People to People: Sustainable Agriculture Networking for Farmers and Rural Communities

Final Report for LNC96-098

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $97,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $60,800.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
DeEtta Bilek
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
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Project Information


The People to People project is a continuation and expansion of the Sustainable Farming Association of Central Minnesota’s networking and educational programs. The farmer to farmer networking in conjunction with networking with other agriculture organizations, agencies and community events continues to provide opportunities for discussion and solutions for agriculture. SFA of CM is helping to strengthen these relationships through this project.

A. The objective is to provide the moral, practical and information support for farmers who are trying to make changes toward a more sustainable way of farming while improving the quality of life for their families and their community in economical, environmental and social terms. To reach this rather broad goal we have broken our approach into four objectives. The four objectives are Whole Farm Planning, Regional Grazing Networking, developing Markets and Marketing Knowledge, and developing a School Curriculum. Further development of these objectives include dairy, grazing, soil nutrient management, cover crops, agroforestry, integrated whole farm systems, alternative crop production, value-added products, direct and on farm marketing, sustainable living and using solar energy.

B. Methods/Approach to achieve our objectives included whole farm planning meetings, workshops, and pasture walks/field tours in addition to exhibits and presentations at local and statewide events. Individual members of SFA of CM attended other agriculture organization events and reported grazing, marketing, whole farm planning and sustainable living information to the Central Chapter.

C. Results include the development of a videotape resource library. Most activities are videotaped. The videotapes have been incorporated into the SFA of CM resource library for use as requested by interested individuals. Our focus has been on dairy, both goat and cow, grazing and marketing to provide information to farmers and growers when they are unable to attend the events.

Farmers are continuing to collect resource information on adding value to products and marketing a variety of products through the Whole Farm Coop and/or on farm as well as direct marketing. A group of dairy farmers has formed a Graziers group and continue to meet, mentor and share information with one another, both for beginning and advanced graziers.

SFA of CM provides information about opportunities for alternative crop production and value-added products. Hazelnuts and Flour Corn are just a couple of the trial crops being researched by members of the chapter as a result of information accessed through SFA of CM. The Buckwheat Growers Coop, which was formed as a result of information provided through SFA of CM events, has continued to grow and expand to include a variety of crops in addition to processing and exploring marketing opportunities.

The school curriculum has resulted in a 1st and 2nd; grade level coloring book entitled "At Home and At Work With Anna Lid And Her Friends". It provides a story and pictures about the benefits of earthworms. The coloring book has been extremely well received and we have ordered a second printing.

D. Impacts and Potential Contributions include an opportunity for farmers to network with other farmers and farm service providers through the SFA sponsored field days, workshops, and other activities. These events are recognized as a valuable contribution toward a positive, sustainable future for farming, farm families, and rural communities. Farmers have requested more of these opportunities to share ideas and information, encourage each other, and help bring the fun and opportunity back into farming. We are finding the interest in the curriculum great enough to consider developing other sustainable agriculture curriculum in a similar format.

Project Objectives:

The People to People project is a networking project for farmers and other community members interested in sustainable agriculture practices and issues. This project is a "by farmer for farmer" project.

The major goal of this grant has been to continue and expand educational outreach and networking opportunities for farmer members of the Sustainable Farming Association and other interested parties. To reach this rather broad goal, we broke our approach into four objectives. Each objective was worked on concurrently. The four objectives are:

1. Whole Farm Planning - Whole farm planning is an important approach being developed by a number of different organizations as a tool for farmers. The intent is to allow farmers to weigh economic, environmental, and social issues as part of their decision making. We will accomplish this objective by providing workshops and schools in our region. During the life of the grant, we will host a minimum of two Holistic Resource Management schools (three days each) in conjunction with the Land Stewardship Project. We will also sponsor a minimum of six related workshops or field days per year, on such topics as biological monitoring, agroforestry, stream bank protection and improvement, etc. Member farmers who strive to manage their farms under a system that allows them to incorporate economic, environmental, and social concerns in their business and personal goal setting host field days.

