Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the current state of affairs in Sustainable Agriculture.  By some measures, the modern movement is about 25-30 years old.  Adulthood by all respects.  We’ve come a long way to get to this point.  Of course there has always been those farmers who practice sustainability and have been organic since organic was the only way to farm.  However, the term “sustainable” and along with it, “sustainable agriculture” have become a part of most people’s every day language.  To many, those terms are only slightly more specific in meaning than they were at the outset of our movement.

However, I think most of us can say we “know it when we see it.”  Sustainable agriculture is a mindset, its an approach.  Admittedly, true sustainability is a near-impossibility to achieve.   We all want to see the environment, farm businesses, farm families and our rural communities become more resilient, more productive, and in general, improve over time.  By focusing on the principles of sustainability, we can move all of these forward.

SFA, through its members, chapters and collective work has been able to make such an impact in agriculture and in rural communities over the years.  We’ve all seen the rapid expansion of farmer’s markets over the last 10 – 15 years.  Do more farmer’s markets mean we’ve achieved sustainability?  No, not really, but they are an exciting piece to the picture of the future.  25 years ago, no-till corn and soybean production models were in their infancy.  In part, through SFA’s Farmer to Farmer Network® organization of educational events, no-till agriculture has become commonplace; and improvements to the environment can be evaluated.

Now, we are in the midst of another mass migration “back to the land.”  The jury is still out  on the relative merits of this latest move.  However, with more new and beginning farmers starting sustainably-minded farms, the future bodes well for sustainable agriculture.

In the coming weeks, I hope to explore more aspects of the state of sustainable agriculture.  If you have any thoughts, let me know.  I’d like to hear lots of perspectives.  You can reach me at john@sfa-mn.org.

Thanks

Organic Potato Farm Tour Set Near Sebeka

Join Larry Heitkamp, Kent Solberg, and the Toxic Taters Coalition for a free organic potato farm tour from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 13, at Heitkamp’s Yellow Rose Organic Farm.

There are 50,000 acres of potatoes planted in Minnesota every year. And while conventional, chemical-intensive production is the norm on many of these acres, it’s not the only way that potatoes can be produced. Organic and sustainable potato production is possible; in fact, Minnesota farmers are already doing it.

Please join the Toxic Taters Coalition to learn more about organic potato production. Heitkamp and Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will give a tour of an organic potato farm and share information about cover cropping, soil health, insect and disease management, and their efforts to move toward no-till practices. Over lunch, members of the Toxic Taters Coalition will share information about their campaign to protect local communities from pesticide drift from RD Offutt’s potato fields.

Directions: From Sebeka, MN, take Hwy 12 East for 7 miles. Turn right (south) on 201st Ave (a dirt road). Go 1/4 mile and take a left into the potato field. We’ll have signs up on the road to help you find the right place.

The event is free and lunch is included. Please RSVP to Lex Horan at lex@panna.org or 651.245.1733.

Chapter Update: Lake Agassiz

Lake Agassiz for Web Use JPG

By Marie Petry • Chapter Coordinator

We are moving ahead. On June 18, a couple of Lake Agassiz chapter members met with Jerry Ford, SFA Network Coordinator, to establish our Chapter Organizing Committee. This is the first formal step towards an Annual Meeting next year and voting in a new Board of Directors.

Plans are in the works for a Fall Event in the northern part of Lake Agassiz territory. More information will be coming on this as details are finalized. This will be a great time to connect with fellow sustainable farming neighbors and to lend your voice to our growing chapter.

Students: SFA Internships, Scholarships Available

Thanks to our new SFA Connect subscribers who signed up Aug. 29 at the Sustainability Action! Open House at the University of Minnesota. We had a great time meeting scores of students who were interested in sustainability and SFA as well as our Sustainable Food Production Program.

Good luck to all of you in your classes this semester and beyond, and we hope to see you at the SFA Annual Conference in February! Scholarships to attend the conference are available for current students and require a volunteer commitment; for more information,email Jerry Ford atjerry@sfa-mn.org.

Also, SFA is accepting applications for Sustainability Conference Internships. These hands-on internships are for late fall and winter 2014/15 and require attendance at the SFA Annual Conference on Feb. 14 as well as the Midwest Soil Health Summit on Feb. 18-19. Those interested in an application should contact SFA Network Coordinator Jerry Ford at jerry@sfa-mn.org.

Click here to learn more at our internships homepage.

Harvest Festival, Sept. 6 in Duluth, Has Something for Everyone

Harvest FestivalBy Abby DeVita • Lake Superior Chapter Coordinator

It’s food, it’s learning, it’s growing, it’s fun. It’s something for everyone, and it’s free. Why not make a day of it at Harvest Festival, set for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., Sept. 6, at Bayfront Park in downtown Duluth.

