SA Newsletter July 1999

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 7, Issue 7 – July 1999

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New study: more farmland is being lost to urban uses

Imagine a new Mall of America every day. That’s how much farmland in the 13-county Twin Cities metropolitan area is being paved over. To put it on a yearly basis, one 36-square-mile township—about 22,500 acres—is converted to urban uses.

And the rate of farmland conversion has increased in the past five years, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

The farmland loss rate has been more rapid in the outer fringe counties—Wright and Chisago counties in Minnesota and St. Croix and Pierce counties in Wisconsin. These four counties all had declines of over 30,000 acres from 1982 to 1997, according to Extension Educator Tom Wegner and Extension Economist Steve Taff of the U of M Extension Service.

Population growth appears to be the driving force in the decline of agricultural lands, Wegner and Taff say.

The “agricultural land” definition in their study includes only lands actively pastured or cropped; and therefore is less than traditional measures. The study, based on Census of Agriculture data for 1997, measured nearly 23.2 million acres of Minnesota farmland, compared to the traditional measure of just under 26 million acres.

To be counted as “farmers,” farm operators had to sell $1,000 worth of agricultural products each year.

Conversion of farmland to urban land is often linked with urban sprawl and concerns about such land-use changes, their report says. “These include the need to keep the region’s economy diversified, desirability of maintaining open space, a concern about the livelihood of farmers and a fond wish to control sprawl. Maintenance of farmland is held to be the key to success.”

But there is no consensus about how these changes should be measured; nor is there much agreement about what constitutes “excessive” conversion levels. “We think the ‘agricultural land’ measure we used is the best single and consistent measure for use in policy debates on urban sprawl control,” Wegner and Taff say.

The Census of Agriculture has been conducted every five years for the past several decades. It gets its data from mail surveys, followed by some telephone and personal contacts to fill in any major gaps. The U.S. Department of Agriculture claims an accuracy rate of about two percent.

The report is available at Or, write the Waite Library, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics, 232 COB, St. Paul, MN 55108. Taff can be reached at (612) 625-3103,; Wegner at (612) 374-8400,

Low-income youth learn gardening skills, and much more

Some 50 low-income, neighborhood youth in Chaska, Minn. have their own small garden plot this summer. The project will help create pride in themselves and their communities, says Carlos Gallego, educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Carver County.

They learn how to garden—and also lots about community service, business skills, nutrition and how to get along with others.

“Some vegetables will go to local food shelves; others to the families of the low-income youth participants,” he says. In addition, the youth will learn entrepreneurial skills through their stand at the new Chaska Farmer’s Market, opening in mid-July.

“The program is needed in Carver County since most summer youth programs charge a fee. But we have many ‘working poor’ families who can’t afford to pay,” Gallego says.

Most participants are in grades one through four, and they meet for four hours every week. “In addition to the gardening program, we have them enrolled in the traditional 4-H projects such as woodworking and aerospace,” he says. Youth project leaders ages 13-17 do most of that teaching, with help from other volunteers and teachers. Carver County Master Gardener Ellen Wolaner provides the gardening expertise. (Minnesota Master Gardeners are paraprofessionals who represent the University of Minnesota Extension Service and teach horticulture. Call 612-443-2460, e-mail for more information.)

Sponsors include the Carver County Board of Commissioners, the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, the Minnesota 4-H Foundation, Farm Service Agency, Simply Good Eating Program, Holasek Greenhouse “and many others,” Gallego says.

For more information, contact Gallego at (612) 442-4496,

Alternative marketing skills conference for farmers, ranchers Nov. 19-20

As global economics, faltering markets and corporate concentration have presented producers with a pessimistic vision for the future of family farms, a hands-on, alternative marketing conference offers some hope. It’s sponsored by the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in Lincoln, Neb. Nov 19-20, 1999.

The conference will help farmers and ranchers develop skills and supportive relationships to create and sustain successful new marketing ventures. For more information, contact Lisa Bauer at (402) 472-0265, e-mail or Mary Hanks of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at (651) 296-1277, e-mail

Small farm conference Oct. 12-15 in St. Louis

The Second National Small Farm Conference is scheduled Oct. 12-15, 1999 at the Regal Riverfront Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Themes include marketing and value-added enterprises, entrepreneurship and business skills, beginning farmer programs and involving youth in production agriculture. All non-profit groups and public and private sector organizations and individuals with a vested interest in serving the small farm community are invited.

For more information, contact Denis Ebodaghe, USDA, at (202) 401-4385, fax (202) 401-5179, e-mail Applicants encouraged: head of Research and Outreach Center, Morris Applicants are encouraged to apply to be head of the West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris, Minn. A doctorate in an agricultural or related science with a minimum of eight years of experience in research is required. For application material, call (320) 589-1711, fax (320) 589-4870, e-mail

MDA has zero-interest loans for farmers adopting biogas technology

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has $50,000 of zero-interest, competitive loans for farmers or others demonstrating manure storage and treatment techniques that collect biogas. The application deadline is Sept. 1, 1999. Contact Robert Iwan, (651) 296-3820.