2. Regional Grazing networking - There are many grazing groups located throughout the North Central Region. A major portion of the funds from this grant will be made available to farmers and Ag professionals (Extension…) for attending grazing networking meetings in other parts of the region. The funds will provide travel expenses for those attending pasture walks, grazing meetings or workshops. For example, if a group of graziers in Missouri want to attend pasture walks in Kansas they could apply for travel expenses. Funding could be used for in state or interstate travel. With the participation of our grazing collaborators, we will develop the ground rules for fund availability. Also in cooperation with our collaborators, we will schedule "round-robin" grazing meetings during the grazing season, so graziers could go on a two or three day "circuit" of grazing meetings.

3. Developing Markets and Marketing Knowledge - Farmers are interested in recapturing a larger portion of the food dollar. They are trying a variety of methods, from direct marketing to developing value-added cooperatives, but they need a different sort of knowledge base for marketing than for growing. Each year we will present at least two workshops on marketing and markets. Topics will include direct marketing, financing operations and developing business plans, developing value-added products, etc. We will also provide technical assistance to farmers seeking to develop alternative markets by assisting with grant writing, establishing contacts, etc. One example we are currently working on is a grant application to the Agricultural Utilization and Research Institute to investigate alternative product development for buckwheat.

4. Develop School Curriculum - The last major objective is to develop curriculum in sustainable agriculture appropriate for children in grades 1 and 2, grades 5 and 6 and high school. This is a video decade, and we believe that our video work could be an excellent outreach tool for school children. We plan to develop a series of written workbooks and handouts, teach support materials, and videos about sustainable agriculture. Teachers and students from two of our local school districts, as well as students from the Sustainable Agriculture Minor Internship Program at the University of Minnesota will work directly with our farmer members to develop the curriculum.

Our organization has two farmer members who currently record all our functions on video. These members are dedicated to producing quality video. Our productions have enjoyed excellent access to local public television stations, but with improved editing capabilities we will be able to distribute video production to a much wider audience. We will distribute copies of curriculum and the videos to local school districts. With the assistance of ATTRA and NCAT we will make these available to groups around the country. We have also contacted the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Central Educational Network. Both organizations provide broadcast materials for public television stations around the country. Both indicated interests in reviewing videos for possible distribution to member stations.

All of these working objectives promote and enhance environmental stewardship, strengthen rural communities and improve the economic viability of family farms. We believe they meet the stated goals of the SARE grant program.


Materials and methods:

Networking with other agriculture organizations and agencies has been beneficial in planning and follow-through on activities and events. The SFA of CM sponsored farm tours, workshops, discussion group meetings, and exhibits as a means of providing sustainable farming information to interested individuals throughout Central Minnesota as well as other parts of Minnesota. Cooperative efforts with other agriculture organizations and agencies have improved the attendance and enhanced the quality of our activities.

Events were announced to the media and printed articles were collected, copied, filed, and distributed. Identifying a specific contact from a newspaper, TV, or radio station, and developing a professional relationship with members of the media, has helped improve media interest in and coverage of SFA activities.

Locally produced foods were served at events when available with the source of individual food products identified.

We provided farmer profiles, speaker contact information, samples of printed materials, publications, videotapes, and other resources at events, exhibits, and mailings to anyone interested.

Nearly all of SFA of Central MN events are videotaped. These tapes are available for anyone who may have missed an event, but is interested in viewing the content presented at the farm tour or workshop.

The need has been recognized to continue follow-up with interested farmers who attended specific events with an individual, peer-based, educational opportunity. Therefore we have started a “sustainable” diagnostic team approach for dairy and for cropping systems. Identifying producers and service providers who are familiar with sustainable farming methods as team members is important to this peer-based opportunity.

The curriculum objective was pursued through many avenues, including members of school districts, extension educators, farm agencies, and individuals in the private sector, artists, video technicians and other professionals. Videotaped footage from field days, pasture walks and workshops were edited for specific grade level curriculum and artwork and story lines were developed for workbooks.

Our focus was to provide a network for farmer-to-farmer information sharing where farmers can share ideas about farming practices and systems, which can make our farms, families, and communities more sustainable and improve the quality of life for all. SFA of Central MN activities have provided an opportunity for farmers to provide moral support to each other, which brings interest, fun and opportunity back into farming! A New Dawn of Farming!

