For the past two years, the Midwest Alternative Agriculture Education Network (MAAEN) has brought together 6 major sustainable agriculture organizations and institutions in the Upper Midwest for the purpose of expanding and enlivening dull, one-way or non-existent alternative agriculture education programs. The members of MAAEN are: The Kansas Rural Center, the Land Stewardship Project, the Midwest Rodale Research Network, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.
The overall goal of MAAEN has been to develop and provide midwestern farmers with accessible, farmer-centered information and educational programs on alternative agriculture systems. In two years of operation, participating MAAEN organizations have succeed in sponsoring 113 informational workshops, 25 conferences, 122 field days and more than 52 speaking engagements, learning circle sessions and other small group events for more than 3,500 farmers across 8 states in the midwest.
Thanks to MAAEN and other SARE/ACE sponsored programs, genuine and lasting partnerships have been established between grassroots sustainable farmers and researchers and educators from the land grant university/ extension community. In MAAEN’s two year existence, some 44 scientists and 29 Cooperative Extension personnel collaborated with 30 non-profit organizations, 15 other agencies and private businesses and 76 farmers to design and deliver the educational programs and events mentioned above.
A key factor behind this significant increase in cooperation has been the methodology of the “study circle” advanced by participating MAAEN organizations. These focus groups were successful in providing a non-threatening environment where scientists, researchers and extension agents could meet to discuss sustainable agriculture practices and issues with farmer representatives from non-profit sustainable agriculture organizations.
As a result, meaningful working relationships have developed between the Sustainable Farming Association Minnesota and the West Central Experiment Station, between the Kansas Rural Center and scientists and Kansas State University in Manhattan, between the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Carrington Research Center, between the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Northeast Research and Extension Center and between the Midwest Rodale Research Network and the midwest sustainable agriculture community as a whole.
Among the many positive benefits resulting from MAAEN’s work are:
1. Hundreds of midwestern farmers have became more involved in education and research which is crucial to the future development of their farms and their communities. These farmers encouraged other farmers to become involved in education and research.
2. Educators and researchers have developed a better understanding of the value of including farmers in their work.
3. Educators, researchers and farmers have learned the value of study circles where farmers and educators share ideas. Some educators started making use of study circles in their work.
4. The participatory/ partnership process engendered by MAAEN not only improved alternative agriculture education, it also spurred farmers and institutions to explore emerging issues and concepts affecting the future of sustainable agriculture. Alternative marketing, Farmer /consumer relationships and public policy issues were all explored by MAAEN member organizations and their institutional partners.
As a result of this experience, MAAEN member organizations strongly recommend that the study circle and joint planning methodology be further studied and more widely used in training extension educators and in transmitting new information on sustainable agriculture practices.
Objective 1. To increase communication about sustainable agriculture education efforts being carried out within the non-profit sustainable agriculture community in the Upper Midwest.
Objective 2. To increase communication and cooperation between the non-profit sector, land grant universities and government agencies in developing educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.
Objective 3.To collaborate in the development and delivery of innovative educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.
Objective 1.To increase communication about sustainable agriculture education efforts being carried out within the non-profit sustainable agriculture community in the Upper Midwest.
The original MAAEN grant proposal requested funding to conduct quarterly teleconferences between all the participating organizations as a way to periodically update each other on our respective activities. Unfortunately, funding for this portion of our work was denied, so instead we had to rely on newsletter exchanges and informal one-on-one conversations to carry out this objective.
In spite of this, we were able to significantly increase communication and collaboration between MAAEN organizations in 1993. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that in farmers, researchers, board members and organizational staff did travel to other states to make presentations and give workshops sponsored by MAAEN member organizations. For example, Fred Kirschenman (of the NPSAS) and Carmen Fernholz (of the Rodale Research Network and the SFA of Minnesota) traveled to Kansas to participate in sustainable agriculture conferences sponsored by the KRC. Mary Radermacher (of the SFA of MN) was a presenter at the NPSAS winter conference, as were Dick and Sharon Thompson of the Rodale Research Network. The Thompsons also traveled to Montevideo, MN to present a workshop co-sponsored by the SFA and the Rodale Research Network.
The establishment of the MAAEN Speaker’s Bureau in 1994 has led to further inter-organizational exchanges. By referring to the MAAEN recommended speakers list, by reading each other’s newsletters and by talking to each other over the phone, we have gathered ideas for speakers to bring in to various conferences and educational workshops held throughout the network. For example, Iowa State University’s Animal Scientist Mark Honeyman, Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Dick and Sharon Thompson, Tom Frantzen and poultry grazier Joel Salatin have all spoken to MAAEN member groups as the word about their excellent presentations spread.
A random sampling of the MAAEN member organization’s newsletters demonstrates an extraordinary level of cooperation and cross-fertilization: The Northern Plains Conference is advertized in the NSAS and the SFA’s newsletters; A Land Stewardship Project publication on the economic analysis of four sustainable farms is promoted by the KRC, NSAS, Rodale and the NSAS; The Hiawatha Grazing conference is publicized throughout the network.
Finally, MAAEN has fostered learning relationships between the non-profit sustainable ag organizations in many unanticipated ways. The NPSAS is studying the chapter structure of other MAAEN member organizations as it re-organizes itself internally. Community Supported Agriculture, Holistic Resource Management, resisting the trend toward large scale hog confinement operations, and 1995 Farm Bill debates are just a few examples of areas where MAAEN member organizations have been able to collaborate and learn from each other.
Objective 2. To increase communication and cooperation between the non-profit sector, land grant universities and government agencies in developing educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.
Cooperation has indeed “broken out all over” between universities and the non-profit sector. In the two years of MAAEN’s existence, this cooperation has taken many shapes and directions. An organization-by-organization summary will demonstrate the wide range of cooperative exchanges taking place as a result of MAAEN’s work.
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA)
SARE funding through the MAAEN coalition has developed and strengthened the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, particularly its western Minnesota chapter.
The overall goal of the project has been to develop and provide Minnesota farmers with information and education programs on alternative agriculture systems. In its second year the SFA statewide sponsored 18 winter workshops, 7 annual (chapter and state) conferences, 22 field days, 6 study circle sessions and a variety of non-formal events for approximately 2350 farmers throughout the state.
It has long been the goal of sustainable farmers to experience genuine collaboration with the university research and education community, and now that day has arrived. Meaningful relationships have evolved with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, professors within the college of agriculture, experiment station researchers and extension and technical college educators. For example, university researchers now enlist SFA farmers as cooperators while recognizing and encouraging the development of projects pertinent to the individual farm’s sustainability; that is, the project may have relationship to station research, but does not seek to duplicate the format or intent of small-plot research.