Calendar of 1999 events…

These events are sponsored by numerous organizations. More information is available on MISA’s website:

Tuesday-Thursday, July 6-8, St. Paul. Exploring Our Global Community: People, Food and Agriculture. Contact (612) 625-7061, or see

Thursday, July 8, tours starting at 7:30 a.m., Morris. Summer Station Day, West Central Research and Outreach Center. Contact Jean Spohr, (320) 589-1711.

Thursday, July 8, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., St. Cloud/Rockville. Pasture Walk and Farm Tour, Dairy/Grazing Farm. Contact Joe Molitor, (320) 252-0334.

Thursday, July 8, 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., Delano. Attracting Parasitic Wasps to Control Cabbage Worms. Contact Uli Koester, Midwest Food Connection, (612) 874-7275.

Thursday, July 8, 7:00 to 9:30 p.m., Spring Valley. Low Input Conversion of CRP Land to High Profitability Management Intensive Grazing-Haying System. Contact Dan & Cara Miller, (507) 346-2261.

Monday, July 12, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., Kensington. Converting a Whole Farm Cash Crop System to Sustainable Livestock Production with Intensive Rotational Grazing. Contact Edgar & Dan Persons, (320) 986-2212.

Tuesday, July 13, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (tentatively), Janesville. Managing Dairy Manure in a Recycling Compost Program. Contact Norman & Sallie Volkmann, (507) 234-5846.

Thursday, July 15, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Madison. Making On Farm Research More Than Demonstrations. Contact Carmen Fernholz, (320) 598-3010.

Thursday, July 15, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., Wolf Lake. Farm Tour – Mushroom Production and Market Gardening. Contact Todd and Melanie Nelson, (218) 538-6617.

Saturday, July 17, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Sebeka. Sustainable Living Workshop. Registration required. Contact Steve and Kathy Connell,

Saturday, July 17, Noon to 1:00 p.m. (lunch), 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. (tour), Carlton. Grass and Forage Based Finishing of Beef and Pork. Contact Lake Superior Meats Cooperative, (218) 727-1414.

Monday, July 19, Clearwater. Homeplace Organic Beef Farm Tour. Contact Marvin and Laura Bihl, (612) 558-6392.

Monday, July 19, 2:00 p.m., Woodstock. Introduction of Feed Peas and Feed Barley into Whole Farm Planning. Contact Ken Winsel, (507) 777-4262.

Monday-Tuesday, July 19-20, Lake Maria Park, Monticello. Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota State Board Retreat and Meeting. Contact DeEtta Bilek, (218) 445-5475.

Tuesday, July 20, 9:00 a.m., Field Day, Northwest Research and Outreach Center (Northwest Research and Outreach Center (North Agronomy Farm), Crookston. Contact Patti Malme (218) 281-8602.

Tuesday, July 20, 10:00 a.m. to noon, Balaton. Reducing Chemical Usage by Using Soy Oil on Corn and Soybeans. Contact Donald Wheeler, (507) 734-5433. Thursday, July 22, 1:30 to 5:00 p.m., Aitkin. Living Mulch for Weed Suppression in Strawberry Establishment. Contact Joe Riehle, (218) 297-2521.

Thursday, July 22, 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., Morris. Bio-Based Weed Control in Strawberry Using Sheep Wool Mulch, Canola Mulch, and Canola Green Manure. Horticulture Night at West Central Research and Outreach Center. Contact Emily Hoover or Steve Poppe, (320) 589-1711.

Friday, July 23, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., North Mankato. Second Annual Land Stewardship Opportunities for Women Conference. Contact the Blue Earth River Basin Initiative, (507) 235-3341.

Thursday, July 29, Lamberton. Second Annual Organic Field Day at Southwest Research and Outreach Center. Contact Elizabeth Dyck or Paul Porter, (507) 752-7372.

Thursday, July 29, 1:00 p.m., Grey Eagle. Saturation of Red Clover Field Seed with Honey Bees. Contact Leland Buchholz, (320) 285-5401.

Friday, July 30, Madison. Field Day at Earth Rise Farm: Community Supported Agriculture, Two Acres of Garden. Contact Annette and Kay Fernholz, (320) 568-2191.

Tuesday, Aug. 24, 10:00 a.m. Seven-Farm Field Tour. Contact Jim Rossow, (507) 487-5557.

Thursday, Sept. 2, 2:00 - 9:00 p.m., Sebeka. Introduction to Biodynamic Production Workshop. Contact Duane and Ann Morgan, (218) 732-4866.

Wednesday-Thursday, Sept. 8-9, Lanesboro. Streamside Grazing Workshop. Contact Jim Neffendorf, (651) 602-7867.

Saturday, Sept. 11, Clara City and Kerkhoven. Pigs, Pastures, Hoops and More. Contact Steve Stassen, (320) 264-5932 or Jim Van Der Pol, (320) 847-3432.

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 29-30, Radisson Hotel South, Bloomington. Sharing the Heartland: Practical Tools for Conserving Farmland and Natural Resources. Contact Julie MacSwain, (651) 430-8306.

About this newsletter…

For the past year we’ve been funded by the Minnesota Extension Service and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) with support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

We’re always looking for story ideas. Send them to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794. E-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray (612) 625-0220,; Tom Wegner (612) 374-8400,; and Bill Wilcke (612) 625-8205,

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.

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.