Annual Conference Member Discount Ends Jan. 31; Sign Up Your Budding Farmer for Just $10

SFA_AC_SFA’s Annual Conference, “Loving the Land: 25 Years of Sustainability,” is set for Feb. 14 in the Gorecki Center at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph. Registration opens at 7:15 a.m., programming begins at 8:30 a.m., and sessions run until 4:20 when the after-party with local beer and cheese begins.

SFA members: Register through Jan. 31 at the rate of $55 for members (registration is $65 for nonmembers). Current SFA members should have received a separate email with discount registration instructions. Only SFA members will receive this separate email – if you recently joined online, you should have received the email at that time.

If you need a reminder of the discount code or to check your membership status, email gro.n1422577348m-afs1422577348@nosa1422577348j1422577348.

More Annual Conference Tidbits:

  • 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. We already have a good number of kids registered – this is a very exciting addition to the festivities and for just $10 per child it’s a great deal! Click here to register.
  • You can still sign up to volunter – all 2015 volunteers receive a newly designed SFA t-shirt. Contact SFA Volunteer Coordinator Gretchen Boyum at 218.535.1567 or moc.l1422577348iamg@1422577348smraf1422577348muyob1422577348.
  • There is still time for Vendor/Exhibitor Registration as well. Visit our Annual Conference homepage to download the proper form.
  • Join us during lunch for a viewing and discussion of “Grow,” a short film that captures the stories of young farmers around Fergus Falls and shares their visions for the local food movement and the future of Minnesota’s rural communities. The session will be hosted by SFA Sustaining Member Katy Olson, who is featured in the film. Katy is a farmer, beginning farmer mentor, activist, and owner of Body Mind Center with a focus on holistic health.
  • The Seed Swap is returning! Bring your seeds and swap away.
  • 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.n1422577348m-afs1422577348@nosa1422577348j1422577348. 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 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.n1422577348amyeh1422577348robma1422577348j@oll1422577348eh1422577348.
  • 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.m1422577348rafse1422577348rcasr1422577348ekab@1422577348asil1422577348 if you would like to buy a simple soup meal served at the co-op.

From the Executive Director: Some Ideas Take Time to Brew

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

John Mesko

John Mesko

I’ve been picking through Fred Kirschenmann’s Cultivating and Ecological Conscience (2010, The University Press of Kentucky), a collection of many of his best writings on ecology, sustainable agriculture and life. Many of these writings are from the 1990s, the decade when SFA and several other organizations around the country were forming a new approach to farming and rural life.

In these articles, we see the foundations behind the development of some of the current practices that are becoming mainstream. In a 1997 article, “The Role of Independent Beef Producers in Rural Development” (P. 63-65), Kirschenmann tackles the issue of the size of cattle farms, and at what size they become “real” farms (I found it interestingly similar to issues we face today, actually). He describes his own North Dakota farm and how it benefitted from integrating livestock grazing on to row crop land, and how a vision for a renewed focus on local food, local meat and the ensuing economic development would be a boon for rural areas.

His closing is relevant even today: “Wealth generated by beef enterprises that stays in local communities instead of being drained off to distant investors is real rural development” (p.65).

Today, more than ever, we need to apply Kirschenmann’s wisdom. In the years since that article was written, a whole new science of agroecology that promotes soil-building practices by adding cover crops to the mix has developed – and with it, great promise for the future has been created.

What I found most interesting is it has taken almost 20 years for Kirschenmann’s vision of livestock and row crops in harmony restoring rural communities to become widely understood, first of all, and now has the potential to be widely adopted. Sometimes, good ideas simmer a while before going viral.

If that’s the case with ideas in agriculture, then we should be thinking 20 years or more into the future. The great ideas for where we want our brand of agriculture to go need to be put forth now. We need to be ahead of the curve, far enough in front so the river of conventional thinking doesn’t sweep us away.

I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the future of sustainable agriculture at the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, Feb. 14, 2015, in St. Joseph, Minn. I hope you can make it. In addition, through our breakout sessions, you’ll be able to take in a modern view of Fred Kirschenmann’s vision for integrated, sustainable farms.

You’ll be able to see where we’ve been and where we are going.

MSHS: Added Programming, Discussion Tables, & More

Midwest Soil Health Summit attendees listen to Gabe Brown at a MSHS Discussion Table at the 2014 event.

Midwest Soil Health Summit attendees listen to Gabe Brown at a MSHS Discussion Table at the 2014 event.

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 from the likes of Gabe Brown, Dr. Allen Williams, and more.

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.n1422577348m-afs1422577348@yrre1422577348j1422577348 or talk to an SFA staffer at the Summit and we’ll do our best to make it work.

View the schedule and register here – SFA members save $50!

U. of M. Vegetable Study Seeks Central MN Participants

University of Minnesota Extension is focusing on the economics of small vegetable farms in Central Minnesota and is looking for study participants. During February and March a team of extension educators will collect the farm finances of produce growers and market gardeners to both assist growers with business planning and measure the economic impact of small farms and the food hub SPROUT in the region.

The project promises to shed light on the economic health of small-scale vegetable operations which have blossomed with the increased consumer interest in local foods. A great deal is known about the finances and profitability of traditional commodities in Minnesota, which allows for rich benchmarking and comparisons. This is not the case with small vegetable operations.

University of Minnesota Extension is seeking 10 farms which grown 0-3 acres of vegetables and 10 farms which grow between 4-12 acres of vegetables to participate. Farm operators should have detailed and reliable records they are willing to share (all records will remain confidential).

In return, participating farms will receive benchmarks to assist their farm business and a $75 gift card. Contact Ryan Pesch, Extension Educator, at ude.n1422577348mu@hc1422577348sep1422577348 or 218-770-4398 for details.

This project is a partnership of the University of Minnesota Extension with SPROUT food hub, SFA Central Chapter, Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, and the Minnesota Farmers Market Association.

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.n1422577348m-afs1422577348@yrre1422577348j1422577348 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