For over two decades, the Lake Superior Chapter of SFA has put on this premier event, connecting producers and consumers. Harvest Festival features one of the best and largest farmers’ markets in the region, along with live music, craft village, nonprofit showcase, educational exhibits, family activities and more! The best part is that it’s all locally focused, locally grown, and locally sourced. Admission and parking is free to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by donation after that for the evening entertainment acts.

This year, the LSSFA is working in collaboration with the Twin Ports Bridge Festival to to put on one broader event connecting people and celebrating community. Honoring our greatest lake and the communities that it brings together, we are uniting to bring you the best event yet! Fly a kite, pet a goat, meet a piping plover. Listen to music and treat yourself to handmade craft items. Eat something fresh and healthy (or maybe just a little bit indulgent). Learn about backyard composting or backyard chicken-raising or beekeeping. Meet your neighbors and the people who grow your food.

If you’re local, walk on over. If you’re from out of town, make a day of it or stay for the weekend. The 21st Annual Harvest Festival welcomes you!

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

There isn’t much going on in the news these days that inspire confidence about the future. The news from the Middle East, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere leaves us staggered. Sometimes, there can be so much bad news that we just zone it out, push it away. It’s a normal response.

At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, however, I have to admit I’m optimistic about sustainable agriculture. I really am. As I prepared to write this, I could hardly contain my excitement about the future of our preferred production model in agriculture.

Just take a look at this issue of SFA Connect. We’ve got examples of several SFA member farms being named as University of MN Farm Families of the Year. This is a real validation of the kind of food production espoused by SFA over the past many years. Thank you to all the farms represented in that list, and I can’t wait to see next year’s list.

Also, SFA has just come off another very successful Minnesota Garlic Festival, and we are rolling into what looks to be another great Harvest Festival up in Duluth on Sept. 6. The Farm Skills 101 class is booked to capacity, and over 4,000 votes have been cast in our poll for Annual Conference Topics.

There’s a lot going on! SFA’ers are involved, committed and making a difference for sustainable agriculture in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.  I’m really looking forward to this winter’s meeting season. There’s never been a better time to be a sustainable farmer!

Here’s to a safe and prosperous fall 2014!

SFA Chapters: Comment on New Resource Portal

SFA has created a Chapter Resource Portal for chapter coordinators and leaders: Learn how to properly represent the Association in your communications, read our Chapter Resource Guide, download appropriate logos and templates, view your chapter charter and other official SFA documents, and more.

We hope you find this useful and would love to hear your feedback. Check it out, make suggestions and email them to Jerry Ford by Oct. 1 so we can take your suggestions and improve the Portal before your annual chapter meeting.

SFA Sustainability Conference Internships Available

SFA is accepting applications for Sustainability Conference Internships. These hands-on internships are for late fall and winter 2014/15 and require attendance at the SFA Annual Conference on Feb. 14 as well as the Midwest Soil Health Summit on Feb. 18-19. Those interested in an application should contact SFA Network Coordinator Jerry Ford at jerry@sfa-mn.org.

Click here to learn more at our internships homepage.

Voting Update: 2015 SFA Annual Conference Session Topics

We are thinking about topics for our next SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14, 2015, again at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.

Voting closes Oct. 30 for 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.

We’re up to 61 topic ideas and over 4,000 votes! The top ten vote-getters as of Aug. 24, 2014:

  • Salvaging, Repurposing, Upcycling, and Restoring farm equipment and buildings
  • Deep Winter Solar Greenhouses
  • How Can Sustainably Produced Fiber Contribute to the Success of Local Food Initiatives
  • Integrating Crops & Livestock
  • Multi-Species Grazing
  • Get a butcher there to discuss what cuts to produce, how to decide when to butcher, proper nutrition (grass based) for best results, etc.
  • Cover Crops & Soil Health
  • LLC, LC3 and 501c(3) which one is right for me? A conversation about limiting liability and your business.
  • Direct Marketing Meat
  • Value-Added Processing

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

Organic Certification Cost Share is Back for 2014

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson has signed an agreement with USDA to offer an organic certification cost share program again in 2014. This program offers important regulatory cost relief for organic farmers and handlers who are required by law to hire an accredited certifying agency to verify they are complying with National Organic Standards.

All certified organic operations in MN should receive application materials in the mail in a couple of weeks. The materials will also be available online after that time at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic.

The program refunds up to 75 percent of certification costs for operations that are certified (or have continuing certification) by Sept. 30, 2014. Funding for the Organic Certification Cost Share program was included in the Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this year. Minnesota’s allocation for 2014 is $541,500.

In Minnesota, applications will be due Oct. 31. Information about organic practices, certification requirements, and other related topics is available right now at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic.

If you are in transition right now and will not be certified before Sept. 30, 2014, you may qualify for our Minnesota Organic Transition Cost Share program instead. More info here.