In the past two years, the SFA has recruited researchers and extension educators to its local chapter boards of directors. There is growing mutual respect, a synergism in efforts to advance sustainability in the countryside and the potential for affecting the great percentage of farmers yet to begin this transition. Though inroads have been made, sustainable farms are still widely scattered across the windswept and eroding landscape. The experience of the past two years offers hope that we may together increase diversity in the biological community, enhance the natural and economic resources we experience today, and restore the communities which mirror these conditions.
Our Learning Circle
As a direct result of SARE funding, the “Controlled Grazing Discussion Group” was organized by the Western Minnesota chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association. Following a February ’93 grazing workshop sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project and the Willmar Technical College, a cluster of farmers were identified to invited to participate. Additionally, researchers from the nearest University of Minnesota experiment station, Minnesota Department of Agriculture personnel and other regional ag education professionals were asked to participate.
“The Graziers Circle” began early in 1993 with 12 individuals including SFA members, a mix of established, new and want-to-be graziers, a dairy researcher, an extension livestock specialist, and a district conservationist. In addition to sponsoring related workshops and field days, the group met intentionally as the graziers’ circle three times in 1993 and six times in 1994. Interests have ranged from grazing as a tool for improving lifestyles and farm numbers to conserving energy and upgrading water quality. There is a high interest level in continuing and modeling this small-group format of information sharing with farmers accompanied by extension educators.
Spin-offs from this group include the involvement of six SFA farmers in designing a workshop for SCS and Extension Educators in Sustainable Agriculture in the winter of 1995. SFA members are also serving on University’s Sustainable Dairy project as a result of these relationships.
The group has collaborated on grazing events initiated by the SFA and with other program affiliates. A convergent calendar has been designed and disseminated which included grazing and related events sponsored by the University of Minnesota, Southwestern Technical College, the Hiawatha Grazing Conference, and various other organizations throughout the state. This has resulted in improved, less conflictive programming.
Perhaps most importantly, the Grazier’s Circle has had a direct influence on modifying the dairy research agenda at the West Central Experiment Station in Morris to better meet the needs of the moderate sized producer. Additionally, for the first time, SFA Graziers were presenters at Experiment Station Field Days.
The SFA Grazier’s circle has also led to “ripple effect” benefits for group members. As a result of these meetings, SFA members pooled their fencing supplies order to obtain a discount in purchasing over $30,000 worth of materials in the past two years.
The representation of women in the group has improved steadily and is now numbering one third of those in attendance. The Graziers Circle is hopeful that this forward-thinking communication process will positively influence the traditional approach to agricultural education. The group has decided to continue meeting with the focus of the on-farm small group format “much like the New Zealand model” identified and experienced by researcher Dennis Johnson. There is a dynamism within the group that has propelled its plans to continue to meet after the grant period both during dormant months as well as when the grass begins to grow again.
Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS)
Using SARE funds, NPSAS continued to build upon its reputation for organizing exceptional regional sustainable agriculture conferences in January 1993 and 1994. Top speakers from the national sustainable movement were combined with panels of university researchers and extension personnel and farmers. The 1993 conference drew a good attendance and the 1994 conference was well-covered by the region’s ag media the best coverage ever.
The collaboration with NDSU extension in planning, publicity and execution of the 1994 conference greatly increased the advance publicity and follow-up stories done on the conference. An indication of the improvement in outreach was that 25% of the conference attendees were new the highest proportion ever. Unfortunately, a major winter storm drastically cut the attendance from expectations.
The collaboration on the winter conference has extended to more interaction between extension and NPSAS in the planning of extension training and long range strategic planning for sustainable agriculture. Perhaps the best indicator of NPSAS’s impact on the understanding of sustainable agriculture in North Dakota was the response to a series of listening sessions. The understanding of sustainability and its issues were on target with the message the organization has tried to convey in its outreach over the years.
A parallel educational and outreach effort apart from the farming methods research and education is the NPSAS organic marketing effort. SARE funds in 1993 and 1994 helped develop a series of meetings and studies resulting in the formation of a new organic marketing cooperative. Although there was less interaction with the university sector in developing this initiative, the same methods of collaborative planning were used in working with the state economic development agencies and existing co ops, organizations and consultants.
Kansas Rural Center (KRC)
The Kansas Rural Center used its SARE funds to organize collaborative teams of farmers, researchers, public agency and KRC staff to conduct on-farm trials, sustainable agriculture education and joint project planning for various sustainable agriculture initiatives. As a result there is:
1. Much greater Kansas Land Grant University involvement in Sustainable Agriculture;
2. Greater use by farmers of a learning circle or cluster groups to more clearly identify needs, organize resources and implement sustainable practices on participants’ farms. This has resulted in the formation of farmer clusters in the Heartland Network, increased adoption of intensive rotational grazing, increased efforts in cooperative marketing, and spurred greater farmer usage of legume cover crops.
3. The use of joint planning teams in educational programs and project development has brought more public agencies into the process of designing and funding sustainable agriculture projects to address environmentally related issues, as well as take sustainable agriculture to consumers through educational programs and direct marketing of livestock, vegetables and organic grains.
1. Cover Crops & Wildlife Habitat. A seven member team representing the KSU Biology Department and Kansas Wildlife and Parks designed a research project investigating the use of different cover crops for development of bird habitat. The team consisted of four wildlife biologists Culbertson, Patton, Church, and Norvell; two KSU graduate students from KSU; and Jost from KRC. The team met two times in 1992 and one time in 1993. We discussed and developed the experimental design to test bird and insect usages in different cover crop rotations. The intent was to develop farming practices that will improve wildlife habitat and soil fertility within a production system. The team found that it was difficult to work out compromises between the interests of wildlife and the profits of the farmer. After a rather disappointing year of research results in 1993, the team made alterations that should improve the acceptability to farmers in the use of cover crop rotations. Future trials should indicate what cover crops and tillage/herbicide systems are more promising for wider adoption. The replicated trials include rye, sweetclover, and hairy vetch in a grain sorghum rotation.
2. Ridge Tillage. A seven member team helped a farm family develop a farm trial involving ridge tillage on upland. Team members include Sarah Dean as the landowner, Voigts, as the farmers, Kok and Regher from KSU Extension, Jost from KRC, Sprick from SCS, Kumpf and McCaulley from Fleischer Manufacturing. The team experimented with ridge tillage in an area where it has not been practiced before, to assess it’s conservation, herbicide reduction and economic benefits. The team met once in ’93. Unrelenting rain made the results unattainable and the scheduled farm tour was called off. Eight team members met in March ’94 and held a field day in July ’94 with fifteen in attendance. Ridge tillage does appear to effectively control soil erosion on the trial fields, and SCS has approved its use for conservation compliance. Herbicide reduction has not been achieved yet, though it is only now that the operators believe they know enough about ridge tillage to begin experimenting will less herbicide. Yields and economic returns have been comparable to that of conventional fields. If herbicide reduction can be achieved without yield loss, then economic returns of ridge till should be better. The landowner commented that it sure would be nice if the landgrant was doing more of this research because it takes a long time to draw reliable conclusions, and it is costly in terms of equipment, land use, and learning time.
