Fence me in: Holistic Management of Goats Workshop gathers the tribes

Participants in the June 15 Holistic Management of Goats Workshop at Paradox Farm learn to move and fence goat tribes.

Participants in the June 15 Holistic Management of Goats Workshop at Paradox Farm learn to move and fence goat tribes. Submitted photo.

Editor’s note: this post from Summer 2013 has been pinned to Stand for Food’s front page  so that people attending  Dr. Wika and Dr. Prieve’s holistic management of goats and sheep workshop at the MOSES conference may access it more readily.

Participants at the Holistic Management of Goats Workshop at Paradox Farm, near Ashby, Minnesota, quickly grew excited as they learned about the potential for goats in an integrated livestock system.

The workshop illustrates that hands-on education is a key component in Minnesota’s burgeoning local food economy.

Instructors and farmers Sue Wika and Tom Prieve, DVM, shared their years of experience with meat and dairy goats.  “The potential of small ruminants is often over-looked and under-valued,” commented Wika. “At Paradox Farm goats not only provide dairy, meat and draft power—they play important roles in sculpting and maintaining our oak savannah landscape. “

Prieve emphasized how caprine physiology is particularly geared to utilize the abundant mixture of forbs,  grasses, shrubs and trees typical in the farm landscape.  (Stand For Food has been reading about how goats are a natural when it comes to knocking out that nasty buckthorn overrunning your grove.)

Participants gained hands-on experience with goat husbandry.  In addition to handling and evaluating goats, attendees learned about the many options available for fencing.

Paradox Farm uses different forms of electrified fencing to strategically move the goats across the landscape.  Participants set up several temporary paddocks utilizing electrified netting and polywire.  After they made the paddocks,

Workshop participants set up a temporary paddock utilizing electrified netting and polywire. Submitted photo.

Workshop participants set up a temporary paddock utilizing electrified netting and polywire. Submitted photo.

participants actuallly moved the goat tribes.  As the top photo illustrates, the tribes grooved with the move.

Wika also emphasized the personal.

“If you enjoy being with your livestock and walking on your range, then planned grazing might be for you,”  she said.  Wika cautioned participant need to take note of their knowledge, experience, and available time and resources before adding goats to their system.

Would-be goat herders should also consider that they want to keep  a goat that has the potential to succeed in their system. Those farmers who want to operate an exclusively forage-based system need to select  genetics that have the best capability to thrive in such system.

At Stand for Food, we believe that educating farmers about sustainable food production is serious business. Where do you think the best place for learning about might be: MNSCU campuses, the University of Minnesota land grant system,  extension–or a dynamic combination of all three?

Milk Star Galactica: Holistic Management of Goats, Part 2

This photo illustrates a healthy goat's rumen (left side) full and rounded, like an apple.

This photo illustrates a healthy goat’s rumen (left side) full and rounded, like an apple.

Editor’s note: this post from Summer 2013 has been pinned to Stand for Food’s front page  so that people attending  Dr. Wika and Dr. Prieve’s holistic management of goats and sheep workshop at the MOSES conference may access it more readily.

In a holistically managed food production scheme, goat farmers try to provide the best possible environment for the animal to maximize its potential.

We strive to use management and close observation, rather than to rely on expensive outside inputs. The producer’s ability to read and adapt to situations is the key to success and what Tom Prieve and Sue Wika try to teach in the workshops they lead.

It’s not a set of rules. “This is a thinking person’s game,” said Wika. “You need to adapt and improvise, as needed.”

Goat evaluation

Evaluation of and care for the goat was emphasized throughout the workshop.

“It’s important to ascertain if the goat is getting enough of the required nutrients from your forage system,” said Tom Prieve, DVM.  Evaluation of the goat’s attitude, rumen fill, and parasitism were discussed.

A healthy goat will have a slick, shiny hair coat. The eyes are bright and the animal appears content.  “A goat with access to plenty of good forage will spend a good part of the day “re-chewing” its food, or ruminating,” said Prieve. “That’s a sign of contentment.”

Students were shown how to gauge the weight of a goat using the simple technology of a tape measure and how to ascertain age by examining the front teeth.