Research results and discussion:

Whole Farm Planning

The Sustainable farming Association of Central Minnesota has continued to network and sponsor events with the SFA of MN. Attendance of Extension Educators, NRCS / SWCD, DNR, U of M faculty, and other agency personnel has been documented. SFA has emphasized the importance of improved communication between farmer members and agency personnel which has directly resulted in better cooperation and participation from these various organizations and agencies with the SFA activities. In addition to cooperation with Agriculture Utilization Research Institute (AURI), Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) – Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Program (ESAP) and the Whole Farm Planning Working Group, U of M Extension, the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), Sustainable Farming Systems with funding from the MN Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR), the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agriculture Management (CINRAM), Minnesota Agro-forestry Coalition, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Minnesota Project.

Announcing quality events in a personal, professional, timely, and consistent manner has increased media interest in SFA activities. Serving local foods at SFA events has provided the message to prospective attendees that food can and is produced by local, sustainable farmers. It has also provided an opportunity for producers to make direct marketing connections with consumers.

Farmer Travel Funds have helped SFA members to attend events in Minnesota and Wisconsin to network with other farmers and agriculture organizations and to bring back information about grazing, marketing, and whole farm planning to share with other farmers. We have provided an exhibit area at farm shows, locally and statewide, sharing sustainable agriculture information and resources with many people every year of the project. Face to face interaction and networking at these events with other farmers and with service providers has been recognized as a very valuable element to achieving our goals.


Several members of SFA of CM have helped organize the Central Minnesota Buckwheat Growers Association, which now has over 30 members. The Whole Farm Coop, with over 100 members was developed with participation by SFA of CM members. These co-ops direct market value-added products. Gathering of all available data has been and continues to be ongoing. Data has been compiled in a packet of information that is passed out to all interested growers at all events.

The Whole Farm Coop has been interacting with institutions, churches, food co-ops, and individual consumers connecting producers of “sustainable” products with consumers who recognize the value of utilizing these products.
Marketing (Continued): The CMBGA has purchased a grain processing facility and are preparing to process organic certified feed for livestock, i.e., organic dairy and balanced feed formulas for healthy livestock.

A Marketing Directory has been revised and expanded to include individuals and SFA members throughout the state in addition to the Central chapter member/producers. This is distributed at events, exhibits, and in direct mailings. It is an excellent education piece to provide information about Sustainable products. Dairy products - milk, ice cream, butter, Graziers’ Cheese; Pork; Beef; Vegetables – beets, carrots, potatoes; Buckwheat pasta, pancakes, sausage; are some of the products produced by local farmers, which are served at Central SFA events. This is a valuable element to enhance the attendance at events. Local foods taste better! This is also important to the direct marketing goals and objectives of farmers and consumers. This is a Producer-Consumer Link – Making the Connection!


A 1st and 2nd grade curriculum was developed in the form of a 12 page-coloring book depicting the benefits of earthworms and sustainable agriculture. "At Home and at Work with Anna Lid and Her Friends" has been distributed and very well received. Over 3500 copies have been delivered to school districts, extension educators, private schools and community businesses and individuals and special education classes throughout Minnesota. A second printing has been ordered as we continue to receive requests for the coloring book. Although the Curriculum Committee has continued working on taping and editing, working with local teachers, simultaneously implementing development of three levels of video and written curriculum for students, some of the objectives were not met. We were able to produce an Agro-forestry video curriculum for high school students and although the information is excellent, the format and quality could have been better.

The completion of these four objectives has made it possible to meet our goals to promote and enhance environmental stewardship, strengthen rural communities and improve the economic viability of family farms.

Research conclusions:

It has been recognized that utilizing sustainable farming methods, including grazing reduces chemical nutrient amendments such as fossil fuels, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. By reducing these inputs, sustainable farmers are contributing less to the problems in the atmosphere, in the water and in the food that are being attributed to these types of inputs.

The potential exists that given the variety of information provided by SFA of CM in partnership with other farm organizations and agencies, the family farm will have a better opportunity to remain a viable and profitable life-style in Minnesota. With the outreach and networking potential family farms everywhere have an opportunity to receive information that can help enhance their operation as well.

