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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, flax, oats, potatoes, rye, soybeans, sunflower, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons, apples, cherries, grapes, berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals, trees
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, herbal medicines, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, probiotics, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, grass waterways, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife, hedges - woody
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, cultivation, prevention, smother crops, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, community services, social networks, sustainability measures


    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.

    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.