SA Newsletter Winter 2016

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Volume 24, Issue 1 — Winter 2016

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Articles in this issue:




The Forever Green Initiative is a University of Minnesota and USDA - Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) program to develop new crops and high-efficiency cropping systems.

Forever Green seeks to improve the efficiency of Minnesota agriculture while simultaneously delivering environmental services and improving the economy of Minnesota’s farm communities. Key facets of Forever Green include domestication of new perennial grain and oilseed crops, development of hardy winter-annual crops, research on cover cropping, and development of diverse agricultural production systems that incorporate both new and familiar crops. Grain-type intermediate wheatgrass (Kernza™), winter-hardy field pennycress, perennial sunflower, silphium, and hairy vetch are just a few of the crops under development. The Land Institute in Salina, KS is a major partner in the domestication of perennial crops.

Perennial and winter-annual crops—working in tandem with summer annuals—can capture solar energy, water and nutrients with very high efficiency while improving water quality, soil health and biodiversity. Development of these new crops and cropping systems can also assist farmers in adapting to climate change and new pest and disease pressures. Creation of new industries based on renewable agricultural resources is a benefit of primary interest to rural communities.

Collaborations with other land-grant universities, businesses, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations are integral to this effort. Funded through the Minnesota Legislature, USDA grant programs, Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund, and numerous other agencies and partner organizations, Forever Green is fast becoming a vital force in agricultural research in Minnesota.

For more information about the Forever Green Initiative visit the new website: or contact Dr. Don Wyse,


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The Minnesota SARE program is funded by our North Central Region SARE office via the United States Department of Agriculture. Funds are used for sustainable agriculture education and outreach in Minnesota, with the primary goal of supporting educator activities and professional development through train-the-trainer opportunities. This includes Mini Grant and Travel Scholarship funds for ag professionals in Minnesota (i.e. Extension, NRCS, state and tribal agencies, NGOs, etc.) and farmers to build their awareness, knowledge, and skills related to sustainable agriculture concepts.

Travel Scholarships are intended to assist ag professionals and farmers to explore topics in sustainable agriculture that are new to them. The goal is then for that individual to share the new information with others via outreach events, presentations, articles, etc. Travel scholarships of up to $500 can be awarded. Mini Grants provide support for organized programs such as field days, farm tours, workshops, etc. Mini Grants may also be used to help fund on-farm research trials or demonstration plots as long as there is an associated outreach component. Mini Grants of up to $2000 can be awarded.

In 2016, Minnesota SARE will award THREE Mini Grants and SIX Travel Scholarships, with priority given to topics related to the Minnesota SARE Initiatives. These will be disbursed during three open application periods. The 2016 initiative areas are: Building Soil Health; Carbon Energy and Climate; and Local Foods. The remaining application periods for 2016 are May 1-31 and September 1-30. For further information about the Mini Grants and Travel Scholarships, or to apply, contact Kate Seager (612.625.8235, or Jill Sackett Eberhart (507.389.5541, ) or visit the Minnesota SARE website:


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Spring is coming and so is farmers’ market season! Farmers’ market vendors who want to sell home-baked goods, jam, jelly, pickles, and other allowed home-canned items can do so under the Cottage Food exemption, which was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015. People using the Cottage Food exemption can also sell these homemade items from their home or from other locations. Annual sales under the exemption can go up to $18,000 per individual.

For more information about the details of the Cottage Food law, visit the Minnesota Farmers Market Association website:
Detailed information and a step-by-step process for getting registered as a Cottage Food producer is also available on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website:

The new law requires that vendors and others using the exemption must do two things: 1) Take a food safety training course; and 2) Register each year as a Cottage Food operator with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). The Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA) offered a series of training courses around the state in February and March, which trained 540 people. If you missed those courses, don’t worry! You still have options for getting the required training before farmers’ market season starts.

    • If you want to sell up to $5,000 per year of allowed products (Tier 1), you can take the training online. Visit the MDA’s Cottage Food web page to find a link to the online training: If you do not have access to a computer and need a print version of the training, contact the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at 612-625-8235 or 800-909-6472, and we can help you get a print copy.

  • If you want to sell between $5,001 and $18,000 of allowed products per year (Tier 2), the University of Minnesota Extension is offering a series of courses that will take place around Minnesota between April and November of 2016. This in-person training is good for three years, but you still have to renew your registration with the MDA each year. More information about the U of MN Extension training classes is available on the MISA News Blog:

Don’t forget to register with the MDA after completing your Cottage Food training! The registration form is available here: You can request a paper copy of the registration form by calling the MDA at 651-201-6027.


