Midwest Soil Health Summit Schedule Released

The schedule is set for this year’s expanded Midwest Soil Health Summit, and we’ve added additional programming on the conference’s first day to buttress a second day that’s chock-full of expert soil health programming.

Midwest Soil Health Summit keynote speaker Gabe Brown of Brown's Ranch spent much of the 2014 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 2014 conference engaged in farmer-to-farmer networking with attendees.

New learning and networking opportunities for the Summit’s first day include a session led by SFA Executive Director John Mesko on Soil Health Basics as well as an International Roundtable. Other programming the first day includes our popular social time with buffet and cash bar, the return of “Gab With Gabe,” a film screening, and more.

Our impromptu discussion tables were such a hit last year, they’re returning as well. Look for discussion tables throughout the day Feb. 19 featuring Summit experts, or suggest one you’d like to see – if you’re a dairy producer, maybe you want to network with other dairy producers; if you’re from North Dakota, maybe you would like to chat with others in your region. Discussion tables are the perfect format. Make a suggestion to gro.n1425294565m-afs1425294565@yrre1425294565j1425294565 or talk to an SFA staffer at the Summit and we’ll do our best to make it work.

Here’s the schedule, and don’t forget to register ASAP as we are expecting a sellout – SFA members save $50 on registration. Additionally, there are a couple of spots open for “Gab With Gabe,” our limited-ticket reception with Gabe Brown. Register for that here – note that this is separate from the general MSHS registration.

Wed., Feb. 18

  • 1 p.m. – Registration Opens
  • 1 p.m. – Soil Health Basics with John Mesko
  • 2:30 p.m. – International Round Table
  • 4 p.m. – Special “Gab With Gabe” networking event with Gabe Brown. To attend you must purchase the additional “Gab With Gabe” ticket.
  • 6 p.m. – Social Time begins with cash bar, heavy appetizer buffet, welcome, interview of Gabe Brown and Dr. Allen Williams by John Mesko, “Soil Carbon Cowboys” film screening, and more
Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

Thurs., Feb. 19

  • 7 a.m. – Registration opens
  • 8 a.m. – Opening Plenary Session: Welcome and introduction by John Mesko, VIP Welcome, Housekeeping with Jerry Ford
  • 8:15 a.m. – Dr. Allen Williams
  • 9:35 a.m. – Jerry Doan
  • 10:30 a.m. – Discussion Tables: Allen Williams, Jerry Doan, Gabe Brown
  • 11 a.m. – Ian Cunningham
  • 11:45 a.m. – LUNCH: Buffet and discussion tables with Ian Cunningham and Gabe Brown
  • 1 p.m. – Dr. Wendy Taheri, “Understanding the Role of Diversity in Agricultural Ecosystems”
  • 1:45 p.m. – Dr. Michael Lehman
  • 2:30 p.m. – Discussion Tables: Wendy Taheri, Mike Lehman
  • 3 p.m. – Kent Solberg
  • 3:50 p.m. – Keynote: Gabe Brown
  • 5:15 p.m. – Conference ends

From the Executive Director: Success Can Hinge on Knowing the Challenges Ahead

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Here are four ways SFA’s New Farm Reality Check Curriculum is like a Driver’s Education Course:

  1. Both offer a “Reality Check” for beginners who are getting ready to launch into a risky, difficult, but highly rewarding adventure.
  2. Both teach about potential dangers participants will face.
  3. Both seek to prepare participants to avoid those dangers.
  4. Both are eager to see participants engage in and succeed in their endeavors.

In beginning driver education classes, we’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories of terrible tragedies that can occur when drivers overlook unrealistic expectations, bad assumptions and improper training and preparation. Does that mean we don’t want people to actually drive? Absolutely not! We are realistic about the difficulties and challenges of driving, because poorly trained drivers impact everyone on the road.

SFA’s New Farm Reality Check Curriculum is no different. We want every farmer who launches to succeed.

This year’s SFA Annual Conference will feature a brief introduction to the New Farm Reality Check Curriculum. If you are thinking about launching your farm plan, you might want to check it out!

