People to People: Enhancing the Quality of Life and Profitability of Family Farms

Final Report for LNC99-161.1

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $58,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $18,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Lynda Converse
Sustainable Farming Assn of Central Minnesota
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Project Information


The People to People project expands the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) 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 Central Minnesota is helping to strengthen these relationships, as those have been the objectives of this project.


Much work has been done by a number of organizations in previous projects and a wealth of information has been learned. This information needs to be shared systematically, cooperatively, and on a broad scale. There are many farmers looking for ways to make changes in their system and they want to learn where to start the process. Many knowledgeable farmers have connected to the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) of Central Minnesota, and have presented their experiences at farm tours and workshops to help other farmers make those changes. Partnering with organizations such as MN LCMR, MDA ESAP, AURI, NRCS, EQIP, Extension, agriculture agencies and professionals, and others, we have achieved our objectives.

Literature Review: Several market studies conducted in recent years have described a sector of the market, comprising about 24% of the U.S. adult population (between 40-50 million Americans), whose purchasing decisions are increasingly guided by their social and environmental values -- clearly the target market sector for sustainable and organic products. This market sector is known variously as the "Cultural Creatives" (Ray 1966), "socially responsible" consumers (Kaagen 1996), and the "new green mainstream" (Hartman 1996). This market is receiving considerable attention from marketing specialists and businesses nationwide.

Biological monitoring has become very valuable toward a whole systems approach to farming. The Monitoring ToolBox will be valuable as a basis for several workshops. Financial monitoring is important to documenting profitability, and when compared to conventional data, can demonstrate the value of alternative integrated crop and livestock systems.

Financial Monitoring with Conventional Data is an important resource to farmers. A source of funding for farmers to implement alternative, integrated, whole farm systems can be applied for through the 1995 Farm Bill (Making the Most of Freedom to Farm).
Projects funded through MDA Energy and Sustainable Agriculture grant program are published in The Greenbook.

Farmers and farm service providers are learning more about goal setting with a whole farm systems approach through field days, workshops, and publications (Whole Farm Planning: What it Takes; Successful Whole Farm Planning; Whole Farm Planning: Combining Family, Profit and Environment).

Grazing systems for livestock and organic crop production are elements in whole farm systems (Knee Deep in Grass; Organic Certification of Crop Production in Minnesota).


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 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.

Six farmers from six different counties are participating and have provided trial sites for "hazelnut research" on a project partnering SFA of CM and the U of M Central Region Partnership. Painted Mountain Flour Corn is another project where partnering between SFA of CM and the Buckwheat Growers Association of MN involves four growers in four counties. These projects, in addition to the dairy, beef, poultry, pork, fruit, vegetable, and herb projects, continue to provide information to farmers as they strive to be "sustainable" producers on the family farm.

The last year of the project, as was recommended by several agencies and organizations, we did not hold field tours or pasture walks anywhere that cloven-hoofed animals were housed. We hosted several workshops and promoted our resource library. Direct Marketing and on farm marketing workshops and conferences, such as the 1st Annual Sustainable Marketing Expo and our first Global Warming Conference, were held to provide farmer/producers with information to better market their sustainable crops, products, and experiences. The combination of the two above-mentioned conferences has now developed into the 2nd Annual Windy River Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Fair, which will be held August 17th, 2002. As is typical in the farming community and as stated by Wendell Berry, "Farmers must seek agricultural solutions to their farm problems, and judge new ideas in agriculture by their ability to create not more unforeseen problems, but more potential solutions."

Farmers were provided with funding to attend events hosted by other organizations, such as Acres Conference, National Organic Conference, Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Fair, MDA Dairy Diagnostic Workshops and Conferences, Buckwheat Growers Association of MN Workshops, and others. Attendance by farmers at events in Minnesota and Wisconsin made it possible 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 had exhibits 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, organizations, and agencies has been recognized as a very valuable element to achieving our goals.

The need has been recognized to continue follow-up with interested farmers who attended specific events with an individual, peer-based, educational opportunity. Oral and written reports are requested from farmers when they attend events sponsored by SFA of CM with SARE funding to help share the information and experience.

The Marketing Directory has been expanded to include sixteen counties, and the plan is to expand it to provide more information about each producer as more and more consumers are wanting a "face" on the products they purchase.

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

Nearly all of SFA of Central MN events are videotaped. These tapes are available for members and non-members interested in viewing or reviewing the content presented at the farm tour or workshop. We have had many requests for copies of videotaped field days and pasture walks, speakers, workshops and conferences. Other organizations have asked us to videotape their events as well and we have provided this service whenever possible, which has provided more in-kind and partnering opportunities.

It was realized early on that the ability and funding needed to continue to develop a three-part curriculum was underestimated. We were however, able to develop a first and second grade-level coloring book curriculum. "Annelid and Her Friends" has been extremely well received. The response to the first printing of 5,000 copies dictated a second printing of 5,000, 12-page coloring books. All 10,000 copies have been distributed to schools, businesses, and area producers throughout Minnesota and several other states. We are considering another printing, as funding is secured, or a new book with a different message relative to sustainable farming or renewable energy.

