Deep Roots Farmer Development Program

The Fall 2014 Farm Skills 101 class.

The Fall 2014 Farm Skills 101 class.

The program

Deep Roots LOGOSFA supports an award-winning beginning farmer educational program, the Deep Roots Farmer Development Program, which formerly was known as the Sustainable Food Production program.

Deep Roots Farmer Development Program is a much-needed beginning-farmer curriculum that emphasizes all three tenets of sustainability, plus provides extensive skills training. A unique aspect of Deep Roots is its commitment to community development and mentoring, a perfect fit with SFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Network® organization.

The Teachers

Instructors are all farmer-educators: Sue Wika, PhD; Tom Prieve, DVM; Kent Solberg, MS; and Ryan Pesch, MS. Each possesses both real-world experience and the educational background to provide comprehensive sustainable food production education.

Farm Skills 101

This course covers the hands-on essential skills necessary for a forage-based livestock producer. Elevate your handiness while building community and competence.

NOTE: Registration is NOW OPEN for the Spring 2015 semester of Farm Skills 101: Click here to register.

Farm Skills 101 consists of around 50 hours of on-farm education in three weekends of fun and fulfilling learning. These are days in the field, not field days. Participants will need pants, closed-toe shoes, gloves and safety glasses.

Deep Roots programs include small class sizes and individualized attention. Every student engages in the activities. This is real-world, real-time education. 

Spring 2015 classes will be held April 17-18 and 24-25 as well as May 1-2 at farms near Alexandria, Minn. Friday classes run from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Pack sack lunches and breakfasts; Friday local-foods suppers are included. Tuition also includes housing at the lovely, modern lodge at nearby Viking Valley Hunt Club.

Also, all students receive a free one-year SFA membership – benefits include various conference and event discounts, the CornerPost magazine, and more.


If you wish to learn more about the Spring 2015 semester or have other questions about Farm Skills 101 or the Deep Roots program, click here, fill out the basic form and the optional scholarship form, and an instructor will contact you.

Scroll down for curriculum details, or click the following links for news stories about Sue Wika and Tom Prieve’s Paradox Farm:

Deep Roots Presents: Nuts and Bolts Workshop

20ANuts and Bolts, a workshop designed for those with a desire to farm but with little or no experience with common farm tools and equipment, is set for 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat., March 21 at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Hwy 78, Ashby, Minn. In this workshop, students will gain practical experience with farm tools and materials.

Get prepared for the upcoming season of food production by participating in this Deep Roots Farmer Development Program workshop. You will increase your handiness while developing competence with farm tools and materials. Get the edge for summer farm internships by listing this course on your resume! This is also an appropriate preparatory course for Farm Skills 101.

Small class size guarantees that all students receive ample individual attention. Course instructors are seasoned farmers. Students should have gloves and safety glasses and wear closed-toe shoes and long pants.


  • Common hand tool identification and use on the farm
  • Hands-on operation of common tools
  • Ergonomics and body mechanics
  • Common hardware identification & use: nails, nuts, bolts, staples, screws
  • Building materials, such as lumber
  • Small carpentry project completed during class

Directions: 7 miles north of Ashby; 10 miles south of Battle Lake. Bring a sack lunch. Cost: $99 early bird registration by Feb. 14; $129 thereafter. No walk-in registration.

Click here to register.

Questions? Email gro.n1422808634m-afs1422808634@eus1422808634 or call 218.747.2202.


Additional Deep Winter Greenhouse Class SOLD OUT

Our third SFA Sustainable Food Production Program “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy” class has now sold out.

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.

NOTE: We have full classes scheduled for Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 13. If you already registered for those courses, please be assured they are still set to 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.

Deep Winter classes provide opportunities 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.

Sue and Tom’s greenhouse was recently profiled by Minnesota Public Radio. To read the MPR story, click here. For more information, including video and photos, see the following report:



Kent fencing 500p for website

The Curriculum

Here is a sampling of some likely topics to be covered during Farm Skills 101. Though the list may change, these are some of the basic elements that represent the depth and breadth of the program.

1. Fencing Strategies for Forage-based Livestock Systems

  • Principles and components
  • Corner and end brace design
  • Portable, electric fencing options
  • Permanent fencing options
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Creative options
  • How to “keep them in!”

Dan, Tom and sheep 500p for website2. Compassionate animal husbandry and handling

  • Parasite management – quantitative fecal exams, FAMACHA
  • Estimating weight
  • Foot trim
  • Health assessment
  • Basic vet care
  • Tagging
  • Flight zone and pivot point
  • Facilities
  • Butchering and home processing

Cows with fencing 500p for website3. Pasture Management and Grazing basics

  • Common pasture plant and forage plant identification
  • Water systems
  • Managing the grazing season
  • Principles of grazing strategies
  • Incorporating annuals
  • Estimating paddock carrying capacity
  • Principles of Stacking
  • Legal descriptions and plat books

woman with tractor horiz - 500p for website4. Farm Equipment and Tools

  • Maintenance
  • Safety
  • PTO
  • Hooking up hydraulic hoses
  • Use of three-point hitch
  • Implement identification and use
  • Farm tools identification and use
  • Farm carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills



Dan Fabian, 2013 SFP Graduate:

Fabian, Dan“In the spring of 2012, I decided to take a sabbatical from my 29-year career as a Civil Engineer doing water resource engineering and learn how to farm. As an engineer I needed to know both the “how” and the “why” farmers did what they did. I also knew that I learned best by “hands-on doing” in addition to lecture.

“To be of value for my career it needed to be a formal certified program offered by a credible organization and a college was my first choice. Having lived my entire life in town I had very little experience with farming and needed to learn an entirely new set of skills to have the confidence to pursue my farm dreams.

“Fortunately I stumbled across the “M-State Sustainable Food Production Program” which just happened to be right in my home state of Minnesota at Fergus Falls. Having now completed the program I can say it not only satisfied my initial criteria, it far exceeded my expectations.

“Not only did I learn how to operate a tractor, loader, no-till drill, roto-vator, milk cows, milk goats, care for cows, goats, pigs, chickens, sheep and horses; I also learned about the sociological underpinnings of the current agricultural system, crops and forages, wrote a business plan, learned to add value to the food produced through direct sales or by making various artisan food products like cheese, canned goods, yogurt, butter, butchered chickens and other animals.

“But perhaps most importantly, I began to develop my support community of people and resources that I can call on as I continue on my journey into sustainable agriculture.”

Nicole Moore, 2013 SFP Graduate:

Moore, Nicole“Skill development within this curriculum directly empowers the student. Physical involvement in a process makes a lasting impression, allowing the student the space and time to discover questions or thoughts related to the experience that would otherwise have never been conceived if she or he had only read or heard about the process.

“With this approach, students walk away with tangible, demonstrable skills. What’s more effective a learning tool than, at the end of the session, being able to walk onto your own property and build yourself a reliable fence? Can’t beat that.”