SA Newsletter Sept-Oct 2004

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter Header

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 12, Issue 6 – September/October 2004

Do you have a story you would like featured in the Sustainable Agriculture newsletter? Send your submission to and we’ll consider adding it to an upcoming newsletter.

September — changing leaves, harvest, back to school

We've been thinking about the crop we've been growing here on campus and out on the farm fields of Minnesota-students and young farmers, a new generation of young people working toward an agriculture that is profitable, good for the environment and good for communities. We're excited about our sustainable agriculture studies programs and internships, and have been inspired by the field day talks we've heard from young farmers. We thought we could fill a whole issue of our newsletter sharing the stories about a new generation of sustainable ag-minded people who are doing great things-and so we have.

In her book, Time, Soil and Children, Beth Waterhouse talks about John Gardner's phrase "tough-minded optimism" and his belief that it is key to renewal. This phrase has stuck with us this summer. We see both of these qualities in so many of these projects and in the new crop of sustainable agriculture leaders that are emerging.

Time, soil, and children

As Beth Waterhouse reflected on the early days of the sustainable agriculture movement, and the many families involved in both farming and policy changes, she wondered what had become of the children growing up in those families during that time."…Did they stay with the principles of sustainable agriculture once preached around their kitchen tables or did they reject them? Did they burn out on farm chores or do they want to farm as adults?" As an Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota, Beth interviewed fourteen of these second generation children and families. Her book, Time, Soil, and Children  is a compilation of those interviews, written mostly in their words, with Beth adeptly weaving together common threads. She notes, "The crop of children raised by these creative farm families mirrors at least one of the principles of sustainability-diversity. They are a testament to diversity, and a testament to fair mindedness, foresight, thoughtful transitions into and out of college years, and leadership-yes, the clear beginnings of a diverse new leadership in our state". And she later reflects, "This group of people have been handed a deeper-than-ordinary knowledge about the land and its ills and losses. This knowledge could have buckled the knees of these young lives, yet it did not. To a person, they meet their knowledge with enthusiasm and resolve…"  Tough minded optimism. Beth Waterhouse's book is available in print from the MISA office for $6.00, 800-909-6472, and is also available online.

Getting involved in Sustainable Agriculture at the U of MN

For the past 20 months I've had the opportunity to coordinate the Graduate Minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems here at the University of Minnesota through the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. In that time I've seen a dozen students take on internships in sustainable agriculture that demonstrate how diverse the field of sustainable agriculture is. In this issue of Sustainable Agriculture you'll get the opportunity to hear about four recent student interns. If you feel inspired by their work, there are a number of ways to get involved:

Students can consider a minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems (for graduate students) or Sustainable Agriculture or Food Systems & the Environment (for undergraduate students). For more info, contact Courtney at 612-625-2738 or

Farmers, Policy Makers and Nonprofits, if you're interested in hosting a student at your site it's never been easier to get listed on our internship opportunities web page. You can download a copy of the guidelines and necessary forms for internship hosts. If you have any questions, would like more information or would like to update a current listing contact us at 612-625-2738 or

Finally, if you want more insight into what is new in sustainable agriculture or want to meet more people interested in sustainable agriculture, attend the What's Up in Sustainable Agriculture Seminar series, beginning Wednesday September 15th from 12 to 1 in 375 Borlaug Hall. For a complete listing of this year's seminars check out the MISA webpage, click on student programs and WUSA.

- Courtney Tchida, Coordinator of the Graduate Minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems

Student farms on campus

As an undergraduate student in Environmental Horticulture, I researched several student-run organic campus farms to evaluate how one could be created here at the University of Minnesota. I interviewed student farm managers and participants from 16 farms, and gathered information about creation, organization, academics, finances, demographics, management, complications and constraints.

