SA Newsletter Oct 2000

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 8, Issue 10 – October 2000

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Large hog farms hinder rural economic growth, Illinois study suggests

Large hog farms tend to hinder economic growth in rural areas, according to an econometric study of over 1,000 Illinois towns from 1981 to 1997.

"Contrary to mainstream positions in the agricultural economics literature, the results reject the hypothesis that large hog farming units contribute to the vitality of local economies," according to researchers Miguel I. Gomez and Liying Zhang of Illinois State University.

"The economic vitality of rural communities depends on public policy," the researchers wrote in their report. "Results of this study suggest that without public policy to protect rural communities, the most probable outcome is the continuing decline of rural communities as the size of agriculture and livestock production units continues to increase."

Support for the research came from the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research. Results were presented at the American Agricultural Economics Association annual meeting in August 2000. Gomez may be reached at (309) 438-2925,

Quality of life in rural areas can help attract high-tech businesses

Emphasizing the quality of rural life is a good tactic for rural areas interested in attracting high-technology companies, said a speaker at the recent Economic Summit in St. Paul sponsored by the University of Minnesota.

Joseph Cortright, of the Oregon-based economic consulting firm Impresa, Inc., said a community must also have a spirit of entrepreneurship that fosters knowledge creation and the attitude that it's "okay to try something different."

In welcoming remarks to over 1, 200 participants, University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof said some modest measures could keep Minnesota moving in the right direction. "What we want is a 'tipping point' that says Minnesota is friendly to business, friendly to entrepreneurs and provides the necessary intellectual underpinnings," he said. "Then when people around the country and the world say that Minnesota is a good place to be, they will not only be referring to a high quality of life, but also a dynamic place where things are happening economically."

At the end of the daylong conference, Yudof named a 21-person working group to consider ideas from the summit and develop policy recommendations to keep Minnesota's economy strong. "We've learned today that financially modest, but very focused and strategic regional economic development plans work," Yudof said. "The recommendations coming from this group are a starting point that should put Minnesota on a trajectory to achieve success in the long run."

The working group will be co-chaired by Larry Perlman, chair of Seagate Technology, Inc. and chair of the national 21st Century Workforce Development Commission, and Charles Muscoplat, vice-president for agricultural policy and dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Yudof's remarks to the summit and a list of the task force members can be found on the University of Minnesota News Service web site at and the Economic Summit web site at

Review of a Wendell Berry reading: connectedness to each other is most important

For over three decades, Wendell Berry has painted vivid portrayals of rural life by combining keen insight, wry humor, and a respect for the land, kin, and culture. He has detailed the majesty in the mundane and celebrated community to be found in cultivating the land.

In over 30 books, this prolific writer has challenged us to think critically about the intersection between nature, community, economy and moral responsibility. He transforms southern culture into every person's culture in provocative, although clearly controversial ways. His latest novel is no exception to the standard we have come to expect from this distinguished author.

Berry brought to life in a Sept. 12 reading at St. Paul's Central Presbyterian Church his latest fictional character, Jayber Crow. "The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber of the Port William Membership, As Written by Himself" is cast in the tradition that defines Berry's body of work. It is a story about relation to place, being, connectedness and a life journey fraught with questions for which there are no easy answers.

This novel chronicles not only another chapter in the rich rural life of Port William, Kentucky, but the search for truth by a pre-ministerial student turned local barber and his pursuit of love and community. Berry read two chapters from the novel and capped off the evening by taking questions. The audience of over 700 was filled with people from young college students, probably just being introduced to Berry's work, to seniors who aptly displayed their wide range of Wendell Berry knowledge. It is this breadth of interest from the young and the old that gives us a glimpse into the impact his literary contributions have had and the timelessness of his work.

Clearly, this ability to bring cohorts together and to transcend cultural differences begins to explain the high esteem in which he is held in sustainable agriculture circles. In a period when social problems seem rampant and people are searching for meaning and attachment from the food they eat to the cars they drive, Wendell Berry reminds us that the answers lie in connectedness to each other and a special place. That place and those relationships might just be around the bend, as they were for Jayber Crow.

-- By Wynne Wright

New book says scientific, technical capacity must increase in poor countries

A new book by Regents Professor Emeritus Vernon W. Ruttan of the University of Minnesota calls for "the enlargement of scientific and technical capacity in presently poor countries." Ruttan says this will be necessary for the transition to sustainable development in the 21st century.

