Final report for ONC18-050
“Growing for Tomorrow” is an educational project that demonstrates the use of traditional Mohican methods of soil preparation combined with modern agriculture applications to create a sustainable growing environment, building biologically diverse and healthy soils while producing fresh vegetables. The Stockbridge-Munsee Community (SMC), Band of Mohican Indians, is an Native American Tribe located in rural North-central Wisconsin.
The Tribe owns 500 acres of agricultural land and most of the soil types are sandy loams. Due to improper farm management of the previous tenants, the land has become depleted of nutrients and organic matter. Over the past ten years the Tribe has developed initiatives in an effort to reconnect SMC farmers with the land and make the soil fertile again.
Food producers will be educated with hands-on learning in an educational growing area. Demonstrations will incorporate soil amendments, such as: compost and biochar. Additionally, organic weed prevention tools, such as, plastic mulch and a flame weeder, will be combined with low tunnel season extension tools. Four crops will be featured in this area including: corn, beans, squash, and lettuce. Educational outreach will be done through field days, a video blog, fact sheets, and an annual case study report.
- Educate local farmers on best management practices of utilizing biochar soil amendments, compost, low-tunnel season extension covers, shade cloth, flame weeding, and plastic
- Host a series of ten farmer-led, hands-on, educational workshops for community members, local farmers, and children on fresh food production and
- Collaborate with local farmers and agricultural experts to identify and implement culturally and regionally- relevant traditional and conventional food production practices to increase the number of local food
- Author electronic and hard-copy educational materials on each production technique, emphasizing design, implementation, maintenance, productivity, and
Educational & Outreach Activities
During the 2018 growing season we had a series of events where people would come out to the learning center to learn about vegetable growing techniques.
Outreach activity 1, May 2018- Tour- Students came out from the College of Menominee to tour and learn about setting up a small scale vegetable farm. During this session we demonstrated how to design landscape fabric for different crops. We also talked about general design of organizing crops, crop rotation, and the challenges of converting a space from row crops to vegetable crops. Farmer consultant Joe Miller also presented information on how he grows vegetables and sets up his growing space.
Outreach activity 2- June 2018- Three Sisters Planting- During this session Dan Cornelius from the Intertribal Agriculture Council demonstrated how to use tools like a BCS walk behind tractor and planting stick to plant a Three Sisters Garden consisting of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Participants were able to use the tractor and participated in planting. Farmer consultant Warren Miller assisted Dan with the planting demonstration and shared how he plants his Three Sisters Garden and why he saves his seeds.
Outreach activity 3- July 2018- Weeding Alternatives- During this session Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, took attendees through the growing space and showed how we had been using different tools to manage weeds. We talked about using landscape fabric and a flame weeder. Class participants were able to gain hands on experience with the flame weeder. Farmer consultant Warren Miller also shared how he controls weeds on his farm.
Outreach activity 4- August 2018- Planting Cover Crops- During this session Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, demonstrated how to prepare a field space for cover crops and did a planting demonstration. Participants helped plant the cover crops in the growing space and were also given cover crop seed to take home and plant in their own growing space. Agriculture Professional, Jamie Patton consulted on appropriate cover crops for vegetable production.
Outreach activity 5- September 2018- Preparing for Winter- During this session Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, discussed how the growing space was going to be put to rest for the winter. Participants were able to see how difference in the soil that had been planted in cover crops compared to soil that did not have cover crops. Farmer consultant Joe Miller talked about the importance of composting plant waste.
During 2019 we continued the educational events where people could gain hands on experience with preparing fields and gardens for vegetable production, an outline of class activities is below:
Outreach activity 6 – March 2019- Seed Starting Tomatoes and Peppers- During this session, Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, led a demonstration on constructing pots from recycled newspapers and how to start plants indoors. Participants were able to make their own pots and start plants to take home, and learned a sustainable way to start plants. Farmer consultant Joe Miller assisted with the demonstration.
Outreach activity 7 – April 2019- Utilizing Landscape fabric to reduce weeds- During this session, Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, led a discussion on using landscape fabric as a way to control weeds. A fact sheet about landscape fabric was developed and shared with the participants. Participants were able to custom cut landscape fabric for their growing spaces with the help of farmer consultant, Joe Miller.
Outreach Activity 8 – April 2019- Seed Starting: Squash, Melons, and Broccoli- This activity was a networking opportunity for local farmers and gardeners to come together to start plants. Farm Consultant Joe Miller shared some seeds he has been saving with the group.
Outreach Activity 9- May 2019- Home Composting- This session was led by agriculture professional, Alex Brauer, and Farmer Consultant, Jim Resick. Each shared their composting experiences and described how to use compost for growing vegetables. Participants were able to see two kinds of compost piles and learn about the benefits and challenges of each.
Outreach Activity 10- May 2019- Container Growing- During this session, Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, and Farmer Consultant, Joe Miller, discussed opportunities to grow vegetables in containers rather than the ground as an alternative to areas with poor soil conditions and low fertility. Participants were able to start their own vegetables and herbs in containers.
Outreach Activity 11- May 2019- Making Biochar- Farmer, Adam Schulz, led a demonstration on preparing a growing space for making biochar and discussed its benefits. Participants were able to gain hands on experience processing wood into biochar.
Outreach Activity 12- June 2019- Building a Trellis-This activity was was led by Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, and she demonstrated how to build a trellis for crops including beans, peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Participants were able to gain hands on experience building a trellis.