3. Non-chemical Alfalfa Weevil Control. In 1993, a four member team designed a farm trial using mechanical crushing to control alfalfa weevils overwintering in the field. the team members were Fitzmarice, farmer; Gordon, county agent; Lippert, Extension Specialist and researcher; and Jost, KRC. The trial and later farm tour were canceled when the farm family decided to sell their farm due to financial distress.
4. Better Environmental Application of Liquid Hog Manure. In 1993, a three member team designed a replicated farm trial with injection and broadcast of hog manure. Team members included Parks, farmer; Christian, county agent; and Jost, KRC. The replicated plots were applied with manure and planted. The flooding of the Kansas River in the area disrupted meaningful results.
5. Testing Food Grade Oat Variety for Organic Market. In spring of 1994, the “Eli” oat variety, noted for its light color and heavy test weight, was planted on the farms of eight Kansas Organic Producer members, to determine its agronomic suitability for northeast Kansas with acceptable color and test weight for the organic food oat market. As a small grain and nurse crop for legumes, oats fit well in sustainable cropping systems. Team members were Vogelsberg Busch, Linck, Tangeman, King, Martin, Heiens, Holle, Reznicek farmers; Mark Nightengale, Heartland Mill food processor; David Key, county agent; Leon Nehr, seed company; and Ed Reznicek, KRC. Initial planning occurred at a summer ’93 Heartland Mill tour, and again at the December ’93 Kansas Organic Producers annual meeting, with extension and seed dealer contacts by phone. Growers compared yield and test weight from the Eli variety with the varieties they typically plant on their farms. Results were mixed while yields were generally comparable to other varieties, some farmers got higher test weights with the Eli variety, others did not. An abnormally dry spring effected oat yields and test weights across the board, so most of the farmers intend to test the Eli variety again next year.
6. Testing Clear Hilum Soybean Varieties for the Organic Market. Kansas Organic Producers have found a strong market, with excellent premiums, for organic soybeans. There is a need to compare different clear hilum varieties for agronomic and processing characteristics to take better advantage of the market. This learning circle planted a randomized, replicated trial of four promising clear hilum varieties along with a popular dark hilum, control variety. Team members include Tom and David Vogelsberg, farmers; Joe Vogelsberg, KOP Marketing Coordinator; and Ed Reznicek of KRC. Team members contacted KSU specialists, county agents and private seed company dealers to help select varieties for the trial. Team members met in March ’94 to look at the trial site and design the trial, and together viewed the trial on several occasions through the growing season. A September 2nd farm tour, drawing about 37 participants, showed the varieties plot along with other fields in the Vogelsbergs’ crop rotation system. The team met in October to harvest the plot and collect harvest data. Three clear hilum varieties compared very favorably to the control variety in yield, though one variety had noticebly smaller beans a factor likely to weigh negatively against it. The team sent samples of each clear hilum variety to soybean processors for processing comparisons, and is currently awaiting those results. This trial will significantly help KOP grower members select clear hilum varieties for ’95 crop planting.
7. Use of Annual Forage Legumes in Crop Rotations. This ’94 trial compared two annual alfalfa varieties and a berseem clover variety for establishment characteristic and forage yield compared to a Kansas Common alfalfa variety. The purpose of the trial was to see if annual alfalfas or berseem clover produced greater economic returns over perennial alfalfa in the year of establishment when overseeded in a small grain. Team members included four farmers: Oren & Leland Holle, Paul Conway, Glen Linck and Ed Reznicek; and Reznicek of KRC. The Holles and Reznicek met in February to select varieties and trial sites. Contacts with Conway and Linck were by phone. The Holles’ hosted a September 2nd farm tour to view the trial and other crops in their rotation system. The berseem clover establish quickly and grew well early, but didn’t grow well during the hot, dry part of summer. The perennial alfalfa had the most growth after small grain harvest, but the annual alfalfas grew very well once the small grain was harvested and the remaining stubble clipped. The performance of the berseem clover lagged behind the alfalfas. Depending on how late in the growing season the annual alfalfas grow, they may produce as well as the perennial alfalfa. Participating farmers and some of the farmers attending the tour said this trial deserves another try.
8. Marketing Grass Fed Beef. In spring ’94 a group of beef producers, some using intensive rotational grazing, began meeting to explore marketing options for identity preserved grass fed beef. Team members are Pete Ferrell, Anne Wilson, Carl Shoemaker, ranchers; Earl Wright, Farmers Assistance Counseling and Training Services; David Hurt, Kansas Value Added Center; Wes Jackson, Land Institute, David Barton, KSU Cooperative Specialist, Jost, Nagengast & Reznicek, KRC. Some of the team has met about once a month, with other members attending periodically. The team is currently drafting organizational documents, initiating a marketing study, considering production standards for grass fed beef certification, and exploring processing and marketing strategies, along with other marketing related issues. The ranchers are seriously looking at organizing as a cooperative or other business form and plan to continue their meetings and develop their marketing program.
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Association (NSAS)
In May of 1993 the NSAS dismissed its executive director and the NSAS Board assumed the duties of running the organization. This provided an opportunity to members of the university/extension community and sustainable farmers from the non-profit sector to work hand-in-hand in keeping a grassroots organization going. Much was learned from the experience, and now thanks to the Kellogg Foundation grant, the NSAS was able to hire a new executive director. We are also in the process of filling a position in Western Nebraska, in conjunction with the University of Nebraska station at Scottsbluff.
Beginning in 1993 with the learning circle approach, NSAS was instrumental in creating an awareness of the need to be pro-active on the CRP question. A number of major players met together three times to share ideas and communicate what resources could be brought into an educational effort to prepare for land that comes out of CRP. Representatives of SCS, ASCS, Cooperative Extension, NRD, NSAS and NEREC as well as other business and farm interests continued meeting in 1994. NSAS President Gary Young was asked to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on the CRP and sustainable agriculture issues in April 1994. In July of 1994, the CRP learning circle sponsored three farm tours to demonstrate the benefits to farms that were in the CRP Program. These tours were held on the Kevin Kube farm in Knox County, the Charles Paulson farm in Cedar County and the Gerald Wiedenfeld farm in Dixon County.
