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.n1422609745m-afs1422609745@yrre1422609745j1422609745 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!

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.n1422609745m-afs1422609745@yrre1422609745j1422609745 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

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.d1422609745ribde1422609745er@ei1422609745lla1422609745, or visit www.reedbird.com.

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.