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.

MSHS Returns With Gabe Brown, Dr. Allen Williams, Jerry Doan & more

Tickets are moving fast for SFA’s second annual Midwest Soil Health Summit, featuring Gabe Brown, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria, Minn.

MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table at the 2014 event. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.

MSHS attendees crowd the Gabe Brown Discussion Table at the 2014 event. Each presenter at the Summit held a successive gathering at the Discussion Tables, allowing for more intimate conversation as well as farmer networking.

The MSHS, newly expanded for 2015, also will feature Dr. Allen Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry.

To learn more and register, click here.

Sponsors and Exhibitors: Click here to download the 2015 MSHS Exhibitor Application

Brown, the keynote speaker, owns Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., and is a pioneer in diverse cover cropping who has used no-till techniques for two decades. At the 2015 MSHS, Gabe will discuss soil health programming for beginners as well as lead a separate program for advanced farmers – if you attended the previous MSHS, rest assured this year’s version will include plenty of fresh information from Gabe.

Dr. Allen Williams

Dr. Allen Williams

We are also proud to welcome Dr. Williams, a champion of the grass-fed beef industry as well as a leader in cutting edge grazing methodology. A co-project leader at the Pasture Project, Dr. Williams is also founding partner and president of Livestock Management Consultants, a founding partner of Grass Fed Beef and chairman of Association of Family Farms.

The exact schedule will be online soon; note that the event begins at 1 p.m. Feb. 18 with “Soil Science Basics” led by John Mesko.

Last year’s MSHS was a sellout; register now to guarantee your spot. Walk-up registration will be dependent on pre-registration numbers, and SFA members receive a $50 registration discount.

Also scheduled to appear:

  • Jerry Doan, farmer from Black Leg Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D., a multi-generational family farm that emphasizes soil health. To read a profile of the Doans, click here.
  • Dr. Michael Lehman, a research microbiologist whose studies include evaluating soil microbiological responses to agricultural management practices.
  • Dr. Wendy Taheri, a research microbiologist who specializes in the study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). To view a recent SFA soil health webinar featuring Drs. Lehman and Taheri, click here.
  • Kent Solberg, SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist, will discuss Designing Complex Cover Crop Blends
  • John Mesko, SFA Executive Director, will lead a bonus program on Soil Science Basics
  • Ian Cunningham, a cow-calf producer and veteran cover cropper from Pipestone County, Minn.

Also returning this year is our exclusive “Gab With Gabe” networking session from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 18, 2015, with Gabe Brown. ONLY A HANDFUL OF TICKETS REMAIN at $50 each for this chance to network one-on-one with a soil health pioneer. You must register for the MSHS separately – this ticket will ONLY get you into “Gab With Gabe.” Click here to register for “Gab With Gabe.”

Need a room? Arrowwood Resort is a family friendly location with ice fishing, cross country ski trails, snowmobiling, ice skating, broomball, and more. For more information or to reserve a room at the special MSHS rate of $99, call the resort at 320.762.1124.

SFA Field Day: 30 Inches of Roots & Soil Health

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaBy Kent Solberg • SFA Livestock & Grazing Coordinator

A crowd huddled against the brisk November wind during a Nov. 1 SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota Field Day in Verndale. They were gathered around a freshly dug trench. All eyes were fixed on the man in the trench.

No, this wasn’t a funeral. The trench was dug to look at what the roots of a complex cover crop mix could do in sandy, compacted soils. Root hairs had penetrated the compaction layer and were going down at least 30 inches – Kent and Linda Solberg had planted the 12 species blend of cover crops on July 3.

As cattle grazed on the covers in the background, Kent; Jeff Duchene, NRCS Grazing Specialist; and James Schroepfer, agronomist with Ag Resources Consulting, Inc., discussed soil health, cover crops and managed grazing with a group of attentive producers from as far away as Bagley and Mountain Lake.

Earlier that afternoon, the group toured cover crops and managed grazing on Larry Heitkamp’s farm near Sebeka. Larry shared his crop rotation, cover cropping, fertility program, and how he integrates grazing dairy heifers to build soil health.

These farm tours were part of SFA’s Keep Cattle In Minnesota (KCIM) program and an MDA Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Grant. Based on evaluations from earlier KCIM events, we learned that there was a strong interest in cover crops and how to integrate livestock into cropping operations, so keep an eye on SFA Connect for future events focused on these topics.

Executive Director’s Note: Learning Environmental Accountability

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Agricultural practitioners have known forever that everything in the environment is connected with every human being on the planet. Nothing new to us. SFA was started 25 years ago in part because of that very idea, that what we do on our farms affects the environment and the community and the food we produce as a nation.

Actually, we’ve become known for our coordinated approach to sustainability. So much so, I’ve been invited by Conservation International to talk about what we are doing to promote sustainable agriculture in general and soil health in particular. As I write this, I am in Washington, D.C., with other sustainability leaders to attend Conservation International’s Ocean Health Index Roundtable. Conservation International has developed an Ocean Health Index, and the idea here is that everything on the planet contributes to the overall outcomes in terms of ocean health.

The first global rating of ocean health is not exactly stellar. Businesses, including farms, and countries individually contribute to our earth’s ocean health. Something I hope to bring to Conservation International is the understanding that ocean health is rooted in soil health (pun intended).

This is actually a part of a larger effort in global sustainability circles to assign a credit or a debit to a company’s books or a country’s economic ledger based on the contribution each entity makes to environmental health. It’s gotten me thinking about the assessment of our own farms and how they contribute to overall soil health and water quality. We know certain farming practices work for the benefit of the environment. It’s hard to miss with the soil health building practices such as cover crops and grazing, and the intense combination of those, that we will be highlighting at the 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit.

But what do those practices actually contribute to the bottom line of the environment? And as a part of financial sustainability, what do they contribute to the bottom line of the farm’s economy, the community’s economy and our societies social health? I’ll let you know what I learn from this trip and what other sectors of our economy are doing to integrate environmental accounting into their outcomes.

Free SFA Soil Health Webinar Set for Nov. 21

KCIMRegistration is now open for a free SFA Keep Cattle in Minnesota webinar featuring soil health experts Michael Lehman and Wendy Taheri of the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Lab in Brookings, S.D. The webinar, set for 1-2:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 21, is part of our Keep Cattle In Minnesota project and functions as a bridge to our upcoming Midwest Soil Health Summit, where both Lehman and Taheri are scheduled to present.

Presentations include:

Cover Cropping: A Great Tool for Building Soils That Work – Lehman will consider the invisible world of soil microorganisms, what they do that is helpful to producers, and how cover cropping is one management tool that promotes soil microorganisms and their beneficial activities.

Understanding the Importance of Diversity in Cropping Systems – Taheri’s presentation will help farmers understand the importance of diversity in their cropping systems and the role cover crops play in creating and maintaining diversity.

To register, click here. This webinar is sponsored by The Pasture Project.