People are constantly becoming more aware of their food, where and how it is produced and processed. We are drawing individuals from all walks of life to our events as they try to find answers, both as consumers and producers. Education is key to the success of the family farm and healthy living. SFA of CM, through this project, has played a major role in providing that education.

Economic Analysis

It has become evident that if sustainable farmers are to realize an equitable net profit on their products, there must be more time spent in marketing these products locally and directly to the consumer. The Central Minnesota Buckwheat Growers Association and the Whole Farm Coop continue to focus on adding value to products produced locally through processing, packaging, labeling these products and marketing them directly to large volume buyers and individual consumers. The SFA of CM Chapter continues to provide workshops that provide marketing, direct marketing and value-added products information and opportunities.

Farmer Adoption

The number of inquiries from farmers interested in transitioning into more sustainable agriculture methods on their farm has continued to increase. Attendance at SFA activities and response to telephone requests are documented.

SFA of Central MN has emphasized the importance of continuing to provide opportunities for teamwork and see our organization as the link to building these bridges. At the same time being aware that the peer educational approach is very effective for many farmers.

Involvement of Other audiences

SFA of CM has worked closely with SFA of MN to develop and implement the Dairy Diagnostic Team Project through funding provided by a grant from the state. The purpose of this project is to assist dairy farmers throughout the state to change to more sustainable farming methods. Also, emphasizing grazing, in order to give the farm family reduced costs, less risk, less work, more net profit improved animal health and a better quality of life using SFA farmer members experienced in sustainable methods as the dairy diagnostic team members. This project was developed specifically from a need that was identified through this SARE R & E project.

Attendees at events have included personnel from NRCS, FSA, Extension, SWCD, DNR, lending agencies, policy makers, the media, as well as other farmers interested in learning about alternative farming methods and systems. Considering farmer service providers has been and will continue to be a priority when developing lists of individuals to be included in event announcements.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

In addition to sponsoring workshops and field days, we have presented information about the Sustainable Farming Association of MN and sustainable agriculture methods and systems at farm show exhibits and at food co-op meetings. Clipping news articles of individual events and distributing copies of these clippings as an information resource. A list has been developed of videotapes of events, which are available to anyone who is interested in learning about the material presented. We hope to do more of this in the future. The coloring book curriculum has inspired several growth suggestions, including developing an Anna Lid "sleeve" puppet to be used as a teaching tool. A copyright application has been submitted for the coloring book and we have requested a quote/bid to produce a prototype using 100% organic cotton, which is available through one of our local producer/members.

We have updated our Membership Brochure and use it extensively at events and in all mailings to first time contacts. The "Marketing Directory", "Membership Brochure" and "Coloring Book Curriculum" along with a list of our videotapes make an excellent information packet for anyone requesting information about sustainable farming and Sustainable Farming Association of CM. The partnering with the SFA of MN and the Dairy Diagnostic project provided postage for mailing the videotapes for an extended period of time. The many partnerships that have developed have helped greatly to enhance our outreach objectives.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

The CMBGA, the Whole Farm Cooperative and the Dairy Diagnostic Team Project will continue to be partner with the SFA of Central MN to better provide information and opportunities to farmers/growers.

There has been interest expressed in the need to coordinate activities of the producers involved in agro-forestry, integrating forestry with crop and livestock production, establishing wind breaks and buffer strips. SFA of CM continues to work with area agro-foresters by sponsoring and coordinating activities to meet these needs.

A great deal of progress has been made in collecting resources for the library, including printed publications and videotapes of farm tours and workshop presentations. A more efficient system to share these resources with more of the producers is being developed.

Networking with others in order to avoid duplicating the work to accomplish the tasks can be achieved if we concentrate on better communication. Steps have been taken through the SFA of MN to develop an information-sharing network. SFA of CM is cooperating in this effort.

Other areas of crop diversity, direct and on-farm marketing need to be explored and pursued. We continue to work with agricultural organizations and grantors to provide ways for grower/farmers to maintain their quality of life and improve their profitability.

As we continue to identify areas of need such as agro-tourism and alternative energy options for agriculture, we will pursue information and ways to address them as a farmer to farmer networking, education and research, sustainable organization.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.