Prieve demonstrated how to assess if a goat is getting enough to eat.  “In a ruminant, we’re looking for an “apple-pear” appearance. Workshop participants were encouraged to feel for rumen fill on the left side of the animal.  If an animal is concave on the left side, then we know they’re not full. An animal that’s not full is likely not performing up to its capability.

If the animal isn’t full, then the goatkeeper should look to see if the animal isn’t feeling well or if the provided forage isn’t ample or appealing to the animal.  Also, environmental factors, such as irritating bugs or heat, could limit intake.

“In strategic grazing of goats, we’re careful to move the animals frequently enough to eliminate the grazing of infective parasite larva (worms),” said Wika. It takes a minimum of three days for a worm to hatch and reach the infective larval stage. At Paradox Farm, the goats are generally moved daily.

MSP

Does peacefully rest in their loft in Milk Star Galactica and sheep linger in the shade below while livestock guardian dog minds his charges.

Milk Star Galactica

In an effort to keep the goats comfortable during the spring and summer weather, movable shelters are used. One of the portable shelters  at Paradox Farm, built on a hayrack,  is playfully called “Milk Star Galactica.”

“This structure provides an elevated loafing area for the goats, while the sheep can seek respite from the heat underneath,”  Wika said.

In addition, the shelter includes a milking parlor. “The milk does are milked out on the range in the parlor, alleviating the need to bring the milk does home to the barn for milking. This saves time, as well as alleviates the need for lanes,” said Wika.

Part I:  Fence me in: Holistic Management of Goats Workshop gather the tribes

Deep winter greenhouse dreams fulfilled by SFA-MN January class

Greenhouse tour.

Paradox Farm owner and educator Tom Prieve guides greenhouse tour. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

Guest post by Emmy Tolbert

Have you ever dreamed of owning  a “deep winter” greenhouse–one of those polycarbonate covered structures, with interiors that feel like spring and summer, surrounded by black gold(soil) and lettuce seeds that grow into many shades of glorious green? That once found, built, or structured, is a true treasure during our cold Minnesota winters?

Just imagine my joy when I received the last reserved spot in the “Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy” class held at Paradox Farms in Ashby, MN.  Now sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Sustainable Food Production  instructors Tom Prieve and Sue Wika taught this class in a warm and cozy corner of their barn to thirteen energetic and excited students of various ages on a cold, blustery January day.

Prieve kicked off the morning with a tour of their deep winter greenhouse, where the students observed the unique practicality  and benefit of this polycarbonate-covered structure. The pair of educators (a pair of docs)  were inspired to build this greenhouse to fit their personal farm needs,  to nurture their goals of  being more self-reliant, and to foster the ethic of neighborhood supported agriculture.

After the tour, we listened to Tom and Sue describe the overall construction and operation of their greenhouse for  deep winter
greens and livestock fodder. Construction is relatively simple:  raising the structure, putting in a water line, installing pipes for  geo-thermal warming, and outfitting the building with recycled gutters used as growing trays. Sunlight pouring through twin wall polycarbonate sheets both heats the building in the day and and serves as natural “grow lights.” Add an LP heater for supplemental night heat and  fans to circulate the heat–and consider location, location, location.

“You gotta think about air in, air out”, said Prieve, “Your greenhouse has to face south.”  Siting your greenhouse must be a sure thing, which involves finding the “true South” from your location.

I learned not to neglect my greenhouse in the summertime as it will get extremely hot inside. Speaking from experience, a fellow student suggested taking out all plastic clocks and thermometers since “they will melt!”

Arugula in the Paradox Farm greenhouse. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

Arugula in the Paradox Farm greenhouse. Photo by Emmy Tolbert.

When it came time for a break, we were encouraged to walk around and looked more closely at Paradox Farm.  To supplement  our bag lunches, Sue offered  freshly picked Tatsoi and Mizuna lettuce, Sumac tea, goat’s milk and my favorite, cow’s milk.. It was so satisfying, I had to restrain myself from being selfish and guzzling the entire quart. The fresh greens reminded me of summer’s pleasures.