"This should not be regarded as a burden on either the developed or less developed countries," Ruttan says. "Rather, it represents an opportunity to multiply the intellectual talent necessary to navigate the sustainability transition."

"The book is not written as a celebration of scientific and technical achievement in the United States," Ruttan says. "During the last half century, the capacity that the United States employed so effectively in the 19th century--to learn and borrow knowledge and technology from others--was allowed to atrophy."

The book, "Technology, Growth and Development," is published by Oxford University Press. Ruttan may be reached at (612) 625-4701.

Producer scholarships available for direct marketing course

"Tilling the Soil of Opportunity" is an exciting new program for innovative producers starting or improving a direct marketing business. North Central SARE is offering a limited number of scholarships to farmers and ranchers to take this business planning class. Courses will be offered throughout the North Central region in fall and winter 2000-01.

Course materials are designed to help test business ideas, explore marketing opportunities and increase business skills. The 10-session course, developed by the University of Nebraska and the NxLeveL Training Network and funded by the national SARE program, will walk producers through the development of a business plan. If you are interested in taking the class and would like to be considered for a North Central SARE scholarship, contact Marilyn Schlake at the Center for Applied Rural Innovation, University of Nebraska, (402) 472-1772 or (800) 328-2851, or send an e-mail to

"Listening to the Prairie" exhibition features four sustainable farmers

The "Listening to the Prairie" exhibit will debut at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. in November 2000. Then in March, it will be packed up and shipped to 20 libraries nationwide that have successfully applied for it.

The exhibit features the grassland plains--physical characteristics, history and agriculture. Four sustainable farmers are featured: Annie Wilson, Kansas; Tom Larson, Nebraska; Joel Rissman, Illinois; and Jeff Mortenson, South Dakota.

Want to see it? Encourage good libraries in your area to apply. Otherwise you'll need to go to Washington.

Whole farm cooperative develops partnerships with churches

The Whole Farm Cooperative (WFC) is a farmer-directed project to develop marketing and educational partnerships between sustainable farmers and customers who seek their products and wish to encourage sustainable agriculture. One of their projects, funded with SARE and matching national funds, targets members of church or synagogue congregations as customers. The intent is to create a link between a community of sustainable producers and religious communities.

The WFC was established in December 1997 through the Sustainable Farming Association's Central Minnesota Chapter to market members' products. The group wanted to move beyond emphasizing production methods and create markets that offered an opportunity for economic survival.

This two-year grant started in August 1998 and has already made a significant difference to many co-op members. It has provided the WFC with the opportunity to gain experience in marketing. In turn, successes in the marketing arena and the ability to attract additional grant monies have allowed the co-op to begin putting together the infrastructure necessary to operate a viable business.

A goal is to establish relationships with eight churches. At present, co-op members are delivering products to six churches (and one convent), and are working with several others to reach the delivery stage. Initial contact with a candidate church is often through an interested member of the church who is already a customer of the WFC or has heard about the project.

Farmers have found the connection with each church must be ongoing and at the personal level to be effective. For more information, contact Marvin Freiborg of the Central Chapter Sustainable Farming Association at (320) 352-5792.

Discuss alternative marketing on North Central SARE listserv

You can participate in discussions about alternative marketing through North Central SARE's "altmarketing" listserv. The listserv was created to discuss value-added and direct farm marketing as a follow-up to a regional marketing conference late in 1999.

The address of the list is To subscribe, send a message to listserv@crcvms.unl.eduthat says: SUBSCRIBE altmarketing Firstname Lastname. More marketing information is available at

Job openings

There's an Extension educator position open to work in agriculture, food and environment topics with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Marshall County at Warren, Minn. You'll need to move fast on this one--the application deadline is Oct. 15, 2000. Call (612) 624-3717 for an application.

The headship position at the University of Minnesota Waseca Research and Outreach Center is open. It's a chief administrative officer position and requires a Ph.D. in agricultural science or an M.S./M.B.A. with agricultural leadership experience required. Contact Burle Gengenbach at (612) 625-8761, or e-mail The closing date is Dec. 1, 2000

Calendar of events, 2000-2001

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

October 26: Applying Manure to Corn at Agronomic Rates to Achieve Desired Yield and Reduce or Eliminate the Need for Commercial Fertilizer Use. Project site at Taylor Farms will demonstrate nutrient management utilizing hog manure. Call (651) 480-7704 or (651) 480-7781. Time 1:00-2:30 p.m.

February 8-9: Minnesota Organic Conference, St. Cloud Civic Center. Call Doug or Janet Gunnink, (507) 237-5162

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.