From the Executive Director: Adjust 2015 Coming to MN Organic Conference

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Winter is here. Earlier than most of us would like, but it’s here, and that means conference season. Hopefully, you’ve already registered for the Midwest Soil Health Summit on Feb. 18-19, 2015, as those seats will sell fast. And I know you wouldn’t let SFA’s Annual Conference on Feb. 14 pass you by. It’s the perfect winter-time warm up!

NFRC_Adjust2015_RGBHowever, there’s another conference you really should be thinking about: the MN Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Organic Conference.  I just got my registration packet in the mail recently, and I’m going to be there.

SFA will have a booth, and SFA will be offering our very first Adjust 2015 Workshop! Yes, you’ve heard about Adjust 2015 for the past two years now, and we are ready (almost) to launch the curriculum!

As a reminder, Adjust 2015’s “New Farm Reality Check” Curriculum is designed to offer beginning farmers that one final run through of their plans before they embark on an important farm business. We’ve asked hundreds of farmers to tell what the initial hurdles were in their businesses, and what they would do over again to avoid them. We’ve identified key components of flexibility and planning success that will help beginning farmers to avoid potentially disastrous situations.  Come early to the MN Organic Conference, and sign up for the “Reality Checking Your Farm Plan” Winter Workshop.  It’s FREE for SFA members!

The MN Organic Conference, easy to get to in St. Cloud, loaded with information, and SFA will be there too! Don’t miss it.

Update: Additional Deep Winter Greenhouse Class Added

Dr. Sue Wika’s deep winter greenhouse at Paradox Farm utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage and provides winter greens for local consumers. Photo by Ann Arbor Miller/MPR News.

Dr. Sue Wika’s deep winter greenhouse at Paradox Farm utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage and provides winter greens for local consumers. Photo by Ann Arbor Miller/MPR News.

After the first two sold out, we’ve added another SFA Sustainable Food Production Program “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy” class: from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Ashby, Minn.

NOTE: This class is in addition to the sold-out Deep Winter classes already scheduled for Jan. 31 and Feb. 13. If you already registered for those courses, be assured they will take place as scheduled. 

During the class, farm owners Sue Wika and Tom Prieve will provide a detailed overview of the construction and operation of their deep-winter greenhouse, which utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage. The greenhouse provides greens for local consumers. In addition, the structure is utilized to produce fodder for the farm livestock. Students will be in the greenhouse to see how greens and fodder are planted and harvested.

This particular Deep Winter class is more in-depth and will provide opportunity for students to “get their hands dirty” in the greenhouse by planting and harvesting greens. It will also cover greenhouse construction in a more detailed manner. Registrants: Don’t forget to bring a sack lunch. Beverage and fresh winter salad (grown on site) provided.

The class will be held at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Hwy 78, Ashby, MN 56309 (Directions: 7 miles north of Ashby; 10 miles south of Battle Lake). Storm date is Feb. 8, 2015.

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.


‘Building Farm to Institution Markets’ Survey Now Open

2014_11_06_ProducerSurvey_web (1)A survey for Minnesota producers, “Building Farm to Institution Markets,” is now available at: through the end of November.

For Minnesota farmers, ranchers and producers currently selling to – or interested in selling to – schools, child care centers, hospitals or other institutions, this survey focuses on identifying the information and tools that producers need to build successful, profitable sales with these buyers.

This comprehensive survey has been developed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, SFA and Renewing the Countryside – with additional input from over 20 farmers, state agencies, experts and non-profit organizations. SFA members will be especially valuable for this survey, as your answers and feedback will help build a better, more profitable farm-to-insitution system in Minnesota.

Our collaborative project group also held a webinar in early November that featured SFA member Greg Reynolds, Ryan Pesch from the University of Minnesota and Andrea Northup from Minneapolis Public Schools. You can download each presenter’s slides in the right-hand column of this page.

Questions? Contact project partners Pete Huff, Jason Walker or Grace Brogan.

RSDP Seeking Input on Deep Winter Greenhouse Project

RSDPThe Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships are working with the University of Minnesota Dept. of Horticulture on a research project that will analyze several issues related to growing crops in the winter in Minnesota. RSDP is working with ‘Deep Winter Greenhouse’ operators as well as conventional greenhouses to test the conditions under which their crops are grown. Crops will also be grown in growth chambers at the U to identify conditions under which the crops grow best with controlled light, temperatures, and carbon dioxide.

Crops grown in the study will include kale, spinach, strawberries, cucumbers, and a mesclun mix. We will also be conducting economic analyses of the Deep Winter Greenhouses to determine startup costs, breakeven analyses, and examine the potential market for Deep Winter crops.

Following the conclusion of these studies, short courses will be offered around the state to provide opportunities for growers to learn about the results and techniques of the various production models.

If you are interested in receiving periodic updates on the progress of this study and have the ability to ask questions and provide feedback please contact Greg Schweser at or 612-625-9706. To learn more about RSDP, visit its homepage.