After our refreshing break, we proceeded to the “hands on” part of the class. I learned that the deep winter greenhouse provides a vital source of lettuce greens with varieties such as Asian greens like Mizuna, Tatsoi, Komatsuna, and various mustards, as well as o arugula, Swiss chard, turnips, Red Russian kale, Chinese cabbage, Pac Choy and herbs. The planters are recycled gutters with wood sides; propagation mats heated to seventy degrees serve as heating pads helping the seeds sprout faster. Seventy degrees is the ideal temperature for fodder and greens.

Wika uses Carol Ford’s Garden Goddess basic soil mix which includes the following: 3 buckets of peat, ½ cup lime, 2
buckets of vermiculite, 1 cup greensand, 1 cup rock phosphate, 1 cup blood meal, and 3 buckets of compost. (For complete instructions, see below).

While learning how to plant, the class observed the following steps:

1. Fill the planters to the top with soil,  lightly pressing it down.

2. Gently sprinkle the seeds to plant.

3. Very scantly cover with more soil.

4. Place the planters on the propagation mat until they sprout.

5. Transfer the planters to the hanging part of the greenhouse to soak up the sun’s rays.

Sue Wika and Emmy Tolbert (left to right)

Sue Wika and Emmy Tolbert (left to right)

Wika loves to water these planters everyday by hand and  believes that working in their green house is better  than therapy. I can see why. Who else in these cold winters can say that they spend their days surrounded by glorious green color, while cultivating “spirited sprouts” and being revitalized by their green fruitful gain?

Prieve grows fodder for the farm’s livestock from sprouted barley seeds. He uses water to soak and eventually sprout these seeds.  When the Paradox farmers feed this green goodness to their animals, their chickens will lay eggs with bright orange yolks and their cow’s milk will be more golden in color,a boon for producing daffodil-yellow butter in the whitest snowy winter.

I went away with great ideas for my own deep winter greenhouse. The time with Tom and Sue was inspirational,  as was the joy of being in the company of  people who understand and encourage my goal of learning to grow my own food and being more self-sufficient as I mature into adulthood.

Tom and Sue used these resources in teaching the class:

Greenhouse design:
The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual by Chuck Waibel and Carol Ford.

Seeds:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 

Materials:
Menards
Local building supply stores

Emmy Tolbert is a home-schooled student who writes for the Twin Towns Gardeners Markets in Wahpeton and Breckinridge.  This post is her second contribution to the Stand for Food blog.

Caucusing on February 4? Please help strengthen ag education by introducing our resolution

SFP graduates

Sustainable Food Production graduates who now work in farming and related professions.

As you know, Minnesota’s consumers are clamoring for healthful local food, shopping at farmers markets and coop grocery stores, buying shares in CSAs and supporting the development of infrastructure like food hubs.

Unfortunately, our state is falling down in one vital area: educating the next generation of local farmers.  The Sustainable Food Production diploma program at MSCTC–Fergus Falls has been suspended and Farm Management programs across MNSCU, vital for federal Beginning Farmer programs and FSA loans, are being slashed.

It’s as if those running the state’s more vocationally-focused higher ed system don’t see family farming and food production as a job.

We can change this but we need your help to pressure these public institutions to work for us. It must be Minnesota’s public policy to educate the new wave of local food producers.

One helpful step in this process is attending your precinct caucus. Attending your caucus is  not only a great way to meet your neighbors and local legislators, but caucusing also helps raise awareness about important issues for reforming Minnesota’s food system.  If you don’t know where your precinct caucus will be held, click here on the Caucus Finder tool created by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

This is why we are asking you to  attend your caucus and talk to your neighbors about a resolution supporting local food production and farm management programs.  We’ve prepared versions for both major party caucuses that aligns with their action agendas and platform.  Download and print the DFL resolution here and the Republican resolution here. (The documents are also embedded below.

Now more than ever we need you to be talking about the future of food producers with friends, neighbors and your elected officials. With your help we will continue to educate thousands of Minnesotans about this issue and guarantee healthful local food is produced by Minnesotans for Minnesota.