SFA Deep Roots Program Hosting Nuts and Bolts Workshop

Nuts and Bolts, a workshop designed for those with a desire to farm but with little or no experience with common farm tools and equipment, is set for 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat., March 21 at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Hwy 78, Ashby, Minn. In this workshop, students will gain practical experience with farm tools and materials.20A

Get prepared for the upcoming season of food production by participating in this Deep Roots Farmer Development Program workshop. You will increase your handiness while developing competence with farm tools and materials. Get the edge for summer farm internships by listing this course on your resume! This is also an appropriate preparatory course for Farm Skills 101.

Small class size guarantees that all students receive ample individual attention. Course instructors are seasoned farmers. Students should have gloves and safety glasses and wear closed-toe shoes and long pants.


  • Common hand tool identification and use on the farm
  • Hands-on operation of common tools
  • Ergonomics and body mechanics
  • Common hardware identification & use: nails, nuts, bolts, staples, screws
  • Building materials, such as lumber
  • Small carpentry project completed during class

Directions: 7 miles north of Ashby; 10 miles south of Battle Lake. Bring a sack lunch. Cost: $99 early bird registration by Feb. 14; $129 thereafter. No walk-in registration.

Click here to register.

Questions? Email gro.n1425294565m-afs1425294565@eus1425294565 or call 218.747.2202.

Small-Scale Sheep Event in Lake Agassiz

SFA_LakeAgassiz_RGBSFA Lake Agassiz Chapter is co-sponsoring a Small Scale Sustainable Sheep Farming Event from 10:45 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Northern Woolen Mills, 803 11th St. NW, Fosston, Minn. Learn about raising sheep as part of a holistically managed farm, for meat, milk and fiber as well as connect with established shepherds and those wanting to keep sheep, local markets and people interested in sheep products.

Informational booths providing education, information on programs through NRCS and services for shepherds are planned, as well as a tour of Northern Woolen Mills, and lunch will be catered by Quinn Olson, Manager Fosston Farmers Market

Cost is $15 for the public and $10 for SFA members. Under 16 free. For more information or to register by Feb. 14, contact Alethea Kenney at 218.657.2502 or moc.d1425294565ribde1425294565er@ei1425294565lla1425294565, or visit www.reedbird.com.

As 2014 Ends, Help SFA Make Sustainability Happen

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

What do Albert Lea Seed, the Wallace Center at Winrock International, Organic Valley Co-op, and the Bremer Foundation have in common?

Organic Valley's Joe Borgerding (left) and Ken Larson (center) chat with Chris Barnier at the 2014 SFA Midwest Soil Health Summit.

Organic Valley’s Joe Borgerding (left) and Ken Larson (center) chat with Chris Barnier at the 2014 SFA Midwest Soil Health Summit.

They all support SFA financially, as do dozens of individuals, just like you.

When you donate to SFA, your dollars go directly into farmer education and networking that promotes sustainable farming and environmental stewardship. With low overhead, SFA delivers terrific bang for your buck if you are seeking a charitable organization for improving our agricultural and food systems.

For instance, SFA is working hard to revitalize our Lake Agassiz Chapter in northwest Minnesota. We’re doing it by hosting events like “Good Food From Good Farms” in Thief River Falls – events that help spread awareness of local food while building a farmer network in an underserved area.

Donate to SFA today here and feel good about where your money goes. All donations to SFA are fully tax-deductible. And next time you read about or attend any SFA event where people are networking and learning, you can say with confidence, “I helped make this happen.”

Then, reward yourself for your donation with a conference registration. Sign up now for both the SFA Annual Conference or Midwest Soil Health Summit – SFA members get discounted registration at both conferences.

Plus, SFA Annual Conference Early Bird registration ends Dec. 31. Sign up now and save!

Finally, thank you for your ongoing support of SFA and our programs. We accomplished a lot in 2014 and are ready to continue promoting sustainable agriculture in Minnesota and beyond.

Here’s to more local food, improved soil health, farmer networking, and fellowship in 2015!