Our focus is 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 morale and support to each other.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Whole Farm Planning - Continue to sponsor workshops and field days in Central Minnesota. Highlight resources and information learned from current USDA SARE, MDA ESAP AURI POR, LCMR and other funded projects as topics and speakers for events, including alternative and integrated crop and livestock systems, agroforestry, forest management, soil nutrient and manure management, cover crops, biological monitoring, and stream bank protection. We will serve local foods at events; co-sponsor at least two additional events each year, as a cooperative effort with other individuals and organizations; develop a database of SFA members, other individuals, organizations and agencies as potential partners, collaborators and resources of project information already learned; gather data from and disseminate through at least two of 12 SFA chapters in Minnesota; continue to submit a Central Chapter section in The CornerPost (SFA of MN newsletter); and follow-up with event attendees by providing an individual, peer-based, educational, "sustainable" diagnostic team approach for dairy and cropping systems, identifying producers and service providers who are familiar with sustainable farming methods as team members.

Objective 2: Farmer Travel - Continue to provide travel expenses for those attending farm tours, workshops, planning meetings, and events on a variety of topics in other areas of MN, WI, ND and SD. Farmers using these travel funds will continue to bring back information to share with others. Provide sustainable farming information through exhibits and presentations at events and farm shows sponsored by other organizations.

Objective 3: Develop Markets and Marketing Knowledge - Continue to assist farmers with organization support and in developing marketing skills. Serve locally produced foods at events. Provide information on the farm that produced the food. Expand the Marketing Directory and continue to distribute through exhibits and mailings.

Objective 4: Videotapes of Farm Tours and Workshops - Complete and distribute the three levels of classroom curriculum. Continue to develop videotaped events and distribute these tapes as an information-sharing tool.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Phillip Arnold
  • DeEtta Bilek
  • Jan Joannides


Research results and discussion:

According to a survey provided by SFA of MN as developed by Christine Vatovec, U of M intern, "Farmer-to- farmer communication is one of the most important tools used by the SFA. Eighty-seven percent of field day attendees reported it as the number one reason why field days are effective. Fifty-six percent of farmers wish to be included in an SFA Marketing Directory, 55% are interested in other marketing opportunities. Sixty-eight percent wish to have their name passed along to "buyers" who are interested in purchasing the farmers' products, and 54% would like their name to be passed along to "sellers" who have products for sale that may be useful to the farmers' sustainable practices. Thirty-nine percent are interested in the possibility of being included in future research proposals. This information has been incorporated into the SFA Members and Associates Database, and will be used to promote networking and the continuation and support of sustainable farming practices in Minnesota.” I have enclosed the above referenced report. Although not technically a piece of this project, the farmers surveyed are the same farmers involved in this project and the results speak directly to the goals and objectives of this project.

Research conclusions:

The top five reported reasons for adopting sustainable practices as reported in the above noted survey and supported by the evaluations of field days, etc., were: (1) to farm in a way that is better for the environment, (2) produce a higher quality product, (3) pass on productive land to future generations, (4) contribute to changes in the direction of agriculture in the United States, and (5) to reduce input costs. The five greatest barriers to adopting sustainable practices were: (1) greater time requirements, (2) availability of market outlets, (3) greater management complexity, (4) lack of necessary skills, and (5) concerns about weed pressure.

Economic Analysis

While all the results regarding costs, returns, and risks of adopting sustainable practices are yet to be analyzed, the SFA of MN Survey confirms that, "there is a need and desire to create an active dialogue between farmers interested in adopting new practices with those using those practices."

While sustainable practices substantially reduce input costs, reduced production has also been seen and has occasionally been a deterrent to some producers. Marketing is a concern as farmers are not typically experienced in marketing strategies. However, for those who have done the research and found mentors through our events and resources, direct and on-farm marketing has been successful. Co-ops have been formed and farmer-to-farmer networking is flourishing in rural central Minnesota.

The potential exists that, given the wealth 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 lifestyle in Minnesota. With the outreach and networking potential family farms everywhere have an opportunity to receive information that can help enhance their operations.

Farmer Adoption

Farmers are adopting sustainable practices and systems addressed in this project, and are sharing their experiences, successes, and failures with other farmers. We have reached over 500 farmers in the past three years. Each year at our annual meeting, we have better attendance and new faces. We have developed a website this final year of the project, and we have had over 800 hits. We regularly receive requests for information on "how to become sustainable" from producers.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:


The resource library is a work in progress, and a list of the tapes produced through this project is attached. "Match" and "In-Kind" videotapes are also listed and are included in our resource library.
"Annelid and Her Friends" - a coloring book curriculum is enclosed.
Programs, flyers, and evaluation synopses are also included.
We have developed a website and continue to link with other organization, agencies, and producers practicing sustainable and/or organic methods.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

The key to adoption of sustainable practices is continued research and education in sustainable practices. For sustainable farmers to realize an equitable net profit on their products there must be more time spent on educating them about marketing these products locally and directly to the consumer.

Consumers and producers need to connect, as consumers want to know where what they eat comes from and producers want to know what to produce to meet consumer demand.

We can help meet this need by partnering with other organizations statewide and developing a "Marketing Directory" that not only provides resources for products but information and contacts to educate about "sustainable" practices. This connection could be expanded to the web and linked with other sustainable organizations' web sites. Networking with others in order to avoid duplicating the work to accomplish the tasks can be achieved if we concentrate on better communication

Other areas of crop diversity and direct and on-farm marketing need to be explored and pursued. We continue to work with agricultural organizations and grantors to provide ways for growers/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.