In alphabetical order, here are the resolutions for the DFL and Republican versions of the resolution.  And please, let us know in comments or email us at Stand.For.Food@gmx.com so we can know how you and the resolution did at caucus.

Sustain your growing wisdom: winter workshops, conference smorgasbord

Greenhoouse.

The greenhouse at Paradox Farms.

Stand for Food continues to work for the reinstatement of the Sustainable Food Production program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College at Fergus Falls–and to promote the sustainable production of local and healthful food for all Minnesotans.

That work doesn’t stop at the frost.

Winter is a great time to learn and network.   The Sustainable Farming Association’s Sustainable Food Production Program is offering a one-day short course:

“Deep Winter Production of Greens and Livestock Fodder Utilizing Passive Solar Energy,”   will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 2014, in Ashby, Minn.During the class, farm owners Sue Wika and Tom Prieve will provide a detailed overview of the construction and operation of their deep-winter greenhouse, which utilizes passive solar energy with underground heat storage. The greenhouse provides greens for local consumers. In addition, the structure is utilized to produce fodder for the farm livestock. Students will be in the greenhouse to see how greens and fodder are planted and harvested.Cost is $100/person. Bring a sack lunch. Beverage and fresh winter salad (grown on site) provided.

The class will be held at Paradox Farm, 11643 State Hwy 78, Ashby, MN 56309 (Directions: 7 miles north of Ashby; 10 miles south of Battle Lake)

Information on how to register is available here.  It’s a great opportunity to learn about keeping a deep-winter greenhouse from two of the more gifted ag educators in the region.

The January 25 short course isn’t the only opportunity readers will have to learn from faculty who taught in the suspended SFP program, as most are teaching in the conferences listed below.

Wika and Prieve are presenting sessions at the  Minnesota Organic  Conference and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) 2014 Conference. They’re leading a session on season extension at the Sustainable Farming Association’s  annual conference, where livestock expert Kent Solberg is hosting a “‘Don’t Fence Me In’ Fencing Showdown.”

Bluebird Gardens CSA owner and former SFP program instructor Mark Boen will a lead a session on “Practical Equipment for a Vegetable Farm” at the Upper Midwest Regional Fruit & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show.

Extension educator and Lida Farm operator Ryan Pesch will lead a pre-conference workshop on raising produce for CSAs, farmers markets and other markets on January 23 at 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., the day before the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture  35th Annual Winter Conference January 24-25, 2014 at the Ramkota Best Western in Aberdeen, SD. Pre-conference workshops begin on Thursday, January 23, 2013.

Bees

This winter offers a beehive of conferences. Be a busy bee and help pollinate Minnesota’s growing local food system by learning and networking with your peers.

Winter conference smorgasbord

January conferences
The Minnesota Organic Conference is being held at St. Cloud’s  River’s Edge Convention Center on  January 9 and 10.   Learn more in workshops on cover cropping, growing garlic, pollinators, dry bean, high tunnel production, poultry, organic soil fertility, greenhouses and ancient forms of wheat.

If you can go a day early, check out the half-day or all-day workshops on multi-species grazing, beekeeping, high tunnels and advanced pasture planning. Early bird registration for the 2-day conference is $125, meals included. Students are $75 for the 2 days. A complete schedule and registration are found here; the Minnesota Department of Agriculture hosts the conference

On January 16 and 17, the Upper Midwest Regional Fruit & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show will take over the River’s Edge Convention Center: The conference is sponsored by The Minnesota Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association in cooperation with the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, USDA – Risk Management Agency.

Sessions include vegetable production, small fruit production, marketing, risk management and much more.  The trade show features the latest in equipment, seed, tools and more. Full conference fees are $90 for members, $170 for non-members.

The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture  35th Annual Winter Conference January 24-25, 2014 at the Ramkota Best Western in Aberdeen, SD. Pre-conference workshops begin on Thursday, January 23, 2013.