A major portion of the educational work carried out with the support of SARE funds was the NSAS Western Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Conference. In 1993, the NSAS Board of directors responded to the need for sustainable agriculture information specific to the climactic conditions of the high plains by staging the first annual Western Conference, which was attended by more than 70 area farmers and residents. By January 1994, with the cooperation of several institutions and organizations, 56 farmers attended the 2nd Annual Western conference. The theme of the conference was Sustaining Farms and Communities in the High Plains. Workshop sessions included farmers and researchers sharing information organic farming, waste management, biological control of weeds, legumes in dryland cropping and several other topics.
The NSAS Annual Meeting is another important contribution to MAAEN’s work. More than a dozen scientists and researchers have played major roles in the Annual Meetings held in 1993 and 1994.
Rodale Midwest Farmers Network
The Midwest Farmers Network (MFN) of the Rodale Institute has benefitted in many ways from participation in MAAEN. MAAEN provided support and information for establishing study circles which has been one of MFN’s most successful activities. In 1992/3 a study circle including farmers and extension educators was organized in Southern Minnesota. The Southern Minnesota study circle led to the adoption of study circles as the major part of a pilot project for sustainable agriculture training of extension educators. This year, as part of the pilot project, two MFN farmers led study circles which were very well received by participating educators and farmers.
Study circles seem to be consistent with concept of learning by sharing, which guides the work of MFN and is a unifying theme of MAAEN. MFN found that farmers, extension educators, and others concerned about agriculture enjoy spending time together exchanging ideas and thoughts about sustainable farming. One educator told us that meetings like this should have been held long ago. Several of the extension educators who participated in MFN study circles have now used study circles in their work or plan to do so.
As a result of MFN work done under MAAEN and other work done by MFN, the concept of farmer-centered research and education has been developed. The value of the farmer-centered approach was demonstrated by MAAEN supported workshops and field days, where farmers shared their experiences with others in agriculture. MFN farmers have gained recognition as important resources for educators and researchers. Most MFN members are now asked to make several educational presentations each year and receive invitations to participate in research projects. Farmers who take part in farmer-centered research and education benefit through increasing their skills at making decisions about important aspects of their farms.
Support from MAAEN has also allowed MFN to spend more time exploring new topics such as community supported agriculture, soil health, and the 1995 farm bill. Keeping up with new developments in sustainable agriculture is important in the farmer-centered approach where farmers become more involved in their own education. MFN shared with other groups in the MAAEN project by speaking at MAAEN meetings of other groups and contributing to a speakers bureau.
The MAAEN activities complemented the MFN program which is led by Dick and Sharon Thompson. The Thompsons have set an example for farmers across the country through their outstanding research and educational efforts. Dick and Sharon are well known for organizing and encouraging farmers to play a larger role in research and education.
Study Circles – Three study circles were organized, one in the first year and two in the second year. Each study circle met three or four times and attendance ranged from six to seventeen people. Usually about half of those attending were farmers, and the other people were mostly extension educators. A few researchers and some other people who serve farmers also participated. Discussion material for the meetings included papers on cover crops, the definition of sustainable agriculture, and the transition to sustainable agriculture.
The first study circle seemed to be effective in improving communication between farmers using sustainable practices and extension educators. The Rodale Institute obtained funding for a pilot project on sustainable agriculture training of extension educators from the federal extension office and decided to use study circles for this project. Rodale held a training session on study circles which included two MFN farmers and two extension educators from the Midwest. These farmers and educators organized two study circles, one in Illinois and one in Minnesota.
The Illinois study circle resulted in a cover crop project run cooperatively by farmers, researchers, and extension. The extension leader of the Illinois group has been asked by the University of Illinois to start a large sustainable agriculture project which will include more study circles. In Minnesota, the Rodale Institute and the extension leader of the study circle were involved in a University of Minnesota proposal for sustainable agriculture training. The proposal was not funded, but the Minnesota Extension Service may support some of the proposed work including more study circles.
Workshops and Field Days – In the first year a workshop on cover crops for weed control was sponsored, and in the second year a workshop was held on soil health. Both workshops covered new areas of research under study by MFN. The first workshop was jointly sponsored by Land Stewardship Project and a local sustainable farming group. The other meeting was also jointly sponsored by a local farmers group. Both farmers and researchers were invited to speak at the two meetings. These workshops provided farmers with new ideas, allowed farmers to gain experience speaking, and provided opportunities for researchers to meet farmers interested in sustainable farming to get feedback from these farmers.
Field days were held on most MFN farms. The programs at these meetings were similar to those at the workshops and included a tour of the host farm. Working farms are probably the best place to hold meetings because those attending can see the results of new farming practices and experiments. Field days also provide a good atmosphere for informal discussion which can be very productive. MFN field days have moved toward allowing more time for discussion and have less time devoted to speakers.
MFN field days are planned by the farmers and are very much farmer-centered events. Attendance at these field days has remained high even though there has been a big increase in the number of field days covering sustainable farming. Farmers still make up the majority of the people attending, but the number of educators and researchers in attendance seems to be increasing. Some of the educators and researchers have indicated that they appreciate the positive attitude of farmers at sustainable farming field days.
Objective 3. To collaborate in the development and delivery of innovative educational programs and materials relating to sustainable agriculture.
University and Extension educators and researchers were integral to the development and execution of the workshops, Conferences and field days sponsored by MAAEN member organizations over the past two years. The events listed below are but a sample of the wide-ranging educational events resulting from MAAEN-inspired collaborations:
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Collaborative Educational Events
18 Winter Workshops were held in Year Two with approximately 730 attendees, topics included:
• Getting the Most for Your Time, Energy and Acres – Tom Frantzen
• Planting Seeds of Ideas:
– Farms Harvesting the Wind
– Reducing Fossil Fuel Consumption
– Marketing Great Tasting Pork for Health Conscious Consumers
– Collective Marketing of Organics
– Local, Direct Poultry Marketing
• Controlled Grazing
• Ridge Tillage
• Sustainable Hog Production
• Community Supported Agriculture
22 Summer Field Days were held in Year Two, approximately 1065 attending. Farmers were primary presenters on the following topics:
• Making the Transition to Organic Production, Year II
• Grazing Gestating Sows and Gilts
• Controlled Grazing of Dairy Cows
• Cover Crops
A collaboration with Rodale Institute, the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. One Ag Research Service professional remarked, “I have learned a lot today!”
• Outdoor Hog Production
Chippewa County Extension and the MDA joined the SFA to monitor animal condition, profitability as well as publicity to attract 70 farmers.
• Managed Grazing of Cattle and Streambank Improvement
A broad coalition of groups involved in biological monitoring participated in this event. They include the University of Minnesota, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Land Stewardship Project.
• Management Intensive Grazing of Sheep
• Controlled Grazing and Annual Medics
• Annual Medic Test Plots
These medic field days were both in collaboration with U of M forages professor Craig Shaeffer; news article attached.
