SA Newsletter Nov 1996

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 4, Issue 11 – November 1996

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New program helps prevent water pollution from small land tracts

A new program in Washington County will help people with small tracts of land adopt management practices to minimize chances of water pollution.

It's funded by a $70,000 water quality initiative grant from the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, according to Bob Olson, extension educator in Washington and Dakota counties. The program is designed for owners and managers of five- to 80-acre land tracts.

The special funding will be used to hire people to develop publications and other educational materials and for on-site consultations, Olson says. Most existing publications are designed either for commercial farmers or urban homeowners with small lawn or garden.

"A few acres on a single tract of land may be small potatoes, but collectively there's potential for environmental problems if the land isn't managed well," Olson says. "We estimate there are from 7,000 to 10,000 tracts of land between five and 80 acres in the county. Many of these people have no agricultural background and they've been asking for help."

"There's a lot of material from the Minnesota Extension Service and other Land Grant universities from around the country, but it needs to be rewritten for this new audience," Olson says. Most of the people asking for help through this program are interested more in preventing environmental problems than in generating income.

Some typical management challenges:

  • Someone may have horses pastured on land that may be eroding, causing phosphorus and other nutrients to leach into streams. Overstocking may lead to manure problems.
  • Use of fertilizer and pesticides on pasture and crop land.
  • A large lawn-say four acres-that the owner has been managing like a traditional city lawn. Instead of intensive watering, fertilizing and pesticide applications, options may include native plants, natural landscaping and prairie grasses.
  • Management of on-site sewage systems.
Washington County is in a fast rural to urban transition. "We've had a tremendous demand for this information," Olson says, but limited staff has been a major problem. Two other Washington County agencies-the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Health, Environment and Land Management department-are also working on this new two-year program. For more information contact Bob Olson at (612) 891-7703.


Shredding newspapers means jobs for adults with developmental disabilities

For developmentally disabled adults throughout, shredding newspaper to make animal bedding and biodegradable mulch is more than another way to recycle and help the environment. It's a good way to learn and earn a wage.

Adults with developmental disabilities are entering the work force in some ingenious ways since they've come out of State Regional Treatment Centers (formerly called State Hospitals) into community-based homes and work programs. The Moose Lake Regional State Operated Services operates four Day Training and Habilitation (DTH) programs.

The DTH programs have found a market in obtaining, shredding and selling shredded newspaper. It's sold mainly for farm animal bedding or biodegradable mulch for gardens and flowers.

The 57 workers attending the Moose Lake DTHs have learned a variety of related work tasks: loading and unloading paper, sorting and discarding glossy paper, feeding paper into shredders, bagging shredded paper and helping deliver the product. Each worker is encouraged to work as independently as possible. And shredding paper is one of many jobs workers have learned since leaving Regional Treatment Centers. Each day could bring new work and new skills to learn.

For more information about DTH products or services in your community, call a local DTH. In northern and central Minnesota, call (218) 723-4631 or (218) 485-4919.-By Cindy Berglund, Moose Lake Regional State Operated Services.

Population density is passed on to the next generation

The planet will take lots of trashing if there are only a few of us. But when population density is high, sustainability becomes an issue, says George Honadle, an international consultant on sustainable development.

"Some places in the developing countries have reached the limit and offer warnings for Minnesota," Honadle said at the recent Minnesota Sustainable Development Conference in Minneapolis. Tinkering with consumption and technology reaches limits if population continues to increase. The carrying capacity of an area depends on many factors and is best dealt with at the local level, Honadle says.

"Population level, density and composition create practical problems at the local level and are best dealt with there," he says, although population growth is a value-charged issue usually discussed at a macro level.

Honadle says high population density means the best agricultural land is lost or fragmented, putting more pressure on marginal land and environmental degradation. Technological changes such as increased agricultural production and soil conservation "only delay the day of reckoning," he says. Other impacts include increased conflict over natural resource management and institutional change such as land laws, social cohesion, conflict resolution and regulations.

"Population size is part of our legacy to the next generations," he concludes. Honadle can be reached at 5879 Oxford St., Shoreview, MN 55126, (612) 481-1632, FAX (612) 481-1716. E-mail:

20,000 migrant workers contribute to Minnesota's economy

About 20,000 migrant farm workers come to Minnesota annually to harvest and process a variety of the state's crops. Migrants have been coming to Minnesota since the 1910s, first to work in the sugar beet fields in the Red River Valley and later in the pea and corn processing plants of West Central and Southern Minnesota. Other migrants have harvested potatoes, apples, beans and, until recently, asparagus.