February conferences
The Sustainable Farming Association 2014 Annual Conference, “Back to Our Roots,” is set for Feb. 8 at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Registration is now open. Cost is just $55 for SFA members and $65 for nonmembers through Jan. 31.    The conference registration page notes:

We’ve been saying all along that our upcoming Annual Conference, “Back to Our Roots,” is all about the Minnesota sustainable farming community – and we mean it. We got lots of response to our survey on what sessions you all wanted, and we’ve designed the content of the conference primarily around that very thing. Then we took recommendations from association board directors and chapter leaders on what they thought was needed. And, finally, we are including sessions driven by our ongoing projects. This has resulted in an intense schedule of 20 sessions, most of which will be “discussion format” – led by a couple of experts, but focusing on the wisdom and needs of the community.

Check out the intense schedule,  which includes a “Cheese, Wine and Beer Pairing Smackdown” that’s tied to a discussion on the state of fine cheese in Minnesota by Anne Borgendale, cheese buyer for Linden Hills Food Co-op.  (As Kelsey Wulf’s latest S4F post demonstrated, there’s much to be said for integrated cheese-making education).

Registration is open for the SFA’s new conference, the Midwest Soil Health Summit, which is set for Feb. 19-20, 2014, at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria.  We at Stand for Food are looking forward to this event after reading the SFA-MN’s notice for it:

The Summit will convene some of the most innovative farmers and researchers in the Upper Midwest for two days of networking, speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions – all geared at improving the health of your soil.

The keynote speaker will be Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch in Burleigh County, N.D. Brown is a pioneer in diverse cover cropping, having used no-till techniques for two decades. His family ranch encompasses 5,400 acres, all managed sustainably and with the goal of building ideal soil health conditions. His pesticide-free cover and companion crop system has allowed the Browns to reduce their use of commercial fertilizer by over 90 percent and the use of herbicides by over 75 percent as well as increase production and profitability.

Following Brown’s address will be a presentation by Richard Bieber, a producer from South Dakota who has been practicing no-till for 27 years and cover cropping for over a decade. Bieber says, “When it comes to soil health, you are speaking directly to my passion.”

More speakers round out the summit, including former M State Sustainable Food Production instructor Kent Solberg.  For more information about registration and costs:

Cost is $100 for current SFA members and $150 for non-members (Note: When registering, SFA members must choose the “discount” option and enter the code that was sent in a members-only email). If you wish to join SFA and receive the discount code for $50 off registration, click this link to visit our Join page. Once you join SFA, a discount code will be emailed to you. For questions on SFA membership, contact SFA Communications Coordinator Jason Walker at jason@sfa-mn.org.

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) 2014 Conference closes the month on February 28 and March 1, 2014, in LaCrosse, WI:

The MOSES Conference, started 25 years ago with 90 people who wanted to learn more about farming organically, has grown to become the country’s foremost educational and networking event for the organic community. The people involved in organic and sustainable farming tend to be passionate about food and farming, which makes for a truly inspiring event. Please join us in celebrating the 25th anniversary of this remarkable gathering!

There’s even an app for that excitement!

Pre-conference Organic University workshops are offered the day before, on Thursday, February 27.

Registration for the 2-day conference is through January 17, 2014; $210.00 after January 17, 2014 , breakfast and lunch included. The Organic University workshops are a separate $150.00 through January 17, 2014; $170.00 after January 17, 2014, breakfast and lunch also included.

March conference
Sustainable Food Production graduate Zach Paige is helping to organize the 11th annual Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference. Update:  The GLIFC will take place  onMarch 13-16 2014 at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, MN.  Registration and schedule to come!

These are tremendous opportunities to learn and network, and Stand For Food hopes that readers will help build the region’s local food network by attending.

(Hat tip to Charles Underwood via the SUSTAG elist for assembling the January and February schedule dates).

Guest post: SFP taught me cheesemaking from the ground up

SFP grad at Northcroft Farm.

Left to right: Sustainable Food Production  graduates Noelle Harden, Kelsey Wulf with a goat kid, and Jessie Borkenhagen with a lamb at Northcroft Farm.

by Kelsey Wulf
Sustainable Food Production program graduate

After attending the Deep Roots event in Watson in September, several of us SFP alumn camped out along the Chippewa River for the evening. In our company were two young fellows who expressed an interest in the SFP program.