• Ridge Tillage
• Biologicals and their Relation to Soil Health
• Pasture Poultry
• Flame Weeding
• Direct Market Chickens and Berries
• Holistic Resource Management
6 meetings of the Western Minnesota Chapter’s Graziers Circle were held, attracting between 15-50 individuals. (See “Our Learning Circle.)
6 Chapter Annual Meetings were held, attended by approximately 380, featuring farmers, clergy, researchers and a rural sociologist as presenters. A variety of panels addressed
rural community sustainability.
A state annual meeting was held, attended by 140. One participant’s evaluation: “I always go away from these SFA events with renewed energy and excitement about farming.”
State SFA Annual Meeting Workshops featured:
• Holistic Resource Management
• Managed Grazing for Livestock Enterprises
• Alternative Market and Processing Systems
• Strategies for Beginning and Restarting Farmers
• Diversified Farming: Changing from Monoculture
Even more so in year two of this project, university and extension educators and researchers were integral to carrying out many of the aforementioned programs. Their expertise has been identifying needs and developing workshops, field day preparations and publicity. Local agents have included events in their weekly newspaper columns and radio shows. Co-sponsorship has taken a more integrated turn, with local agents realizing the potential of sustainable methods for keeping farmers and resources intact. Researchers have acted as conveners of farmer-identified research projects, presenters at workshops, field days and annual meetings.
A new collaborative relationship was established in year two with the Southwestern Technical College by jointly planning and sponsoring a workshop/field day on management intensive grazing.
The SFA has continues to cooperate with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s as the local support and publicity agent for grant projects funded through the department’s Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program.
Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society
Collaborative Educational Events
The NPSAS 1993 Winter Conference drew an attendance of 175 in Jamestown. Farmers and researchers spoke in panels about “Integrating livestock as a sustainable solution,” “Building an alternative food system,” “Building sustainable communities and homes,” “Building diversity on the farm.” Keynote speaker was Dr. William Heffernan, head of the sociology department at the University of Missouri. In a continued emphasis on holism, we also invited essayist and English professor Paul Gruchow, Carlton College.
1994’s annual Winter Conference involved a partnership with NDSU extension for the first time ever, working together on the planning, co sponsoring the event, collaborating on publicity and involving several university researchers in the workshops. There was excellent coverage from state and regional ag media. The extensive media coverage made up in part for the reduced attendance due to a major winter storm that blocked the interstate for two days. We had panels of farmers and scientists discussing crop rotation, residue management, pest management, bio-control, Bison as an alternative livestock and the North Central Region SARE mini grants available to farmers. Extension was able to video tape two of those workshops, including the SARE mini grant workshop for use by farmers. The humanities was represented by both Tom Isern, dean of humanities at NDSU talking on Plains Folklore, and Dr. Val Farmer, rural family psychologist. Attendance numbered only 80 due to the storm.
During the summer, the NPSAS collaborates with other groups in carrying out educational events. In 1993 a summer field day was held with morning workshops and an afternoon farm tour drawing 75 farmers to view the diversified farm of David and Dan Podoll. In the summer of 1994, the NPSAS joined the Carrington Research Extension Center’s field day, followed by a focus session on sustainable agriculture.
Outside of these major winter and summer events, the NPSAS continues to conduct outreach that includes such things as Marketplace a North Dakota event attracting nearly 2,000 people last year (a winter storm cut the attendance in half from expectations). The NPSAS was invited to a South Dakota Ag Expo in December of 1993. We were also part of a panel on sustainable agriculture at a meeting of the Midwestern Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
In 1994, the NPSAS was also involved in the planning of a sustainable ag day in northwestern Minnesota which involved extension specialists in two clusters and the Catholic/Lutheran Rural Life Commission. NPSAS members were presenters, as well as part of the planning team. 1994 weather once again reared it’s head, cutting attendance to about 45. Preregistration was 80 for this first attempt at holding a sustainable agriculture event in northwestern Minnesota.
An outreach to South Dakota was also begun in 1994 to build networking with extension and other organizations in the state. Our January 1995 conference will be held in Aberdeen, SD, with our usual combination of farmer and university presenters.
Working with North Dakota extension in planning the 1994 Winter Conference, and Minnesota extension for the northwestern Minnesota conference, was beneficial for the program being developed. Drawing upon their support services and dissemination network increased the exposure to the advance publicity. The development of workshop ideas expands both parties NPSAS contributing farmers experienced in sustainable techniques with researchers and extension specialists. In some cases, those university specialists are in tune with sustainable thinking. In other cases, it was the beginning of a dialogue on sustainable concepts.
Our South Dakota presence has been slowly growing in the past few years. Previously, our major contacts have been with a handful of researchers. We are beginning conversation with extension and furthering our outreach in South Dakota.
Kansas Rural Center – Collaborative Educational Events:
1. Sustainable Agriculture Conferences. KRC met with four county agents to plan a series of four conferences and one workshop on sustainable agriculture for farmers in the fall of ’92. Jost met with county agents Gilbert, Maxwell, Johnson, and Hibdon concerning each respective workshop. One meeting for each workshop was conducted. Each workshop involved KSU extension, local farmer(s), and an out of state farmer as presenters. Fred Kirschenman and Carmen Fernholz were the out of state farmers. 195 people attended the workshops.
2. Wildlife and Sustainable Agriculture Conference. This day long conference focused on a variety of agriculture and wildlife issues, ranging from the Endangered Species Act, biodiversity, managing herbicide usage, forestry and water quality protection, wildlife benefits of sustainable farming practices, as well as other practices any farmer should use to benefit wildlife. The planning team included Charles Lee, KS Dept. of Wildlife and Parks; Robert Henderson, KSU Animal Damage Control Specialist; David Pace, county agent; and Reznicek of KRC. Representatives from Extension, KS Dept. of Wildlife and Parks, Kansas Biological Survey, and KRC gave presentations. 45 people attended.
3. Low input hog workshops. Seven individuals provided input into two educational workshops on low input hog production in the spring of 1993. Mark Honeyman from Iowa State university and Robert Goodband from KSU talked about low input hog systems. The input from the farmers (Joe Vogelsberg and Darrell Parks) was gathered from personal conversations. Reznicek from KRC met with the county agents (Jody Holthaus and Frank Shoemaker) to gather their input. Input from Honeyman and Goodband was made by phone conversations. Sixty four people attended the workshops. One county agent remarked to a third party that he was embarrassed that KSU couldn’t provide the kind of information that was presented from Iowa State University.
