 2014, at St. Ben’s the day before the Annual Conference. That day, the board approved a new Executive Committee as well as welcomed new Cannon River Chapter representative Becca Carlson.

Newly elected to the Executive Committee as Vice-Chair was Eric Ament from Lake Superior Chapter. Eric owns and operates Anahata Herbals, led the conference session “Planting and Harvesting Calendars” and also planned the Friday night social event that this year was held at the Minnesota Street Market in St. Joseph.

Re-elected to their positions on the Executive Committee were Chair Jim Chamberlin, Secretary Libby Wyrum and Treasurer Josh Reinitz.

Congratulations to all for their election, and look for a profile of Becca in an upcoming edition of SFA Connect.

Chapter Update: Cannon River

SFA_CannonRiver_RGBCannon River SFA’s Budding Farmers Field Day (Youth Only!) is Sat., March 22nd, 1-3 p.m. Hosted by Lars Haslett-Marroquin and his family. A fun-filled afternoon for youth only, including a tour of the chicken area, presentation on care and management of chickens, interactive Q&A session with budding farmers learning booklet. Kids creative egg/chicken theme activities. Chicken whispering. Cannon River SFA will provide refreshments. RSVP to

Cannon River SFA’s March Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange is Saturday, March 29, 1-3 p.m. Topic du jour: growing transplants. Anyone can come (you don’t have to be an SFA member) and there’s no set agenda — just an opportunity for folks who are interested in growing transplants to get together and share information. Location: Gardens of Eagan greenhouse: 5680 290th St. W. Northfield, MN 55057. RSVP to

GMO Label Day at the Capitol is March 13

Right to Know Minnesota is holding “GMO Label Day at the Capitol” from 1 to 5 p.m. March 13. Meet other labeling advocates and tell your legislator in person that you’d like to see GMOs labeled in Minnesota. Making direct contact with legislators has a powerful impact on how they will support a bill.

The event begins at Christ Lutheran Church (105 University Ave) across from the State Capitol in St. Paul. Enjoy GMO-free treats, meet other labeling advocates, and learn how to talk with your legislator about this issue. Then attendees will walk to the Capitol to meet with legislators. You’ll meet with your elected representative from both the Minnesota House and Senate.

RSVP by March 10 at or contact Jody at 651-434-4302 or