SA Newsletter -- Fall 2016

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter


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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Volume 24, Issue 3 — Fall 2016

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Articles in this issue:





It’s that time of year – registration is open for most of the farmer conferences that take place in January and February. These are great events to meet new people and catch up with old friends, check out suppliers of farm inputs and services, connect with universities and non-profit organizations, learn new information, and generally have a good time. Opportunities abound in Minnesota and surrounding states:

January 12-13: Minnesota Organic Conference. River’s Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud, MN.

January 12-13: Wisconsin Local Food Summit. Radisson Hotel, La Crosse, WI.

January 19-20: Upper Midwest Fruit & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show. River’s Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud, MN.

January 20-21: Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference. Scheman Building, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.

January 26-28: Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society Winter Conference. Best Western Ramkota Hotel, Aberdeen, SD.

January 28-29: Immigrant & Minority Farmers Conference. Continuing Education Center, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota.

February 2-4: GrassWorks Grazing Conference. Chula Vista Resort, Wisconsin Dells, WI.

February 11: Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota Conference. College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, MN.

February 15-16: Midwest Soil Health Summit. Bigwood Event Center, Fergus Falls, MN.

February 23-25: MOSES Organic Farming Conference. La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI.


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The University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative involves multiple faculty, students and staff members working on a variety of new crops and cropping systems. Forever Green was featured in the Healthy Local Food exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair this year. In case you missed it, photos and posters from that event are available on the Forever Green website:

One of the Forever Green crops is Kernza™, a perennial food grain that is being developed from a forage grass called intermediate wheatgrass. Kernza has been grown exclusively in research plots until just recently, but is now starting to move toward commercialization. The first Kernza product on the market is a beer: “Long Root Ale,” marketed by Patagonia Provisions. National Public Radio produced a segment about the Kernza beer:

More news stories about Forever Green crops and cropping systems are available here:


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NCR-SARE's Graduate Student Grant Program is a competitive grant program to fund graduate student projects that address sustainable agriculture issues. Funding considerations are made based on how well the applicant articulates the nature of the research and education components of their proposals.

Cody Hoerning, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, along with Professor Donald Wyse, has been recommended to receive a $11,902 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for the project, "Agroecosystem Impact of Relay and Double Cropping Winter Annual Oilseeds in Corn and Soybean."

"This project intends to investigate the agroecosystem benefits of including the winter annual oilseeds, pennycress and camelina, in a corn-soybean rotation. Specifically, this project will study the impacts of including winter oilseeds on nitrate leaching and pollinator/beneficial insect attraction," said Hoerning. Sabrina Badger at the University of Minnesota, along with Professor Daniel Kaiser, has been recommended to receive a $11,906 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for the project, "Determination of Decomposition Rates of Cover Crop Residues and Their Nutrient Release Characteristics."

"This project will measure the decomposition rates of two cover crop species (cereal rye and medium red clover) grown before corn at two Minnesota locations. It will also measure the timing of release of macro and micro-nutrients from the plant residue, to allow farmers to maximize the nutrient credit to corn by properly timing the termination of cover crops," said Badger.

Both of these SARE-funded graduate student projects fit into the larger Forever Green initiative at the University of Minnesota, which includes multiple research projects on crop and cropping system development. More information:


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Through research, innovation and outreach, The University of Minnesota has been an economic driver for agriculture in Minnesota for more than 150 years. As crops are developed and improved it is important to identify and build the supply chains – but who does that work? Farmers want to farm, researchers want to conduct research, and businesses want to run their businesses. The challenge of building the links along the entire supply chain for new crops requires multiple disciplines, sectors and players, and each new crop has its own unique requirements. The Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) have begun work on supply chain development for three specific crops: Midwest hazelnuts, wool and organic edible dry beans.

The RSDPs’ Constance Carlson and UMN graduate student Amanda Sames researched the commercialization of hazelnuts to get a complete picture of the challenges and potential of building a hazelnut industry in the Upper Midwest. That information is now directing outreach and communication with regional producers and businesses interested in growing or using hazelnuts.

Carlson and Natural Fiber Alliance Executive Director, Jean Mueller, worked with UMN graduate student Austin Yang to help him finalize research on the demand for Upper Midwest sourced wool. In October they hosted a wool conference that brought together UMN researchers, lamb and wool producers, woolen mill owners, economists, extension professionals and others interested in Upper Midwest wool. A current project is development of a wool “portfolio” that highlights the benefits of using regionally sourced wool, to encourage Minnesota apparel makers to incorporate regional wool into their clothing lines.

Edible dry beans were introduced to chefs and consumers at the Minnesota Garlic Fest in August. The signature aspect of the festival is the convergence of some of the Twin Cities best chefs, serving original dishes to more than 4000 people. Information on UMN edible dry bean research was presented to the chefs and beans were on the Garlic Fest menu. On-going work will include connecting with CSA farmers for production and working with school districts to incorporate UMN bean varieties into their sourcing and menu planning.