I don’t remember what question was asked in particular, but good company and the cozy fire had me feeling even more loquacious than usual. I launched into a long off-the-cuff dissertation about why I love the SFP program so much.  I reconstruct what I said to the best of my recollection in this post.

The SFP program teaches sustainable farming by providing a holistic understanding of what farming is. This is taught in a dynamic fashion.

Say you want to make cheese

Let’s say you’ve got a mind to make your own cheese.

Doctor Sue Wika will teach you how to make that cheese: what ingredients you need, what temperature it takes, how many times you should stir that glob around, and how you should season and age it so it will keep all through the winter, or it eat almost immediately because it is so tasty.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Emily McCune’s cheesemaking.

Then Doctor Tom Prieve swings in to break everything down so you really understand the science of what happens when you make that cheese.

He’ll zoom into the cheese-making process and explain exactly what is happening with the lipase and fats so when you are making that cheese it isn’t a bunch of steps and instructions for their own sake. As you make that chevre or feta, you’ll come to understand why doing Step 1 gets you to step 2.

Then Kent Solberg comes into play.

To have great cheese, you must have great animals

You want cheese? Well you had better have some animals that are going to provide you milk. Do you want goat’s milk cheese? Cow’s milk? Here is what you need to know to raise a dairy animal. They are going to need excellent forage. You are nothing if you’re not a good grass farmer. How are you going to sustain those dairy cows on grass and sunshine? By being a darn good grass farmer.

Solberg teaches you how to identify what forage is in your pasture and makes you memorize when and where they grow so hopefully you will have some good pasture stockpiled for when you hit that dry spell and growing slump in August. You’ll learn how to move those animals across the land using different fence techniques. Wear good gloves, for you will be installing fencing. You learn to move those cows before they eat that grass shorter than four inches down otherwise you are going to end up losing the growth nodes on the grass blades so it will take that grass longer to recover.

At some point Prieve swoops back in to take you down into the fascinating microscopic world of soil biology. Not only are you going to end up with excellent forage, you are stimulating the soil, feeding it, making it better and providing excellent habitat for wildlife in the process.

Visiting dairy goat and cattle farms

Now that you have a rough idea of what goes into making cheese from the ground up (literally), we’d better make sure you actually understand what it takes to make a living off crafting artisan cheeses. Load up in the vans, we’re going to go visit some farmers who are doing just that.

Marv Hoffman

Marv Hoffman of Fruitful Seasons (right) discusses milk processing and cheese production with SFP students.

We’ll visit a few different farms with goats or cattle or any other number of critters. You are going to talk with the people who are truly out there doing it. They aren’t going to sugar coat it for you. They will tell you if they are making money from their cheese enterprise. They will tell you about what they have had to sacrifice to make it work.

They will tell you about how their business is not just a business but a way of life and an integral part of their family. They will tell you that it is hard. They will tell you that it is worth it. You’ll hear how they lost a calf last year and what they could have done better and will do better next time. You’ll get to meet the new calves that are out grazing and playing alongside their mamas.

Managing farms, planning businesses

Still think you want to make artisan cheese? All right! Enter Ryan Pesch.

Ryan Pesch is going to teach you Farm Marketing and Management. Bust out your pens and keyboards, for it is time to write up a business plan and get some things straight. How much, realistically, is it going to cost you to start making this cheese? What do you need to buy? How are you going to buy it? What are your goals for your business? Is there anyone out there who is actually going to buy this cheese from you?

Now you’ve got your business plan. You’ve got your animals. You’ve got your cheese aging in the cave or basement or wherever. Now what? Are you going to eat that cheese all by yourself? I can personally tuck in quite a bit of cheese, but you’ve received such a stellar education in SFP you’ve got more cheese than you or your friends can eat so it’s time to share it with the world.

Pesch is going to teach you how to market your farm: how to get your name out in the community, where you might want to sell your cheese, how to be profitable. Wait a minute: aren’t there some rules and regulations you need to follow in order to make and sell cheese? Ah, yes: Wika already covered that a semester ago in the Value-Added Agriculture class.