4. Rotational Grazing Workshop. This day-long workshop held in the fall of ’93 focused on assessing the benefits and challenges of intensive rotational grazing, and how to plan, develop and implement rotational grazing systems. The planning team included Terry Montgomery, David Shafer & Alice Dobbs, farmers; Jim Gerrish, Assoc. Prof., Forage System Research Center in Missouri; Willie Kilmer, Custom Fencer and Fencing Consultant; and Reznicek of KRC. David Key, county agent, and Eldon Schwant, county SCS supervisor assisted with publicity. 37 people attended the workshop. After the workshop that day about 8 people toured Terry Montgomery’s grazing set up. Several people who attended the workshop have begun in ’94 to implement intensive rotational grazing on their own farms.
5. Urban Consumer Education on Sustainable Agriculture. Five “learning circle” meetings were held to design a series of public events directed towards the urban public about sustainable agriculture and eating locally grown foods. The planning team included Wayne & Sandy White, sociologist, teacher and farmers; Sarah Dean, accountant and farmland owner; Bob & Joy Lominska, teachers and farmers; Paul Johnson, farmer; Ron Schneider, attorney; and Jost of KRC. Others included a city commissioner from Kansas City, a local attorney, rental owners, college professor, nurse, several children, a curator of the local museum of natural history, local environmental leader and a graphic artist. These “learning circles” were presented a variety of media presentations, a cooking class, and local foods to test their responses in the development of educational activities to non farm consumers. 120 people attended one public event that included a gourmet buffet of locally produced organic foods with a presentation on sustainable agriculture. The next year several of the individuals listed above were part of a development team to host a series of public events that included a nationally recognized chef and an author.
6. Kansas Organic Producers Annual Meeting Workshops. As part of its December 1993 annual meeting program, the Kansas Organic Producers, with collaboration from the Eastern Kansas OCIA chapter, the Kansas Rural Center, and KSU, offered the following 8 workshops: Cooperative Marketing, Planning Crop Rotations, Organic Market Gardening, Getting Certified Organic, Wildlife & Hunting Management for Farmers, Organic Fruit Production, Non chemical Weed Control in Field Crops and Soil Fertility in Organic Systems. The planning team included KOP board members/farmers; Joe Vogelsberg, KS Organic Producers; Greg Stephens, KSU faculty; and Reznicek of KRC. The workshop presenters were individuals and teams of farmers specializing in the topics. A KS Dept. of Wildlife & Parks rep. presented the wildlife and hunting workshop. Between 50 and 60 people attended.
7. “From the Good Earth” Food and Sustainable Farming Event. Over 1,000 people participated in this day long consumer education event in Lawrence, KS on September 17, 1994. Various activities highlighting the day included: food tasting featuring various chefs’ creations using local meat and produce, farm visits, a forum for growers and chefs, gala dinner featuring local produce and hosted by nationally known chef, Alice Waters, and a multimedia event and speeches featuring Michael Ableman and Wes Jackson. The Lawrence, Kansas City and Topeka papers provided prominent coverage of the event. The planning team included the same participants as listed above in the urban consumer sustainable ag. education event, with prominent roles served by KRC and the KU Museum of Natural History.
8. Collaboration on Workshops for the Kansas Organic Producers Annual Meeting is occurring again in 1994. The planning team is the same as last year. Workshop topics include: Value Added Meat Production & Marketing, New Coop Development in the Great Plains, Pasture Poultry, Beef Record Keeping Systems, Planning Crop Rotations for Field Crops, Organic Certification & KOP Cooperative Marketing, and Soil Building Cropping Systems for Vegetable Crops. Three KSU Extension staff will present workshops, along with several farmers. Bill Welsh from Lansing, Iowa will give a presentation on his family’s production and direct marketing of poultry, pork and beef.
9. Training in Co-op Development. This event is in the initial planning stage with a target date for a day long workshop in January 1995. Several groups have either begun or are considering cooperative marketing ventures. The general purpose of the training is provide pertinent information on key co-op development issues and to afford the participants from the different groups the opportunity to learn more about what each of the groups is doing. Those providing input to this point include KS Organic Producers board members and farmers; Joe Vogelsberg, KOP; Annie Wilson, grass fed beef producer; Dan Nagengast, vegetable producer; David Barton, KSU Co-op Extension Specialist; and Reznicek of KRC.
Kansas Rural Center — Joint Planning Sessions
1. Development of the Heartland Sustainable Agriculture Network funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Integrative Farming Systems Initiative. A twelve member learning circle representing a multi disciplinary team investigated and develop a new educational project that will organize and develop community based farmer clusters around sustainable farming systems. Team members include four farmers (Darrell Parks, Jim & Lisa French, Bruce Larkin); two KSU ag economists (David Norman & Penny Diebel); one KSU Extension (Kok); one KS Ag. Dept staff (Charlie Griffin); one from the Kansas Center for Rural Initiatives (Carol Peak); one from the Land Institute (Tom Mulhern); and one from KRC (Jerry Jost). Through 13 meetings in late ’92 through ’93 this “learning circle” developed and secured funding for a four year project to conduct on farm trials, educational initiatives, and farmer-to-farmer networking.
This planning team or “learning circle” continues to meet regularly to select the farmer clusters, provide ongoing advise to the project coordinator, evaluate the development and outcome of the project, and provide other assistance. Twelve community clusters of farmers were selected in March ’94. Members of these clusters have defined what activities they will undertake and are now in the process of conducting their specific projects. The focus of the clusters include intensive rotational grazing, use of cover crops, vegetable production and marketing, cooperative marketing development, improving wheat quality, and pasture hog production. Cluster participants are linked to members of other clusters in the “Heartland Network”, which will identify issues, resource needs and other factors common to all of the clusters.
2. KSU Sustainable Ag. Symposium. In April 1994 Kansas State University and KRC co sponsored KSU’s first Sustainable Ag. Symposium. The planning group for this symposium, formally called KSU’s Agriculture, Water and Environmental Forum, included several KSU staff along with Jerry Jost of KRC. The symposium speakers included sustainable ag leaders from several states, attracted several leaders in Kansas government, and many leaders from KSU, Kansas farm organizations, faculty, and various other organizational staff, along with many farmers. Total attendance was about 250.
3. Ninnnescah Watershed Non point Source Water Pollution Prevention Project. This is a joint planning project initiated in 1993 to develop a Section 319 EPA proposal to address non point source pollution problems, i.e., sedimentation and phosphorous buildup, at Cheney Reservoir, which is a major water source for the city of Wichita, KS. The planning team includes Lisa French & Marian Krehbiel, farmers; Lyle Frees, USDA; Fran Bennett, KS Dept. of Health & Environment; Kerri Wenzel and other staff and officials with SCS; City of Wichita Water Dept. staff and officials; and Dan Nagengast of KRC. EPA approved funding for this three year project, which will work with at least 10 farmers in the watershed to test, demonstrate and educate farmers and others on livestock management and crop production practices that reduce runoff, siltation and phosphorous loading. Activities will include on farm trials, demonstrations and farm tours.