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Thanks to generous support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, Renewing the Countryside and many local partners coordinated networking workshops around the state early in 2016. Throughout the remainder of 2016 and into early 2017, a limited number of Farm to Institution Mentorships will be developed around Minnesota to help participants navigate barriers, access existing resources and opportunities, and to accelerate Farm to Institution success. If selected through the application and interview process, your institution or farm will be matched with a targeted team made up of relevant topic experts and on-the-ground practitioners to provide technical assistance. You can apply for these mentorships online (details below). If you're interested in learning about how to facilitate networking events or bringing a networking event to your community in the future, please reach out to Grace Brogan at

Institution Mentorships:
Farmer Mentorships:


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The North Central Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE) has two grant programs open for applications:
Graduate Student Grant applications are due by April 14, 2016.
Professional Development Program grant applications are due by April 6, 2016.

More information about these programs and how to apply is available on the NCR-SARE website:

The Calls for Proposals for Farmer-Rancher grants, Youth Educator grants, and Partnership grants will all come out in August. Proposals will be due in December. Farmer-Rancher grants provide funds for a farmer or a group of farmers to do on-farm research and demonstration projects. Youth Educator grants provide funds for educators to provide sustainable agriculture education to students in the K-12 age range. Partnership grants provide funds for an agricultural educator to lead a research, demonstration or education project that involves three or more farmers. These are competitive grant programs. If you are interested in applying for one of these grants, now is the time to start developing project ideas and putting together teams so that you are ready to apply later this year.

Find more information about …

Farmer-Rancher grants:

Youth Educator grants:

Partnership grants:

If you would like to discuss an idea for a grant proposal, you can contact one of the Minnesota SARE co-coordinators: Jill Sackett Eberhart,, 507-389-5541; Kate Seager,, 612-625-8235.


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The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and Lisa Baker of Bakers’ Acres are developing a set of employee training materials for vegetable and fruit farms. These materials are focused on harvest-to-sale vegetable handling. We have the “1.0” version nearly ready for use. We want to have some vegetable and/or fruit farmers try them out during the 2016 growing season and provide feedback in the fall. Then the materials will be revised and final versions will be released for general use next winter. The materials under development:

  • “Harvest Crew Handbook.” This is a 12-page document that is intended to teach basic good vegetable handling principles to new employees, to prepare them for on-the-job training.
  • Employer Training Checklist. This is a 2-page document that is intended for farmers who are employers, to remind them of all of topics on which their employees need to be trained.
  • Pack-Shed Poster Series. There are three posters that will be provided in posterboard-size, to be hung on the wall of the pack shed. The titles:
    • Harvest Order
    • Harvest Tools
    • Produce Storage: Where and How Should I Store It?


If you are a produce farmer in Minnesota or surrounding states who: 1) has or will have employees for the 2016 growing season; and 2) would be willing to give these materials a try during your 2016 growing season; and 3) would be willing to provide feedback on the materials in the fall, please contact Jane Jewett at or 218-845-2832. MISA will provide the materials to the first 15 farmers who meet the above three criteria and return a signed agreement to provide feedback.


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A University of Minnesota Extension investigation of 11 mixed vegetable enterprises in Central Minnesota found that most operate profitably, and growers are making an outsized contribution to their local economies. Eleven is a small sample size, however, and the reader should take care not to consider this sample representative of either the entire central region of Minnesota or the state itself.

The 11 operations in the study gross $9,335 per acre in vegetable sales and retain $4,192, on average, after deducting annual cash expenses. Their average net return, after considering depreciation, stands at $2,199 per acre. The lion’s share of vegetable sales (75%) comes from direct marketing channels, such as farmers markets, farm stands, and CSA arrangements. Wholesale marketing channels, however, account for 25% of total vegetable sales.

Whole farm financial measurements, which encompass all enterprises (not only mixed vegetable production), show a significant split between some of the farms that make efficient use of their assets to realize good returns and those that make a meager income for the size and extent of their operations. Generally, the group is not overleveraged and has reasonable debt to farm ratios; all saw positive increases in net worth during 2014. Farm income, however, is not enough in most cases to cover family living expenses. Study participants garnered an average non-farm income of nearly $39,000 to support farm and family financial needs.

Measures of the economic impact of small-scale local farm operations indicate that small farms return $232,550 more to the local economy per million dollars of output than conventional agriculture. Every $1,000,000 in output for small farms produces an additional $608,000 for the local economy, whereas conventional agriculture contributes $375,450 per million. The total impact of an estimated 65 small-scale vegetable farms in our 13-county study area brings in an estimated $1.1 million in wage and proprietor income.

Find the complete report online:

This report was co-authored by Brigid Tuck and Ryan Pesch. It was an Extension team effort which included educators from Community Vitality and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; including local ag educators (Beth Berlin and Randy Nelson), farm business management (Rob Holcomb), and community economics (Merritt Bussiere, Ryan Pesch, and Brigid Tuck).

Ryan Pesch is currently collecting 2015 data in the central region so there will be a second round of results. He will still take on more producers in the central region, so if you are a vegetable producer in central Minnesota and are interested in contributing to this study, contact Ryan at 218-770-4398 or


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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.