By now you should be full of knowledge, but also slightly exhausted and overwhelmed. How on Earth are you supposed to get started? What about land? Resources? Support? Again, no need to worry. You’ve been through the muck, mud and manure with your classmates and they aren’t going anywhere. You’ve made a new family for yourself among other start up farmers. Not only do you have your SFP brothers and sisters, but thanks to all those field trips, you have a wide network and community of experienced farmers with resources and know-how that they are more than willing to share.

Next comes  your internship

You are armed with knowledge, a strong supportive community, and you still feel pretty confident you want to make delicious artisanal cheeses. Before you toss out your training wheels and tear off on a Harley, it’s time to intern on a farm.

Luckily for you, dozens of farmers are begging your professors to provide interns, so you have your pick of the farm you want to work on.

Feta in a jar.

Emily McCune’s finished feta.

I didn’t even cover half the information and knowledge you will need to produce, market, and sell (or eat!) that cheese. Again, don’t worry. The SFP program covers it. And what your professors didn’t cover, they’ll explain to you over the phone or in person when you visit years after you graduate.

Cheese is just one example of the amazing interconnected and holistic education students gain in the SFP program. I can discuss fiber, feed, vegetables, farmers markets, CSAs, family milk cow economics, sociology of agriculture, chickens (eggs, meat, feathers, in rotation behind your grazing animals), fermentation, diversified systems, processing, and on, and on, and on.

Want to keep going? Alas, I’ve got goat’s milk in the fridge and cheese to make. Find yourself another SFP grad and strike up a conversation. I guarantee you they can go on for as long as me and longer.

I didn’t even get to talking about our instructor Mark Boen and his wealth of knowledge in running a 2000+ member CSA based out of Fergus Falls! Like I said, talk to an SFP grad and you can go down that road of naturally improving your soil, farm machinery, cover cropping, the importance of worms, planting, harvesting….

Guest post: SFP grad Zachary Paige assists White Earth Seedsavers

 Anishinaabe Seed Project activity.

SFP grad Zachary Paige (left) and Anishinaabe Seed Project members process seeds.

By Zachary Paige
MSCTC Sustainable Food Production program graduate

As a seed saver and farm manager, I am working for the White Earth Land Recovery Project. I have aided in the formation of the White Earth Seed Library, a community-oriented seed library with three branches.

Seed libraries work similar to our public library system: we give out seeds for free to dedicated seed savers. They will return double the amount they took out to the library and document their location, growth, and story.

Sustainable farmers and gardeners are awakening to the importance of seed saving. This energy has helped bring people together under one idea–a great metaphor for germinating our new holistic generation of farmers.  I taught four seed saving workshops in the past two months and felt the excitement of people from different communities and reservations learning sound seed stewardship practices.

Young White Earth Seedsaver.

The White Earth Seed Library is helping to germinate a new generation of farmers.

Through a collaborative effort, experienced seedkeepers in our region are forming the Great Lakes Indigenous Seed Restoration Network. Seedkeepers in their communities can share their seed stories on a website as well as finding people to learn seed saving techniques and grow out indigenous seed varieties.

It took humankind over 10,000 years to create much of the world’s agricultural genetic diversity. We may lose most of that in one generation. As late as 1900, there were more than 1,500 cultivated varieties in North America. Today, only 30 crops provide 90% of the world’s nutrition. By growing and saving heirloom and hybrid seeds, we are actively participating in a 10,000 year-old ritual.

Saving our seeds acclimates them to our northern climate and microclimate. There are many reasons to save our seeds, including saving money and breeding food to your liking by changing the taste, color, frost tolerance, days to maturity, texture and more. Something to keep in mind when we talk about food sovereignty: we have nothing if we don’t have control over our seeds! Let’s close the loop of sustainable farm practices and start saving our seeds.

Another young farmer.

Another member of the next generation of farmers learns seedsaving technique.

Check out the Anishinaabe Seed Project website and my “Seed of the Week” radio show focusing on a different seed every week. Carol Deppe’s “Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s & Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving” and Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy’s “Seed to Seed” are great places to start as well.