4. Clean Water Farms Project. This is a joint planning project initiated in early 1994 to develop a farming practices proposal to deal with agriculture and water quality issues in ten to twelve targeted watersheds. The planning team includes Don Snethen & Scott Satterthwaite, KS Dept. of Health & Environment; Don Huggins & Paul Lichti, KS Biological Survey, and Dan Nagengast, Jerry Jost and Mary Fund of KRC. Advisory contacts have also been made with several staff at KSU Extension and the KS Dept. of Wildlife and Parks. The goal of this project is to increase the number of farmers adopting farming practices that will have minimal impact on Kansas’ water resources and increase consumer awareness of clean water farming practices and products. Over five years the project proposes to establish on farm demonstrations of 32 clean water farming practices within targeted watersheds, provide a network for information transfer from farmer to farmer and the general public, and evaluate the effectiveness of specific farming practices on reducing agricultural non point pollution. Funding approval for this project is still pending.
5. Kaw Valley Heritage Project. This is a joint planning project which seeks to view the agricultural, cultural, economic and natural resources of the Kansas River Valley as a whole, with the goal of maintaining open space in a landscape threatened by urban encroachment. The agricultural component will seek to increase the value of farm land, as farm land, by promoting the growth of high value crops for direct market into the cities along the Kaw. Other groups in the project include the Kansas Land Trust, the Kansas Biological Survey, Kansas University School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the City of Lawrence, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Baker University, EPA and the National Park Service. Grant proposals have been submitted. If the project is funded, over a period of two years the project will establish at least two clusters of organic market gardeners operating subscription services, and increase the amount of organic production in the valley by 15%.
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
The major educational events presented by NSAS over the past two years were the Western Nebraska Conference and the Annual Meeting mentioned above. Both these meetings are opportunities for like-minded farmers and non-farmers to network and share production ideas and organizational information. There is usually a good mix of institutions and farmers. In addition, a number of college students attend and can get to see another side of agriculture than what might be seen at other meetings. The meetings are designed to have keynote speakers followed by concurrent workshops.
In addition to the meetings and workshops listed in our first annual report, the following collaborative educational events were sponsored by the NSAS in 1993 and 1994:
Topic – Location – Date:
• Alternative Farming Styles Tour – Gage & Jefferson – Sept 93
• Seminar on Sustainable Ag. – Fremont – Fall 93
• Pest Biological Control – Knox, Holt Co. – Dec 94
• Pest Biological Control – Cedar County – Feb 94
• Sustaining Farms/ Communities in High Plains – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Rural Solid Waste Management – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Beginning Farmer Programs – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Role of Ag in Economic Development – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Holistic Resource Development – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Micro Loan & Rural Enterprise Assistance – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Marketing & Organic Crop Certification – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Rotations & Legumes in Dryland Systems – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Biological Control of Weeds – Western Conf. – Jan 94
• Sustainable Agriculture & Quality of Life – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Community Supported Agriculture – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Biological Control of Thistles – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Grass Fatting of Cattle – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• What Farmers Should Do With Their Wastes – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Pick your Own Operations – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Rural Recycling – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Panel Discussion on Crop Rotations – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Cooking with Whole Grains – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Low-cost Farrowing & Feeding Hogs – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Manure & Compost Management – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Designing a Diverse Farmscape – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Growing & Marketing Herbs – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Wool Yarn Spinning & Knitting – Annual Meeting – Feb 94
• Linking Communities to Agriculture – Columbus – Mar 94
• Young Farm Tour – McLean – Jun 94
• Larson Farm Tour – St. Edward – June 94
• Wiesler Grazing Tour – St. Helena – July 94
• Buell Grazing Tour – Bassett – July 94
• Hennings Grazing Tour – Wausa – July 94
• Rahn Grazing Tour – Atkinson – July 94
• Tikalsky Grazing Tour – Niobrara – July 94
• Kube CRP Tour – Crofton – July 94
• Paulson CRP Tour – Laurel – July 94
• Wieseler CRP Tour – St. Helena – July 94
• Bereuter Ag Advisory Board Meeting – Concord – Feb 94
• Testimony, House of Representatives – Washington D.C. – Apr 94
Rodale Midwest Farmers Network
Collaboration and Cooperative Events
Every event planned by MFN includes some participation by researchers and educators. MFN has a history of inviting educators and researchers to meetings, and this policy has resulted in the development of much good cooperation between MFN and agricultural experts. Farmers in MFN have learned that some agricultural experts are very interested in sustainable farming. These experts seem to be encouraged to do more work on sustainable practices when they meet farmers who have a strong interest in this type of farming. By developing cooperative relationships with experts, the farmers gain access to information and the experts get input from farmers.
Under the MAAEN funding, we invited Dennis Warness from the University of Minnesota to talk on his work controlling weeds with cover crops. Dennis recruited farmers to cooperate in his research at this meeting. At the soil health meeting Debra Allen, another University of Minnesota researcher, gained experience speaking to farmers about her new area of research and impressed the farmers by talking about cooperative work she has started doing with farmers. Laura Delind from Michigan State University participated in a MFN policy workshop, spoke at a field day, and helped with a proposal to fund more study circles. Laura is helping MFN learn about local food systems. Each farmer in MFN works with several agricultural experts who are willing to speak at meetings or help with research
Perhaps the single largest benefit that MAAEN’s work provides an example of how the Land Grant University and Extension community can cooperate and collaborate with grassroots, farmer-based non-profit organizations in the design of sustainable agriculture research and the dissemination of those research results through participatory education programs.
The example of MAAEN’s work with Kansas State University has been particularly positive. The Kansas Rural Center (KRC) staff believes that KSU staff who participated in learning circles and planning teams have grown in status within the University because of their work with the KRC. In addition, the big success of some of these joint efforts, such as KSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Symposium, has helped bring about the hiring of Rhonda Janke (noted for her sustainable ag work at Rodale) as a KSU extension agronomist.
MAAEEN’s use of learning circles and joint planning teams seems to have helped move sustainable agriculture beyond Kansas research instituitons and into an organizational and institutional building mode. The farmers who have adopted sustainable farming practices some time ago are now focusing on cooperative, organic and direct marketing of grains, livestock and vegetables. As farmers cooperate more on marketing, they also find ways to cooperate more with production, such as joint equipment purchases, grain storage and cleaning, labor sharing, along with greater information sharing. Such cooperation in turn gives farmers newly interested in sustainable agriculture another reason to change in addition to cost of production and environmental reasons. In exploring these new production and marketing relationships, farmers more frequently contact university extension staff and staff of other business development and value added organizations.