From the Executive Director: Support SFA and Watch Amazing Things Happen

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

If you follow SFA, you already know about all the amazing things the leaders of our organization are doing to promote and sustain our brand of agriculture into the future. In wrapping up 2014, I just want to offer a note of thanks to everyone who has been such a supporter for SFA this year. Now, as we move on to 2015 and SFA’s 25-year celebration, we need your involvement more than ever.

Yes, this is a year-end fundraising appeal. However, in reality, it’s an involvement appeal. Your involvement with SFA really matters. We understand everyone gets involved at a different level in causes and efforts they feel strongly about. Subscribing to SFA Connect is basic level support for SFA and the movement as a whole. At this level, you learn about sustainable agriculture, and hopefully you’ve come to see the value of farmer networking as a driving force for change in agriculture.

If you’ve been subscribing for a while, but haven’t actually joined SFA with a paid membership, it’s time to take your involvement to the next level. At the paid membership level, your involvement helps to support the work of keeping everyone informed of the issues of sustainable agriculture and the work SFA is doing. Currently, only about 1 in 4 SFA Connect readers are actual paid members. Not sure if you are a member? If you did not recieve a printed CornerPost newsletter this month, you are not a paid member of SFA. Still not sure? Contact Jason Walker at ,gro.1425294565nm-af1425294565s@nos1425294565aj1425294565 and he can check for you.  As a reminder, paid members get discounts to events, like Annual Conference and Midwest Soil Health Summit, and the Winter Workshop “Reality Checking Your Farm Plan” at the MN Organic Conference in early January.

Better still, become a Sustaining Member today, and you’ll never have to wonder if you are a member of SFA.

If you’ve been a paid member, but haven’t yet made a donation to SFA, its time to take your involvement to the next level, and become a donor.  Donors are actually putting important resources to work solving major food and farming issues, like having enough successful farmers to produce healthy food for a growing population. We do that at SFA, and you can help make that happen with your donation today.

Finally, if you are a donor to SFA, we thank you! Your contributions are critical to our success, and we simply cannot complete our mission without the resources you help to provide.

Thank you for your support in 2014, at whatever level. For 2015, let’s all move our involvement to the next level and watch amazing things happen, as we take 25 years of success in farmer networking to the next level!

May 2015 be a year of tremendous prosperity for you and yours.

Chapter Update: Lake Agassiz

2014.11 Lake Agassiz Good Food event

By Marie Petry • Lake Agassiz Chapter Coordinator

SFA_LakeAgassiz_RGBThe food indeed was good at the SFA Lake Agassiz “Good Food from Good Farms” event held Nov. 5 in Thief River Falls, where local celebrity chef Sue Doeden made a delicious wild rice salad using local food.

Following the cooking demonstration (above), the 35-40 area farmers, food producers and enthusiasts who attended toured four “lightning workshops” which included: Lake Agassiz Chapter, Homemade Cheese Press, Thief River Falls Growing Forward food network, and High Tunnels.

If you missed this FREE event, you have two more chances to attend: 1:30-3:30 Jan. 15 in Detroit Lakes and 5:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in Bemidji. Check our webpage for details and free registration. All attendees receive the once-in-a-lifetime offer of free SFA Lake Agassiz membership until April 2015.

The Lake Agassiz Chapter Annual Meeting will also be held Jan. 27 at the Bemidji event, where an important and exciting agenda item will be the act of voting in a Chapter Board of Directors.

Also upcoming in Lake Agassiz Chapter is the Small Scale Sustainable Sheep Farming event at 11 a.m. Feb 21 at the Northern Woolen Mills in Fosston. SFA Business/Organization Member Alethea Kenney of Reedbird Farm has put together a wonderful slate of speakers and vendors for those raising sheep or interested in getting started.

For more details on this event and the upcoming Lake Agassiz Chicken Festival, watch our homepage.

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 gro.n1425294565m-afs1425294565@nosa1425294565j1425294565. 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  moc.n1425294565amyeh1425294565robma1425294565j@oll1425294565eh1425294565.
  • 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 moc.m1425294565rafse1425294565rcasr1425294565ekab@1425294565asil1425294565 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 moc.l1425294565iamg@1425294565smraf1425294565muyob1425294565.
  • 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 gro.n1425294565m-afs1425294565@yrre1425294565j1425294565.

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!