The White Earth Tribal and Technical College will host a day-long seed saving event in the spring. I will be helping organize the 11th Annual Indigenous Farming Conference, which will connect seed savers and sustainable growers of this region (learn about the 10th annual conference here). There will also be a five-day seed school in Shakopee in May hosted by Native Seeds/SEARCH. If you’re interested in attending these events, please email me at weseedlibrary@gmail.com for more information.

Stand for Food note:  Here’s a video of Paige and a young resident of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe talking about their work during a visit to Paradox Farms near Ashby, Minnesota:

Guest post: an area mother speaks up for M State’s Sustainable Food Production program

Katy Olson and Cedar Walters.

Katy Olson, her grandchild, and her daughter, SFP program grad Cedar Walters at the Fergus Falls Farmers Market. Photo by Emily McCune,

by Katy Olson, Fergus Falls

When I was a girl growing up on a farm in rural North Dakota, my mother and the neighboring women were my friends and mentors. I spent countless hours tagging along as they moved through the rhythms of their farm lives through the seasons. They took me under their wing and provided a practical guide for how to live on the land, teaching me how to provide for the basic needs of a family and much more.

As I grew up I took these skills for granted. I assumed that everyone knew how to gather eggs, feed the chickens and butcher one for supper. The produce from the garden filled the larder for tasty meals all winter long. The wool from the sheep, cream from the cows, all provided much needed income for our farms. I remember the pride with which Magdalena shared with Mom that her egg money paid for Ellie’s college and now she was a teacher! Ida’s wool from her sheep bought the family car.

These enterprises were an important part of the farm economy. As we moved away from diversified agriculture on the true family farm, women’s contributions were sidelined and as a culture we went so far as to question whether a woman could “inherit” the farm when her husband passed away.

I have made my own life close to the land, continuing to provide for the family table most of the food we eat. My husband Ron and I grew specialty crops for ten years and our daughter Cedar grew up in the field and market learning the value of working with your hands to provide for yourself.

Naturally, I was thrilled when M-State offered Sustainable Food Production, a farm program to teach these skills to young people who have had little or no connection to the farm life. Or, if a student had grown up on the land, it was a commodities farm where none of the food the farm family ate came directly from the work of their own hands. These young folks who would be farmers were eager to learn the skills that they would need to live on the land and grow food for themselves and their neighbors.

Much to my pleasure and surprise, the majority of enrollees in the farm program were young women. They wanted a connection to land and a sense of place. As a group there was a desire to repopulate the countryside and be an integral part of the community’s food culture. I opened my home to house students. Every day I was privileged to share in their new-found skills and enthusiasm.

To my even greater joy, our daughter, Cedar, decided to enroll in the program. She has longed to return to the land, but did not have a vision for how that might be possible. The Sustainable Food Production Program at M-State gave her the skills and courage to return to a rural life. “I want to farm!” she declared. In her city life she felt she had limited scope for influence but by returning to the land she could have the impact that she felt would contribute to a sustainable future for her and the larger community.

The learning community exemplified by the instructors and the farm partners they enlisted to mentor the students provided a rich base of experience to augment their classroom curriculum. Ron’s and my lifetime on the farm now had a context; our evening meals were spent discussing our life experience and the student’s new-found knowledge. Our larger community benefited as well with community potlucks, a new farmers market, and farm products for sale. I took special pleasure in their enthusiasm in learning new skills. “I drove the tractor and hooked up the three point hitch” was a cause for celebration.

I was saddened by the administration’s decision to suspend the program. Not only does it rob the larger community of its young folks but it also closes the door for these farmers and their desire for a life of connection to the land, of integrating animal and crop systems to producing, of sharing their passion with friends and neighbors. The lack of transparency in the way in which the administration made its decision  is unacceptable. We as a part of M-States tax base cannot stand by and let this decision stand. We must continue to demand accountability of the administration of this campus and the MNSCU system as a whole.

Editor’s note:  Here’s a brief version of Olson’s daughter’s story.  Cedar Walters spoke at the Deep Roots potluck in Watson.