As a result of MAAEN, the use of joint planning teams presents a good model of institutional collaboration for designing and funding sustainable agriculture related projects.
1. Small, local groups of farmers, cooperatively working on problem solving are much more effective at realizing change, compared to individuals working alone.
2. Changes in farming systems, particularly at the farm level, should focus more on design rather than technology. Two good examples are intensive rotational grazing and the adoption of well designed crop rotation systems. In both instances big changes can occur in landscape appearance, crop mix, nutrient cycling, water usage, marketing and other factors without requiring big changes in kinds of technology other than perhaps reducing a farmers dependence on technology.
3. The organic certification system, when applied properly, is a very good model for educating and assisting farmers in adopting systematic changes in their farm operations. In our view the farmers going through organic certification are most quickly and thoroughly adopting sustainable farming practices and systems.
4. Grazing livestock may exceed cash crop returns regardless of soil fertility and type.
“Have you ever thought of taking some of your good land and seeing what you could do with it as pasture?” — Dave McIver, Farwell, MN
Economic Analysis is not a formal part of MAAEN’s mission, though economic information was extensively presented in organizational newsletters and publications at MAAEN sponsored workshops, conferences and field days.
Changes in Practice — General Trends
Throughout the MAAEN consortium it is apparent that there is strong interest in and adoption of management intensive grazing systems.
Though still small, there is growing interest in adopting organic practices. In Kansas, for example, one local certification chapter saw a 60% one year increase in certification applications. Key practices involved here include legume based crop rotations, improved livestock manure management, non chemical weed control, etc.
Windshield surveys suggest that farmers are tolerating more weeds in their row crops. High herbicide costs and greater awareness of economic thresholds on weed control are probably behind this.
Koenen Dairy, Maynard, Minnesota: Paul, Lynn, Lyle, Sandy, Kenneth and Emma Koenen have all been trained in Holistic Resource Management, programming offered by the Land Stewardship Project. Since first viewing SFA videos on controlled grazing, cover crops and cultural weed control, the Koenens resolved to change their operation. Whereas their conventional dairy operation had relied on hauling all feed to the animals and continuing a reliance on chemicals as a foundation of crop production, things turned around as they became active participants in the SFA Graziers Circle. Profitability has improved as energy is conserved, half the previous amount is spent on manure pumping, and animal health has improved. Consequently life is looking rosier and there is time to approach planning now for the new year.
All of the Rodale’s Midwest Farmers Network farmers are oriented toward constantly improving their farming practices. These farmers serve as important resources to other farmers and answer many questions at meetings, by phone, and by mail. Also, they get some of their ideas from other farmers.
Bennetts – Started planting all of their soybeans no-till into a winter rye cover crop and are planting some corn no-till into a hairy vetch cover crop.
Culps – Using low input methods to control weeds and minimizing use of herbicides and nitrogen fertilizer. Composting hog manure.
Eppleys – Developing organic crop production on part of the farm, established a walnut plantation, and developing a composting facility for waste from a paper recycling plant.
Foggs – Making plans for a store on the farm to sell their organic grains and vegetables and other locally produced food. Fine tuning organic crop production practices.
Fernholzes – Trying new green manures and expanding cover crop use on the farm. Making use of a new computer program for farm management developed by the USDA and farmers.
Hosapples – Started a stocker cattle intensive rotational grazing operation, growing more specialty organic grains, and growing more organic fruit.
Philadelphia Community Farm – Perfecting their production of vegetables and herbs for a Community Support Agriculture operation with 130 shareholders. Extensive educational work.
Stieglitzes – Just moved to the Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey where they are establishing a cattle operation using intensive rotational grazing and other sustainable practices.
Thompsons – Researching many aspects of weed control without herbicides in row crops, and perfecting manure and fertilizer use as well, improving other parts of the farm.
What should a farmer do, or stop doing, based on this project?
Get together with like-minded producers within your locale; support one another in long range goal setting and financial planning; involve ag education professionals; celebrate successes together.
Field crop producers should prioritize the design and implementation of better crop rotation systems. Most farmers believe they have a crop rotation, but there still aren’t many good ones in practice.
Farmers need to develop their managerial and marketing skills for more diversified operations and different markets for many to stay in business.
In sustainable farming it is important to make improvements in using the internal resources of the farm to reduce dependence on purchased inputs such as agrichemicals. One of the most important internal resources of a farm may be the decision making skill of the farmer. Therefore, it is important that farmers learn to make better decisions. They can do this by joining sustainable farming groups and by participating in agricultural education and research.
Farmer Evaluations/ Testimonials
One Kansas dairy farm family, faced with the financial decision either to quit farming or do something different, moved their dairy to management intensive grazing, seasonal dairying, switched crop land to forages, and eventually sold all of their crop equipment. As they made these changes over the last three years, they continue to pay off their debt. This farm recently received the highest vote tally for a county conservation award. They feel they have financially turned their farm around and have improved their quality of life. The only non farm income is 1/4 time paid work one member does for a local church.
One of KRC’ cooperating farmers said: “It took that KRC conference to get her started thinking about sustainable agriculture” he said about his landlord. “After that conference she was ready to try the rotary hoe and lower her chemical use.” Through her new willingness to change, they cut their farm chemical use from $10,000 to $2,000 while maintaining comparable yields with their neighbors.
After successfully marketing certified organic soybeans cooperatively, two organic grain producers commented that if they can continue to get decent organic price premiums for soybeans and begin getting some premiums for other crops, they may give up some of their rented land and concentrate on doing better with the remaining land they farm. However, they wanted to see the land they might give up stay in organic production for the benefit of the coop, so they would want to find a renter who would continue to farm that ground organically.
In the individual MAAEN organization newsletters which accompany this report, there are several stories of how farm families have made changes in practices as a result of MAAEN educational activities.
Producer Involvement over the past two years:
Numbers of growers/ producers in attendance at:
Workshops – 1,740
Conferences – 1,284
Field Days – 3,069
Other Speaking Engagements, learning circles and meetings – 423
Educational & Outreach Activities
Obviously, from the long list of workshops and educational events listed above, dissemination of the latest research and practical, hands-on experience is the primary focus of MAAEN activities. In addition to these educational events, every MAAEN organization publishes a newsletters and other educational materials. Over the past two years, more than 40 issues of these educational newsletters were distributed to more than 3,300 farmer subscribers in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas.
In addition, the MAAEN network includes the substantial resources of the Rodale Institute’s New Farm Magazine to its dissemination effort. In the past two years, at least 14 articles in the New Farm contained information on network farmers distributed to more than 46,000 subscribers and 100,000 readers nationwide.
Videos of workshops are also made available to the farmer constituents of the MAAEN member groups. For example, the NSAS has more than 15 titles of video tapes available for sale of workshops funded by SARE.