In July, I had the opportunity to visit the student-run campus farm at the University of California at Davis. This student farm consists of twenty acres of organically managed land (90 percent is certified organic) farmed by 35 to 50 students year round. Current operations include a Community Supported Agriculture program, a children's garden, an ecological garden, a market garden, and a compost program. The compost program takes animal waste and kitchen scraps produced on campus, and turns it into compost to enrich campus agricultural land. The market garden grows produce used in an on campus coffee shop.

In addition to this internship, I worked with the student group, WUSA (What's Up in Sustainable Agriculture) growing produce on campus. This student group began growing vegetables on a small plot on the St. Paul campus research fields, and held a bi-monthly seminar series in a learning-circle format to discuss sustainable agriculture issues. The student plot has produced large amounts of sustainably grown lettuce, swiss chard, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, peas, green beans, dill, cilantro, garlic, basil, parsley, muskmelon, and ground cherries.

- Jared Ashling, Undergraduate in Environmental Horticulture

Moonstone Farm internship

Montevideo was where I learned to appreciate grass. I had never been to the prairie before, and never understood that on the prairie, grass is not just grass. There are hundreds of species of grasses - cool-season, warm-season, lawn grasses, weed grasses, medicinal grasses, and more. On the prairie, grass is as varied as the tree species in a mixed hardwood forest or the seed varieties in a Johnny's catalog. Tall-grass prairie means Big bluestem, Side oats, Cord grass, and Prairie brome, to name just a few. If you can learn to see beyond "just the grass," you find an ever-shifting ecosystem with different flowers cycling into bloom over the summer months. I can't say that one month in Montevideo was anywhere near enough to develop what is known as the "prairie eye," but under the tutelage of Audrey Arner and Richard Handeen at Moonstone Farm, I have at least begun to appreciate the prairie. Audrey and Richard are part of an active community in western Minnesota committed to land stewardship, to vibrant rural life, and to maintaining a balance between ecology and economics.

This commitment to sustainable farming methods is what brought me to Moonstone as an intern during the summer of 2004. Because I am a graduate student in forestry, I focused on cattle, pasture management, and hay production, and also on tree projects. I weeded and monitored the two-year-old tree plantings that will eventually become windbreaks both to shelter cattle from fierce prairie winds and as sources of wood, fruit, and nuts. I helped manage the woods near Audrey and Richard's house, selectively cutting buckthorn and box elder and planting oak and maple seedlings.

I also learned about the community's activities for promoting more widespread knowledge and use of sustainable farming practices both among their neighbors and through formal policy work. I am grateful to MISA, to Audrey and Richard, and to the sustainable agriculture community in western Minnesota for their warm and open hospitality and for the opportunity to experience vibrant rural life and farming systems that take into account both ecology and human needs.

- Nadine Lehrer, PhD Student in Natural Resources Science Management: Forestry

Grazing plans: My internship with Howard Moechnig - NRCS, Rochester

The goal of my Sustainable Agriculture Systems internship was to learn from Minnesota grazing systems expert Howard Moechnig how to draw up and implement grazing plans. A grazing plan is an agreement between the federal government (NRCS) and a farmer that stipulates how the pastures on the farm should be grazed. The overarching objective is to protect soil and water resources while maintaining or enhancing grassland productivity. NRCS supplies expert advice and significant financial assistance to farmers who implement NRCS-approved grazing plans.

Every plan consisted of two main parts, written directions detailing how to operate the new grazing system, and an ArcView-enhanced overhead photo showing new fences and water lines. The written section of each plan addressed sensitive areas, livestock summary, fencing system, water system, heavy use area protection, forages, grazing system management and a cost estimate. After a participating farmer expressed interest, the first important meeting took place at the farm. Howard supplied a two-page sheet of questions that we asked farmers in order for us to tailor the plan to their farm and their needs. A few weeks later we returned to each farm to make sure that our ideas matched what we discussed earlier before the final plan was sent on to the engineers, and eventual implementation.