Outreach Activity 13- August 2019- Planting Cover Crops- During this session, Agriculture Professional, Jamie Patton, led a demonstration on planting and growing cover crops in a vegetable production system. She led a discussion on the best cover crops to use and participants helped plant the cover crops and were able to take some seeds home for their own use.
Outreach Activity 14- September 2019- Building Low Tunnels- Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, led a workshop on building low tunnels and shared information on the benefits of low tunnels as a season extension tool. During this session participants were able to build their own low tunnels.
The 2020 growing season set forth some unforeseen challenges due to Covid-19. We were only able to hold one in person educational event before having an extended shutdown due and subsequent restrictions. Even with the Covid restrictions we were able to see an increased interest from community members who wanted to learn more about growing their own food, which provided a number of opportunities to meet one on one with people and create an individualized approach to meeting people questions on growing food.
Outreach Activity 15- March 2020- Seed Starting- Project Coordinator, Kellie Zahn, led a workshop in starting tomato, pepper, and onion seeds. Class participants were able to start their own plants and were given instructions on how to grow them at home and transplant into their growing spaces.
We had a number of people reaching out on wanting to grow vegetables for the first time or the first time in a long time. We were able to connect with a number of people and provide resources on starting small grow operations that ranged from starting herbs inside, to grow bags, to building raised bed gardens.
We also had a number of people who wanted to learn how to make their growing spaces more efficient. We have been sharing information about landscape fabric for the past couple of years and we saw a significant increase to the number of local growers who were using this resource for the first time this year. We also had a number of people interested about the tools we were using and what worked at what didn’t.
Another major educational component we were able to consult with community members on was food preservation. A number of people wanted to know how to properly can their vegetables and we were able to share some great information in the community regarding food preservation.
We also had an opportunity in August to present to over 150 people from across the county about the work that we have started within this grant at the Tribal Lands and Environmental Forum Conference. The conference was online this year, but we were still able to share some photos and information about our program during our session.
If anything the challenges of 2020 showed a greater need for educational programs like this in our community.
Increased knowledge of soil sampling methods
Increased knowledge of properly using a flame weeder
Increased knowledge of planting cover crops
Increased knowledge of using landscape fabric
Increased knowledge of general vegetable growing techniques
Through this project we have been able to educate new farmers farmers on best management practices for vegetable production. Through the development of educational materials, such as videos and fact sheets, as well as hands on field days and workshops, we have been able to educate community members on how they can produce their own local and sustainable food source.
Economic benefits we have been focusing on in year 1 of this project have included making investments in tools to save labor, specifically for weed management. We started diving into this topic because community members said they don’t grow their own food because they don’t have good tools to manage weeds. We were focused on demonstrating ways to over come this obstacle by planting crops in landscape fabric and using a flame weeder compared with traditional hand weeding. Through these demonstrations farmers and community members visiting the educational field were able to see how these systems work before trying them on their own farm. At our demonstrations we share information on the cost of the tools we are using and the labor it took to use them. We found that by using these tools we were able to spend five minutes weeding a space the typically took over an hour. We also developed fact sheets and videos about the methods we were using to share with anyone interested in using these tools. We hope these demonstrations are able to help increase profitability for our producers by being able to gain hands on experience with these tools before investing in them on their own farms.
Our demonstration space also focused on environmental benefits like ways to build soil health. In our demonstration space this started with the basics like taking soil samples. Many producers who visited the demonstration garden were not familiar with how to take soil samples or interpret the results. We wanted to educate the community on why it is important to start with a soil sample before adding amendments like fertilizer to the soil. As part of the project we developed an educational video on how to properly take a soil sample. As another aspect of improving soil health we had a cover crop planting demonstration and sent cover crop seeds home with the class participants. We discussed the benefits of having a diverse cover crop mix, such as mixing plants that can pull nutrients back to the surface and others that can hold those nutrients in place. Many of our producers had heard about cover crops, but didn’t have experience planting them. We also developed a fact sheet about cover crops to share with the community.
During year 2 of this project we focused on tools to help save labor as well as be sustainable for the environment. During educational classes participants learned about garden design and how to manage weeds we landscape fabric. We also talked about making weed free compost and how to manage those piles over time to use in a vegetable production system. Another popular class topic was making and using season extension tools like low tunnels. With a short growing season in Northern Wisconsin, this is a tool that many of our produce growers wanted to learn more about.
A significant challenge in the Stockbridge-Munsee Community is having access to fresh produce and this project can bring a significant social benefit to the entire community. Through this project we want to educate the local food producers as well as the community as a whole that anyone can grow their own food and how they can bring those foods to the market. Through this project we hope that we can encourage more food producers to bring their produce to the local farmers market. During years 1 and 2 of this project we documented produce at the farmers market and the price of those products. We will continue this part of the project have a complete listing together for our final report. We are doing this so producers who are interested in going to the farmers market can see what their income potential is so. It is our hope that this will encourage more producers to bring items to the farmers market so there will be more locally produced food available in the community.
Our food sovereignty committee, which is the sounding board for this project, met at the educational growing site this summer and again over the winter to discuss how to best move forward with this project. The committee was pleased to see the work that had been done and is excited to continue the project in 2020. It was suggested that we look at incorporating other vegetable crops into our project that can store over the winter, possibly some kind of dry bean.