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!

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!

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.n1422461370m-afs1422461370@nosa1422461370j1422461370. To reserve a spot for your showcase presentation and your display, contact Helen Schnoes, SFA Event Coordination Intern: 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.n1422461370amyeh1422461370robma1422461370j@oll1422461370eh1422461370.
  • 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.m1422461370rafse1422461370rcasr1422461370ekab@1422461370asil1422461370 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.l1422461370iamg@1422461370smraf1422461370muyob1422461370.
  • 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.n1422461370m-afs1422461370@yrre1422461370j1422461370.

Executive Director’s Note

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Recently, I was invited to attend the 2014 Seedstock Conference in Los Angeles, an annual event that highlights innovations in agriculture, beginning farming, and local food issues. Being set in California means an emphasis on solutions for the massive drought affecting the state, as well as urban farming. Seedstock organizers recognize SFA’s leadership in farmer-to-farmer networking, and the need for better connections between West Coast and Midwestern agriculture.

This year, I was discussing, among other things, the importance of good business planning for beginning farmers. Because of our work on Adjust 2015, I was asked for my thoughts on what are the most important aspects of a good business plan. From what we’ve learned and from the collective wisdom of the Sustainable Agriculture movement, those keys are: Flexibility, Benchmarks, Exit Strategy, Sensitivity Analysis, and Professional Development. Over the next few issues of SFA Connect, I’ll share a bit more on some of these concepts.

NFRC_Adjust2015_RGBFlexibility. In food and farming, there are so many variables: supply and regulatory issues, weather effects, labor issues, and family concerns. Farms, even large ones are typically classified as small businesses and as such face an uphill struggle from the start. These are often growing businesses, in a competence market requiring unique relationships with suppliers, customers and other producers. This interdependence creates great opportunity as well as great risk. The more dependent a business is on these connections, the greater chance problems can arise, requiring the business to respond with flexibility. According to the Purdue University Agriculture Economics Department: “Strategic risk management requires the capability to be flexible. Flexibility is the managerial/organizational capacity to change in response to changing circumstances. To be flexible, a farm must have the resources and skills to successfully change strategies regarding key strategic business choices, such as business enterprise focus, financial/organizational structure, marketing and channel linkages, growth/downsizing, etc. “

This is what Adjust 2015 has researched, and a good bit of the New Farm Reality Check curriculum we are developing will focus on building flexibility into business plans. Look for this to become available at the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14, 2015, at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph.