Calling All Budding Farmers to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference

Art and science projects, cooking lessons and more – the Budding Farmers program is coming to the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, set for Feb. 14 at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn.

 SFA member Monica Irwin of Northfield launched Budding Farmers in 2013 after years of experience working within the local food system as a farmer, farmer’s market manager, community educator, and good food activist. The goal of the program is that all kids should know where their food comes from and why they should be eating healthy food.

At the SFA Annual Conference, registered children will complete art, science and cooking projects, and move around playing imaginative games. Also, each child will go home with plenty of fun activity pages and materials, including a seed-sprouting kit, so they can be a Budding Farmer at home.

“We’ll be doing hands-on agriculture-themed activities that focus on the Budding Farmers motto: ‘Learn, Cook, Grow – I’m a Budding Farmer!’” said Irwin (right).

Registration for children’s programming is just $10 – Budding Farmers students will return to their parents for lunch, and parents may want to pack snacks and drinks for their students to have during class time. 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. Click here to register.  

To read more about Monica and Budding Farmers, visit her homepage or read this 2013 article from the Northfield News.

Volunteer Registration Now Open and Other Annual Conference News

  • Volunteer registration is now open – all 2015 volunteers receive a newly designed SFA t-shirt. Volunteers are needed to be session monitors, help with parking and registration, setup/teardown, and more. To volunteer or to learn more, contact SFA Volunteer Coordinator Gretchen Boyum at 218.535.1567 or
  • Register through Dec. 30 at the rate of $45/members and $55/nonmembers. SFA members will receive a separate email with discount registration instructions. Only SFA members will receive this separate email.
  • Vendor/Exhibitor Registration is open as well. Visit our Annual Conference homepage to download the proper form.
  • Scholarships to attend the SFA Annual Conference are available for current students and require a volunteer commitment; for more information, email Jerry Ford at

From The Executive Director: Send us your memories, your thoughts, things you’ve learned

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

SFA has played a major role in the advancement of sustainable agriculture over the last 25 years.  Founded in 1990, SFA’s Farmer to Farmer Network™ organization has helped to develop and promote foundational practices in agriculture; some of which have become mainstream.

For example, in 1990, reduced tillage and no till agriculture was somewhat obscure for most farmers.  Today, zero tillage, particularly in soybean production has become the standard.  Today, farmers are smarter about chemical applications, there are more farmers markets, more farmers selling direct to consumers and more beginning farmers than ever.

These advances would not have succeeded without the network of SFA farmers, who over the years have shared their insights and learnings with neighbors and friends through SFA chapters and involvment in SFA events.  If you’ve been around SFA for any length of time, you’ve had a hand in this as well.  Send us your memories, your thoughts, examples of the things you’ve learned.  Its time to celebrate the accomplishments of all of sustainable agriculture!

Upcoming Webinar: Building Farm to Institution Markets

Nov. 6 webinar postcardA free webinar and survey to help Minnesota food producers grow, “Building Farm to Institution Markets,” is set for 3-4 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 6.

This webinar is for farmers, ranchers and producers currently selling to, or interested in selling to, schools, child care centers, hospitals or other institutions. It will provide an introduction to farm to institution practices and benefits. It will focus on how the needs of the producer can be matched with the needs of the buyer, accessing the potential of this rapidly expanding market channel. This webinar pairs with a new survey that invites producers to share their input on farm to institution opportunities, barriers and resource needs.

Presenters scheduled to appear include:

  • SFA member producer Greg Reynolds, who will discuss his experience with farm to institution sales
  • Andrea Northup from Minneapolis Public Schools, who will talk about the institution’s perspective
  • Ryan Pesch from University of Minnesota Extension, who will talk about the market potential of institutional sales

This is a project of: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Renewing the Countryside, and Sustainable Farming Association.

Click here to register.

Keep Cattle In Minnesota Field Day is Nov. 1 Near Sebeka

KCIM Keep Cattle in MinnesotaThe Sustainable Farming Association is hosting a Cover Crop Field Day as part of its Keep Cattle in Minnesota project from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1, 2014, in the Sebeka/Verndale area. The event is free and open to the public, and no RSVP is required.

During the Field Day, attendees will review two fields planted to complex cover-crop mixes; one is planted to a cool-season mix and the other to a warm-season mix. These mixes were designed to stimulate soil microbes, build soil organic matter and provide livestock forage. Cattle will likely be utilizing at least one of these fields the day of the tour. There will be a soil pit in the second field to view cover crop root action and growth.

The tour begins at Larry Heitkamp’s Yellow Rose Organic Farm on County Road 12 seven miles east of U.S. 71 in Sebeka, or three miles east of the Co. Rd. 12 and Co. Rd. 23 intersection. Watch for SFA signs.

After the program at the Heitkamp farm, the group will caravan to the second stop, Kent and Linda Solberg’s farm, at 18618 Co. Rd. 23, Verndale.

The Keep Cattle in Minnesota project is funded in part by MDA Sustainable Ag and Energy Grant and NRCS. For more information about SFA or Keep Cattle in Minnesota, contact Wayne Monsen at or visit our KCIM homepage.

Executive Director’s Note: Can All Farmers Be in the Same Category?

John Mesko

John Mesko

By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director

Recently, I learned the MN Department of Agriculture has essentially phased out the distinction they’ve been making between sustainable agriculture and other, non-organic brands of agriculture.  Aside from the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant program, you’ll find very little on the MDA website referring to “sustainable” agriculture.

I think for most of us, this might come as a bit of a surprise, especially given how supportive MDA has been of our organization over the years.  Frankly, I don’t expect the change in language on the MDA website is in any way a reflection of a desire on the part of the department to become any less supportive of SFA, but it raises an interesting discussion.

The sustainable agriculture movement of the last 25-30 years or so was a product of the discontent in the land after the farm crises of the 1980s which saw many farmers succumb to the pressures of a farm economy which was heavily rewarding economies of scale and making it very difficult to farm effectively in the small and mid scale.  Pioneers banded together against the brand of agriculture forcing them out at that time.  The enemies were banks, the government, and big ag.  Those pioneers sought low cost solutions in order to survive.  As a result there were many innovative models and techniques that were developed and perfected, such as: reduced tillage, no-tillage, cover crops, and the rise of the organic farmer.

Many of these practices have become mainstream in the past generation.  The modern farmer, regardless of his or her preferred production model may be more sustainability minded than the previous generation.  And while we may differ on the definition of sustainability, there are few out there today who are actively engaging in farming with the intent to waste land resources and knowingly damage the environment.

I understand MDAs decision on “sustainable” agriculture.  It means we have more farmers in our audience.  More farmers moving toward ever improving sustainable production models is a good thing.

Do you think it’s possible for all farmers to be in the same category?  Or, should we be divided into “sustainable” and “conventional” farmers?  I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at