Farm Skills 101: Low Student-Teacher Ratio, High Level of Practical Knowledge Make Course A Great Value

SFProduction LOGOGetting a good bang for your buck is rarely guaranteed in the world of sky-high college tuition.

But not for students in SFA’s Sustainable Food Production Program, which teaches various real-world sustainable farming skills in an on-farm environment. Not only does Farm Skills 101 teach students the hands-on skills needed to become successful sustainable farmers, it’s a great value, too – SFP also boasts a low student-teacher ratio that leads to a fairly intense, in-depth experience.

Dr. Sue Wika

Dr. Sue Wika

Farm Skills 101 consists of around 50 hours of on-farm education in three weekends of fun and fulfilling learning. As instructor Dr. Sue Wika is fond of saying, “These are days in the field, not field days.” Students must dress properly: pants, closed-toe shoes, gloves and safety glasses are required. Topics include Fencing Strategies for Forage-based Livestock Systems, Compassionate Animal Husbandry and Handling, Pasture Management and Grazing Basics, and Farm Equipment and Tools.

Wika said the Farm Skills 101 was developed for both students with some farm knowledge as well as for those who didn’t grow up on a farm.

“It’s a way to experience and learn some of those skills ‘farm kids’ acquired through daily interaction with farm processes,” she said. “The course is designed with a low student-teacher ratio, so the experience will be empowering.”

And then there’s the bang-for-your-buck factor. Tuition for the Fall 2014 semester of Farm Skills 101 is just $1,025, and scholarships are available. For the amount of knowledge packed into this course – students learn not in theory, but in practice – Farm Skills 101 tuition is a smart investment in the future of anyone considering a sustainable farming career.

Fall 2014 classes are Oct. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18 at farms near Alexandria, Minn. All students receive a free one-year SFA membership.

To enroll, visit this link and view payment information. To learn more or view a more detailed curriculum, visit the SFP Program homepage or contact Dr. Wika at paradoxhomestead@gmail.com.

SFP Course: Introduction to Small Ruminant Husbandry is April 26

Dan, Tom and sheep 500p for websiteAnyone considering adding goats or sheep to their sustainable food production system or those who want to manage their small ruminants more holistically should attend a SFA Sustainable Food Production workshop, Introduction to Small Ruminant Husbandry, from 1 to 5 p.m. Sat., April 26, at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Highway 78, Ashby, Minn. (ten miles south of Battle Lake; seven miles north of Ashby).

Click here to download a flyer.

This course provides students opportunity for hands-on work with sheep and goats. In a working-farm setting, students can learn how small ruminants can fit into a natural systems farm. Course topics include: holistic management, ruminant nutrition, animal handling, fencing, grazing strategies, holistic veterinary care, shelters, weight and age estimation. Wear clothing appropriate for working with animals: closed-toe shoes, gloves, long pants.

Paradox Farm owners Sue Wika and Tom Prieve will share their perspectives on how small ruminants can fit in holistically managed food production systems. Small ruminants have been an integral element of Paradox Farm for ten years. In addition to enjoying and appreciating small ruminants, Wika and Prieve are experienced sustainable farming educators and lead SFA’s Sustainable Food Production Program, which is also gearing up for its Fall 2014 semester.

To learn more and to register, click here.

Gabe Brown Returning for 2015 Midwest Soil Health Summit

Gabe chats with two farmersBy Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

Soil health really is the key to sustainability and is becoming top of mind for SFA.

Midwest Soil Health Summit presenter and soil health pioneer Rick Bieber chats with attendees at the MSHS Discussion Tables.

Midwest Soil Health Summit presenter and soil health pioneer Rick Bieber chats with attendees at the MSHS Discussion Tables.

Shifting the focus of agriculture from maximum yields to maximum soil health quality is critical to the sustainability of agriculture in Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, the United States and globally. SFA is committed to continued soil health programming, including programs addressing the integration of cover crops, row crops and livestock grazing, and will continue the pursuit of funding and programs that foster the development of soil health building practices for the long term.

To that end, SFA is proud to announce the return of the Midwest Soil Health Summit, set for Feb. 18-19, 2015, again at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria.

