We're a month into a new year, and for many of us that means planning for a new growing season....and also, conference season—though this time, without the travel. In this month's updates we're sharing news of a few of those conferences, as well as a new brewer supplier database, farm to school efforts continuing in unique circumstances, and a program tailored to women landowners all about conservation.
We appreciate the opportunity to share these updates with you, and welcome your thoughts. If one of these stories strikes a chord, feel free to let us know!
Carly McAndrews and Bryant Mann didn’t grow up farming, but they gravitated to it. For Carly, it was an interest in farm sustainability that led her to pursue summer farm work while earning her degree in English and film; meanwhile, Bryant trained as an electrician, but by the time he reached journeyman status, he decided he was more interested in food access, developing his green thumb while volunteering with Feed Iowa First. They both ended up working at Echollective Farm in Mechanicsville, Iowa, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now beginning their third year of operating Trowel & Error Farm (yes, they like puns!), they're still in a start-up stage, but they've been working with Farmland Access Navigator Kate Edwards since the beginning of their land access journey—”before we knew where we’d be farming,” said Carly.
Kate helped them when they first started leasing land from Johnson County’s land access program, designed for beginning farmers. “She helped us through applying, looking at our lease, what we should ask and think about in terms of water and other things. She always thinks of things we would never think of on our own,” she explained.
They’ve grown their farm from one acre to two in their two seasons of offering CSA shares and selling through farmers markets; they grow about 40 different types of veggies, and are hoping to grow their CSA membership this year from 30 to 50 members. “Renting has been a good solution for us right now,” Bryant said. They like the camaraderie of farming alongside other farmers in the county-owned land, but expect they’ll eventually outgrow the space there. “It’s nice to talk with Kate about where we want to be in three years. I know she’ll be there to help us think it through because she always is.”
Learn more at their website: www.trowelanderrorfarm.com
And if you're taking part in the Growing Stronger 5-in-1 conference in February, note that Farmland Access Navigator Erin Schneider will be leading a roundtable discussion.
Just in case you thought Bang Brewing was all about making beer, we wanted to share this news of an important initiative they conceived and launched. In partnership with the University of Minnesota, the Organic Brewers Alliance is developing an extensive database of farmers, millers, maltsters and other producers growing things like organic grains, malt and hops, but also other inputs for beer called adjuncts (think honey, fruit, pumpkins, etc).
The unique partnership involves the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), the UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, UMN Extension, the Sustainer's Coalition, the Forever Green Initiative, and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. UMN students are digging into identifying farmers and organic brewers, as well as begin work on a website to house the database.
“We see potential to collectively share our resources, connect our various producers, and to lay the groundwork for cooperative purchasing where possible," Sandy explained in a recent article. "Our motivation is to make it easier for other brewers, producers, and ultimately consumers that are interested in organics to opt in.” The website will feature a searchable national map, discussion forum, and information about the importance of sustainable farming practices like cover crops and crop rotation.
The game-changer here is that brewers will have a go-to place for connecting with farmers—in turn, new connections mean that farmers will be more willing and able to plant specific crops, knowing that there will be a market for them.
Read more about the Organic Brewers Alliance on page 9 of the November/December MOSES Organic Broadcaster.
Emerging Farmers Conference
Renewing the Countryside has been a part of planning and putting on the Emerging Farmers Conference for a few years, and is excited to see it go virtual this year. The event kicked off with a Wednesday evening panel that featured three farmers discussing their experiences with conservation support, funding, and resources (see the recording at the link above).
The conference is a program of Big River Farms, and provides language interpretation in Swahili, Spanish, Hmong, Karen, Burmese, Kirundi, Nepali, Arabi, Mai Mai/Kizigoua, and Somali. Originally named the Immigrant & Minority Farmers Conference, it serves to advance the success and sustainability of farmers who traditionally face barriers to the education and resources necessary to build profitable agricultural businesses. The 16th annual event features four panels Wednesday through Friday, and a full day on Saturday.