Most migrants face a precarious existence. Nationally, the average annual income of migrant farm workers is less than $8,000, the average life expectancy is 50 years (compared to 75 years for the national average) and less than 40 percent complete their high school education. Farm work ranks as the third most hazardous job occupation, after mining and construction.

In addition, migrants face language barriers, substandard housing and labor abuses. About 98 percent of Minnesota's migrant farm workers are Latino and over 80 percent are either U.S. citizens or non-citizens legally working in the state. Migrant farm workers are important contributors to Minnesota's strong agricultural economy. They, like all workers, deserve legal protection, a safe work environment and livable wages to provide a dignified life for themselves and their families.-From the University-Migrant Project, (612) 625-6389. E-mail:

Migrant course, internship offered through U-Migrant Project

A four-credit course, "The Migrant Experience in Minnesota," is offered winter quarter at the University of Minnesota. The course, "Topics in Chicano Studies 5920," registration number 975751, is open to upper division undergraduate and graduate students. If you're interested, register early since the course has filled its 30-student limit the last two years. Students enrolled in the course may apply for a summer internship program. For more information, contact the University-Migrant Project, (612) 625-6389. E-mail:

What is community supported agriculture?

Community supported agriculture, sometimes called community shared agriculture, is an approach to food production and marketing that brings producers and consumers together for common benefit. Generally there is a contract for one growing season where the farmer agrees to supply a basket of vegetable products each week for a fixed subscription fee for the entire season.

Some producers deliver these to the customer or to a common pick-up point, while others distribute the baskets from the farm. Many CSAs are certified organic production systems, although some use conventional pesticides and fertilizers. Depending on what vegetables or other products are provided, a membership or subscription may cost from $200 to $500 per season. Some CSAs provide half shares for single or elderly people who require less produce.

Buying a membership in CSA involves the consumer in the total food production and distribution system. Although there is guarantee of fresh produce, often produced without chemicals, there is no assurance that a given vegetable will be available in a given week. The customer may get more vegetables for the same investment compared to shopping in the market, or may get fewer in a difficult growing season.

In either case, the consumer is participating in the food production system, investing in the field process and reaping the benefits through fresh, local produce (from the July-August 1996 Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems newsletter, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 225 Keim Hall, Lincoln, NE 68583-0949, (402) 472-2056). For more information about CSA farms in Minnesota, contact Minnesota Food Association Office (612) 644-2038.

Program review of MISA nears completion

The five-year program review of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable (MISA) is nearing completion and we'll publish the results in a future issue. However, some recent publications developed by MISA for the program review are available. One called "A partnership of community members and the University of Minnesota," is a history of MISA's origin and a description of current activities. It's written by MISA coordinator Helene Murray

Another is "Perspectives on accomplishments and future challenges," by consultant Mary Anne Casey. It's based on detailed interviews with nine people who've been involved with MISA They include two farmers, a Sustainers' Coalition member, a representative of a farm organization, a director of a legislative commission, two campus-based faculty and one branch station faculty member.

A third publication is "Faculty incentives for Land Grant research in sustainable agriculture,"by extension economist Dick Levins and graduate student Michele Beck. It's based on a survey of faculty members in the university's College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences (COAFES). The report concludes that supporting research labeled "sustainable agriculture" is far too general. The research must be on something "far more specific and there must be means in place to see that money is actually spent in these areas rather than in 'repackaging' existing projects."

Second, faculty must have a personal interest in sustainable agriculture and "programs must be put in place to change basic faculty attitudes."

All three publications are available from MISA, 411Borlaug Hall, University of Minnesota,1991 Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108-1013, 1-800-909-MISA or (612) 625-8235. E-mail: You can learn more about MISA and sustainable agriculture through the World Wide Web.

Minnesota Environmental Education Conference May 17-19 in Duluth

If you're interested in making a presentation at this conference, you'll need to hustle. The original session application deadline was Nov. 15, but late entries will be accepted "within reason." Call (612) 296-3417, 1-800-657-3843, or FAX (612) 215-0246.

Check back issues of this newsletter on the web

You can now get this issue and back issues on the World Wide Web. Go to the Minnesota Extension Service home page, then click on newsletters

We can use your story ideas

Keep the story ideas coming. 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 are Helene Murray (612) 625-0220, Don Olson (612) 625-9292 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.