In addition to writing two complete grazing plans and presenting them to the participant farmers, I interviewed Phil and Dawn Brossard of Big Woods Dairy for the 2004 Greenbook. Phil and Dawn are operating the only dairy farm in a state park in the country. In a few years the land they are farming will be planted to prairie, oak savannah and big woods ecosystems and be managed like the rest of the Nerstrand State Park. In the meantime they are building equity, learning about rotational grazing, and serving as a working laboratory for the DNR, Nature Conservancy, MDA and other cooperators.

-Melissa Driscoll, M.S. Conservation Biology, Minor in Sustainable Agriculture Systems

Season extension for Minnesota farmers

As a MISA/Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RDSP) Local Foods Initiative Intern (Spring Semester 2004), I researched season extension, focusing on some of the season extension techniques practiced by Minnesota farmers. I attended the "Hoophouses for Year-Round Local Food Farming" conference conducted by Dr. John Biernbaum at Michigan State University, and worked throughout the semester with Paula Westmoreland at IATP creating a Plant Community Database populated by over 1000 plant members.

I contacted Minnesota farmers, inquiring about their season extension use, including specific techniques, the crops they grew, and the costs and markets associated with their season extension practices and harvests. Of the farmers surveyed, I was able to visit two large-scale rural farms and one urban garden. Through these visits and conversations, I learned how all of the season extension techniques used by each farmer fit into their whole-season plan, and how each technique opened up another growing window that varied slightly from the other techniques.

While I'm sure there are varying opinions among farmers throughout the state, according to farmers I spoke with for this project, year-round growing is not really a priority for most farmers here. However, extending the season with cool weather and high-demand crops (such as sweet corn, melons and tomatoes) is an important and viable way for many farmers to increase their cash flow throughout the season.

You can read Jennifer's full report or view her PowerPoint presentation online (note - this is a very large, 5 mb file and may be difficult to download, especially with a dial-up modem).

- Jennifer Adams, Undergraduate in Environmental Sciences

Organic hotline for beginning organic farmers

Minnesota Organic Farmers' Information Exchange (MOFIE) is a resource hotline for beginning organic farmers in Minnesota. These 21 volunteer advisors have experience in a wide variety of organic production systems including cash grains, livestock and dairy, fruits and vegetables, and even maple syrup.

They can answer questions about topics such as proper planting dates, variety selection, fertility, weed and disease control, conservation, marketing, and certification. To keep the volume of calls manageable for these volunteers, they are only able to take questions from Minnesota growers. Minnesotans can get copies of the mentor list on-line at or by calling the Southwest Research and Outreach Center at 507-752-7372.

This project is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, (SWROC), with financial support from the United States Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency Community Outreach and Assistance Program (USDA-RMA).

Upcoming events

September 8th. Storage for winter feeding, WCROC pasture walk. Contact: Dennis Johnson at 320.589.1711 or

September 11th. 11th annual Duluth Harvest festival. For more information, contact us, or check out our website at

September 14th -15th. Hoop barns and bedded systems for livestock conference and Alternative swine housing scientific conference. Contact Beth Weiser. (515) 294-0557 or

September 17th. St. Joseph's Harvest Festival. For further information contact Angeline Dufner, 320/363-8407 or

September 30th- Ocotober 2nd. Risk Management conference. Please visit for more details.

October 16th - 19th. 8th Annual Communtity Food Security Coalition Conference: Celebrating a Decade of Community Food Security, Milwaukee, WI. Visit the conference website at or if you have any questions, call the CFSC office: 310-822-5410.

October 19th - 21st. 2004 Northeast SARE Conference - Setting the Table: Tools and techniques for a sustainable food system, Burlington, VT. Questions can be directed to Vern Grubinger, conference coordinator, at or visit the conference website:

What we're about

This newsletter is supported by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA). It's also supported by 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). MISA is a partnership between the Sustainer's Coalition and the University of Minnesota College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences (COAFES).

Send story ideas to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, 1420 Eckles Ave., University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794, fax (612) 625-2207, e-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray, (612) 625-0220,; and Bill Wilcke, (612) 625-8205, Please send address changes directly to: Bill Wilcke, Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering, 1390 Eckles Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.

Also check MISA's home page at

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.

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.