In the future Carlson will be organizing more events as a platform for interested producers and businesses to connect with UMN researchers and each other. Contact Constance Carlson for more information:


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The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has updated its fact sheet about selling locally grown produce. The new fact sheet is titled “Selling or Serving Locally Grown Produce in Food Facilities.” Find the fact sheet on the MDA website:

An earlier version of the fact sheet was issued in 2010. The new revision includes clarification of the regulations for sale of processed fruits and vegetables. Minnesota law places no restrictions on the kinds of processing farmers do in the field or pack shed to get fruits and vegetables ready for sale. Farmers selling their own produce can sort, wash, trim tops or roots, husk corn, or any other similar procedures to make whole, raw fruits and vegetables presentable for sale.

Minnesota law excludes “product of the farm” from licensing. That means if a farmer wants to do peeling, slicing, shredding, freezing, or other processing of their own fruits and vegetables for sale, no license is required so long as no off-farm ingredients are added. However, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture does have the authority to require inspection of a farmer’s produce processing facility. An on-farm processing facility could be fairly simple and inexpensive for simple operations such as shredding cabbage or cutting up and wrapping pieces of squash. More-complex operations like blanching and freezing would require a more extensive processing facility. Having the processing facility on the farm is not required. Processing could occur in a rented kitchen space in a nearby community, for example.

Farmers who are interested in processing their fruits or vegetables for sale should contact the MDA inspector for their area. Contact the MDA’s Food and Feed Safety Division to get connected with your inspector: 651-201-6027.


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Local food systems in Minnesota have come a long way with direct marketing to individual consumers, but making them really strong and stable is going to take more involvement from more types of buyers. There is interest in buying local from schools, hospitals, other institutions, grocery stores, and restaurants. Some buyers are making great strides in local sourcing, but large-scale and wholesale buyers typically do not want to set up individual arrangements with many different farmers. Efficient aggregation and distribution of farmers’ products remains a difficult problem to solve.

One pathway developed by the Wabasha Farmers’ Market is use of a farmers’ market as a low-cost aggregation and distribution site for local produce. Sara George, the market manager, spearheaded this model in collaboration with a local school and hospital, with support from a SHIP coordinator and community organizations. Purchasing through the farmers’ market allowed buyers to place a single order and pay a single invoice. Selling wholesale product through the farmers’ market allowed farmers to bring their product to a venue where they were already coming for retail sales, so the sale didn’t require an extra trip. Streamlining of farmer contacts and billing is common to all food aggregation and distribution efforts, but there are particular advantages to using a farmers’ market as the aggregator:

  • Farmers’ markets are already established in many communities with farmers bringing produce on set days every week during the growing season. Farmers’ product lines are well-known to the market manager, who can communicate with buyers about availability of product.
  • A farmers’ market that accepts SNAP benefits and credit/debit cards already has an accounting system in place to handle distribution of payments to farmers.
  • Cost of facilities is very low because collection, sorting, and packing of produce for local food businesses can take place at the market during its hours of operation, under a market canopy. A handwashing station is required, but can be a portable gravity-fed model.
  • Storage space may not be needed at all if ordering and deliveries are coordinated with regular market days.
  • Transport of produce is likely to require only short trips because the market is located in the same community as the buyer. There are several options for safe transport of produce to the buyer.

The Wabasha Farmers’ Market and its allies worked through a number of operational and regulatory hurdles to get licensed as a wholesale food handler and get their program off the ground. Now, several organizations are working together to seek funding to establish more test sites for this farmers’ market aggregation model in 2017. If your farmers’ market is interested in becoming a produce aggregator and distributor, contact the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association:, (320) 250-5087.

More information about Farmers’ Markets as Food Hubs is available on the MISA website:


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The Keeney Place: A Life in the Heartland, by Dennis Keeney. Keeney shares his memories of growing up on an Iowa farm and the influence it had on his career. After the Keeney family lost the farm known as “The Keeney Place,” Dennis Keeney dedicated his life to sustainable agriculture. For more information about the book, or to order a copy, go to

Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City, by Robert Biel. University College of London Press. This book, by a leading expert in urban agriculture, offers a genuine solution to today’s global food crisis. By contributing more to feeding themselves, cities can allow breathing space for the rural sector to convert to more organic sustainable approaches. Download free:


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This newsletter is supported by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) - a partnership between the Sustainer's Coalition and the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); the University of Minnesota Extension Service; the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCRSARE) Professional Development Program (PDP); and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Send story ideas to MISA, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle. St. Paul, MN 55108, 612- 625-8235, fax (612) 625-1268, e-mail: Editorial board members: Helene Murray, 612-625-0220,; Beth Nelson, 612-625-8217,; Jane Jewett,; and Kate Seager, (612) 625- 8235, Please send address changes directly to: Kate Seager,, MISA, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108. You can find more University of Minnesota Extension Service educational information at Also check MISA's home page.

Our mission statement: To help bring people together to influence the future of agriculture and rural communities to achieve socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable farms and communities.To stimulate thinking and discussion about sustainability, we try to present items that reflect different points of view. This being the case, we aren't promoting and don't necessarily agree with everything we publish.