Farm to School & Early Care
Renewing the Countryside has been active in the Farm to School and Farm to Early Care Education space for many years. Recently, we’ve partnered with the Minnesota Farmers Market Association (MFMA) and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) on an initiative that coordinates bulk sales of produce from farmers’ markets to local schools and hospitals—calling it a Farmers’ Market Food Hub.
We expanded the effort to an additional eight communities, and now, three years into this project, we have established a cohort of markets that are running Farmers Market Hubs. Along the way we have developed materials that can be used by these and other markets – including “how to” documents, templates, and fact sheets. While the project has taken twists and turns with COVID, a key component of advancing the work was introducing an online sales platform as the mechanism for farmers to sell to their institutional customers.
Related work we’ve done in these same communities was geared towards providing training and resources for school gardens and with food service staff in collaboration with The Good Acre.
This work continues around the state, and we’re looking forward to our Chisago City Farm to School Networking event February 3rd with foodservice professionals, who’ve demonstrated a commitment to local foods in the midst of a year when foodservice looked completely different. There will also be a culinary training scheduled for February 25th with the MN School and Nutrition Association for the SE Region.
As always, you can follow along with food activities for kids on our Farm to Early Care Blog.
Women in Ag
With a long-standing commitment to conservation and land stewardship, Wisconsin women landowners and farmers share a love for the land that binds them together. Some have adopted conservation practices and can serve as beacons of guidance, while others are seeking information and connections to nurture their land for generations to come.
Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC) is a new project working to amplify and expand conservation practices and assistance, funded by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The unique three-year initiative utilizes a team of regional coordinators to facilitate educational workshops, field days, mentorships and regional summits. Coordinators will focus their outreach on geographic areas defined as clusters of three counties each, as shown in the map here. They will support conservation plan development and implementation, thus helping women landowners’ increased awareness of NRCS programs, along with building relationships with agency staff at the local level. Workshops will be offered virtually for this year, expanding to more in-person events when possible.
If you are a Wisconsin woman committed to conservation and curious to learn more from other women in the state, this project is for YOU! The WiWiC website, WiWic.org, has just launched, and you can follow @wiwomenconservation on Instagram & Facebook and sign up here to receive WiWiC information and updates.
The project is led by Michael Fields Agricultural Institute with partner organizations E Resources, Inc., Renewing the Countryside (RTC), Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU). If you have questions about the project, please contact RTC’s regional coordinators: Sara George ([email protected]) for Pierce, Pepin and Buffalo Counties; Elena Byrne ([email protected]) for Vernon, Crawford, and Grant Counties.
Blazing Trails through the Jungle of Food Regulations
Devon Ballinger worked with Blazing Trails’ presenter Brett Olson to research and obtain a Wholesale Food Manufacturers license for “The Basic Place” bakery in January 2021.
The food regulatory landscape in Minnesota is complex, but there are pathways for farmers and other local food entrepreneurs to sell what they grow and make – and for local businesses and institutions to buy it.
This training is free and open to anyone! Learn how federal, state, and local laws and agencies interact in the realm of food licensing. Understand the basics of food regulation to ensure food safety. Gain insight on how to navigate the system and how to access help if you get stuck.
We especially invite Extension and SHIP educators, community organizers, farmers’ market managers, farmer organization leaders, school board members, school food service directors, economic development staff, public health staff, health care facility administrators and food service directors, community or school garden coordinators, grocery store and restaurant owners, farmers, and food makers.
Blazing Trails is a 4-hour workshop that will be offered live via Zoom on six days in February, provided through collaboration of Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, and Renewing the Countryside.
Attend any of the six; all trainings cover the same material. Details at the link below.
We continue to invite you to donate and to consider becoming a sustaining donor if you haven't already. Your generosity makes a big difference in the sustainable finances of a small non-profit organization like RTC!
We build awareness and support for these initiatives by collecting and sharing stories of rural renewal, providing practical assistance and networking opportunities for those working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban and rural people.