Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to chat with SFA member Sylvia Burgos Toftness, a grass-fed beef producer and radio host from Amery, Wis. Sylvia invited me to be on her radio show, and we had a wide-ranging conversation about sustainability, food and farming. We discussed the Adjust 2015 Project at length. You can listen to the podcast of the interview here!

In other news, Festival of Farms is around the corner. I hope you’ll be taking advantage of this opportunity to reach out to neighbors and friends during this community building event! Have a great time.

What We’re Reading (and Watching)

A new SFA feature, “What We’re Reading (and Watching)” is a section of links to articles and videos chosen by SFA staff that you might enjoy.

 

Executive Director John Mesko with North Dakota Soil Practitioner Gabe Brown at the 2014 Midwest Soil Health Summit

Executive Director John Mesko with North Dakota Soil Practitioner Gabe Brown at the 2014 Midwest Soil Health Summit

“Plowed Under: Across the northern plains, native grassland is being turned into farmland at a rate not seen since the 1920s. The environmental consequences could be disastrous.” The American Prospect.

“Soil Carbon Cowboys: Meet Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis – heroes and innovators! These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. It’s an amazing story that has just begun.”

For Rent: 80 Acres Near Princeton

SFA was contacted by a landowner looking to rent up to 80 acres of land near Princeton to a sustainable farmer. The landowner, Myron Angstman, lives in Alaska but spends a few months a year on the farm, dubbed Long Pond Elk Farm; a caretaker, Dave Price, looks after it while they are gone.

The land, located two miles east of U.S. 169 off County Road 9, is currently rented for corn, beans and alfalfa. To learn more or set up a showing, contact Myron (on Alaska time, three hours earlier than Central Time) at 800.478.5315, or caretaker Dave at 763.389.2742.

Fall Harvest Gathering for Women Slated for Nov. 7-9

Save the date – attend the 15th Fall Harvest Gathering for Women in Sustainable Agriculture on Nov 7-9, 2014, in Whalen, Minn.

Get to know other women who care passionately about farming and the earth. Some attendees farm and some want to farm, but all enjoy sharing and learning from each other at the annual Fall Harvest Gathering at Cedar Valley Resort in Whalen. Costs are reasonable and scholarships are available. All women are welcome. Highlights will include:

  • Three virtual farm tours
  • Lively discussion on soil health, what to look for, and how to keep it
  • Panel discussion on passing on the farm
  • Excellent potluck lunch Saturday (and great food throughout the weekend)
  • Music, campfire, silent auction
  • Time to walk (or bike) the Root River trail
  • Time to talk casually with women who share your passion

More information: staceyleighbrown@gmail.com.

Farmers Trip to Nicaragua Planned in September

A food- and agriculture-focused trip to Nicaragua in September is being planned for interested folks in the Minnesota ag community.

Against the backdrop of Jalapa, Nicaragua’s annual Corn Festival, this trip will focus on making connections between Nicaragua’s and Minnesota’s agricultural communities in the contexts of climate change and other global market impacts (e.g. Jalapa’s shift toward tobacco and coffee exports away from basic food production). The trip will foster exchanges of ideas and perhaps material or technical aid.

The trip, Harvest Time in a Changing World, is set for Sept. 14-26, 2014. Farmers and ag producers, animal husbandry experts (vets), agronomists, co-op leaders, and people interested in sustainable and international food issues should consider attending.

For more information, contact Jon Kerr at jon@isla.cc or 612.819.8877.

Save the Date: Festival of Farms is July 12, 2014

Festival of FarmsFestival 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 chapter, 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.

SFA’s chapters are currently planning their Festival of Farms 2014 events. Look for updates here in SFA Connect and on our Festival of Farms homepage.

Other upcoming SFA events for your calendars:

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.