We are also especially proud to announce that Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch will be returning to the MSHS in 2015 as the keynote speaker. Next year, however, Gabe and the other presenters will have a dual focus: there will be specific workshops for soil health beginners as well as advanced farmers.

Plus, we will be planning even more farmer-to-farmer networking time. The popularity of the “Gab With Gabe” session, the discussion tables with each presenter (right, with Rick Bieber), and the Q and A sessions in 2014 means even more opportunities to network will be on the slate in 2015.

So, if you attended this year’s Summit, don’t think 2015 will be a repeat. Some of the presenters may be the same, but the programming will be varied and tailored to farmers of all stripes and expertise levels.

It’s never too soon to start planning your conference season calendar. Just ask anybody who attended the sold-out 2014 Midwest Soil Health Summit, and they’ll tell you it’s a conference you can’t afford to miss.

Pencil in Feb. 18-19, 2015, and we’ll keep you updated on Summit speakers, registration, and everything you need to know.

Australian Farmer Completes Trek to Midwest Soil Health Summit

By Jason Walker • SFA Communications & Membership Coordinator

Evan Lewis for Connect:homepageFebruary’s SFA Midwest Soil Health Summit drew a crowd from at least five states and Canada, but the easy winner for farthest traveled was Evan Lewis.

Evan (right) came all the way from South Australia to attend the Summit. He had been searching the internet for Gabe Brown, came across SFA’s homepage and liked what he saw, and then decided to make the trip, his first to the U.S.

“We have various issues with our soils that I believe cover crops can help to alleviate,” he said. “I’m keen to see if we can adapt the principals to our no-till system.”

Evan’s trip, though, got off to a bad start. Horrible, actually. His travel agent had booked his flight not to Alexandria, Minn., but Alexandria, Louisiana. He emailed me the night before and said he was in the wrong Alexandria and would try to make it the next day, but that his “Gab With Gabe” ticket could probably go to somebody else.

Luckily, though, the air travel system came through. Evan arrived in Minneapolis on Feb. 19 and hopped on a shuttle to Alexandria, where he arrived a little after 4 p.m. in time for the limited-ticket confab with Summit keynote Gabe Brown.

Evan and I tried to connect during the Summit, but every time I saw him he was busy chatting and networking with other farmers in attendance. However, after getting snowed in at Arrowwood Resort on Feb. 20 due to a nasty winter storm, I was able to have dinner with Evan as well as also-snowbound Kent Solberg, Jerry Ford, Jane Jewett, Cassie Dahl, Dan Tiffany and Dan Fabian. Despite being stuck at Arrowwood, it was a great evening of conversation.

Evan has returned to Australia but said he’s interested in returning to Minnesota again and possibly bringing some farmer friends for an SFA field day.

“My challenge now is to adapt the concepts to our own climate and conditions,” he said.

Healthy Soils on Diverse Lands Topic of Forage Council Workshop

KCIMThe Crow Wing River Basin Forage Council held its 14th Winter Workshop, “Cover, Cattle, Crops – Keeping Healthy Soils, on Diverse Lands, at the Center of Profitability,” on Feb. 11 at Central Lakes College in Staples.

The workshop was sponsored in part by the Keep Cattle in Minnesota Project, a collaborative project of SFA, NRCS, and Grazing Lands Conservation Association.

Over 80 people turned out to hear presenters Ken Miller and Joshua Dukart, both District Technicians with the Burleigh County (N.D.) Soil Conservation District. Miller and his wife operate a 2,000-acre ranch near Fort Rice, N.D. Dukart, a Certified Educator of Holistic Management, remains involved in the management of the family ranch and teaches regularly throughout the US and Canada. Through diverse cover crops, rotational grazing, and crop rotation, they explained how farmers have increased soil carbon, reduced inputs of fertilizers and herbicides, and increased farm production all while improving wildlife habitat and water quality. Dukart was adamant of the need to get cattle back on the land, stating “that science has yet to replicate what comes out the back end of a cow.”

For more information about the Crow Wing River Basin Forage Council, contact Jim Chamberlin at jchamberlin@hugllc.com.