As this goes to print, we're still reeling from the pain and unrest following the murder of George Floyd. We stand with the communities in Minnesota, our nation, and around the world, looking to improve the ways we treat others. We stand for justice, peace, and an end to racism.
On Wednesday of last week, we convened with supporters on Zoom for a "Streamathon"—consisting of four 15-minute sessions throughout the day. Well, okay, most of them went a bit longer, but the point was to keep it short and on-message. What was the message? As a small nonprofit, we need community and financial support to run our innovative programs and we strive to remain connected to fellow enthusiasts of local food and farming. So, each of our four sessions was designed to describe our work in one of four select program areas: Artisan Grains, Farm to School and Early care, Farmland Access, and the FEAST! Local Foods Network.
Read on for updates on those programs, plus an update from Lisa Kivirist, our Soil Sisters/Women in Ag lead.
Renewing the Countryside employs nine Farmland Access Navigators across Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin who work one-on-one with beginning farmers to help them secure farmland.
The Navigators have been busy, and when we pulled the data together we were excited to see that 33 farmland access clients have found successful arrangements—including purchases, leases, and handshake agreements. Another 33 have arrangements in progress, for a total of 66 clients helped, most of which are shown in the map above. In addition, there are 11 other clients who received guidance and are either on hold, re-envisioning what they want, selling, or no longer engaged in this plan. That, in an of itself, is significant; farming is hard work, and requires a lot of thought into markets and business planning, so if the Navigators can help think those things through before a financial commitment has been made, that's helpful, too.
To hear a bit about this program directly from some of the Navigators, tune in to Streamathon recording #3—it's the one with the Kazoo-a-palooza!
Our work in the grains value chain involves a range of people, from agronomy researchers and farmers, to bakers, brewers and distillers—as we recently discussed in Streamathon session #1.
In Minnesota, we're excited about the progress with Kernza®, a perennial wheat developed with the leadership of scientists at The Land Institute in Kansas and the Forever Green Initiative at the U of M. Kernza is regenerative for the soil in numerous ways. Its roots can grow 10 feet down, breaking up the subsoil, for one thing!
If you're interested in more detail about how Kernza works for a farm system, we recommend this interview with Luke Peterson from the Artisan Grain Collaborative. Luke and his family operate A-Frame Farm, a 500-acre diversified organic farm in Madison, Minnesota.
The photo shown here is from the videos Luke shared in April when he did an AGC Instagram Takeover for a day (available on Instagram @artisangraincollab).
FEAST! Local Foods Network
Did you know there's now a website you can visit to search for local products from our region? GetLocalBrands.com has just launched, and will be adding more and more businesses as time goes on.
That's good, because our COVID Impact Survey shows that 90% of our regional food businesses have seen sales decline from the pandemic. They have lost the ability to interact with customers and provide samples, which is important even for those who've found a place on store shelves.
One bright light in the social distancing changes has been the increased appreciation for local farms through CSA (community supported agriculture). We talked to Keewaydin Farms, a Wisconsin CSA that has ramped up to meet demand. Along the way, they document farm life with an entertaining and informative series called "Dear Farm Journal."
Read online: FEAST! Local Foods Scoop e-newsletter
Farm to School & Early Care
Whether you're a child care provider, or a parent at home with young children, here are a few resources that you might find useful as the gardening season gets rolling.
Did you miss our School & Community Gardens during Covid-19 webinar early this month? Please feel free to check out the video on our blog above!
Also on the blog, some very fun hands-on activities your little ones will love, including this great Seed Tape How-to!
Also, a reminder that the National Farm to School Network has compiled an extensive directory of resources for schools, farmers, and others to help navigate the challenges of COVID-19. It's being updated frequently, so if you know of a resource to add, they welcome input!
Women in Ag
“Please come and bring a dish to pass.”
We women in agriculture share those words of welcoming hospitality frequently, especially during the social summer months. We know first-hand the power of the potluck and that much more takes place beyond what’s on the plate. People connect, stories are shared and communities strengthen, all thanks to a layered casserole dish in a 9x13 pan if you live here in the Midwest.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on this summer’s typical potluck scene. While we’re all hopeful to see the potluck return in the future, for the time being we need to reinvent. Good news: creative reinvention is something we women thrive in. We have a knack for seeing new solutions and options, from ways to attract pollinators to how to occupy the kids when you have a farm job to do.
Now is the moment to embrace the pivot and draw inspiration from our community of women for tangible ideas and inspiration for new ways to keep the collaborative spirit of the potluck, just creating it in new ways. Seize the spring and all her vernal energy to stretch yourself to try something new, act on a passion and together build community and renew our countryside.
Here are some ideas from the field:
Second Annual Spring Gathering...
...First Annual Streamathon! We had a blast last May at our first annual fundraising event, connecting with friends old and new, sharing updates on the innovative work we've been up to, and finding inspiration in community over local grub.
Although May 2020 looks a bit (or a lot!) different, we wanted to build on the tradition of setting aside time for gathering together. So, on Wednesday, May 27th, we convened on Zoom to hear about exciting updates in the rural development and sustainable agriculture landscape, to see the faces of our community, and answer questions of those who share our drive to renew the countryside.
It was sooo much fun! The screenshot above shows a glimpse of the kazoo orchestra, but we had lots of fun moments, from enjoying our Seven Sundays muesli together, to planting seeds, and sipping tea (or a cocktail!).
Speaking of muesli, guess what?
We have about 10 bags remaining, so we're going to send some to the first 10 people who donate $50 or more from this donation link!
Curious what you missed?
Thank you to the 80+ people who attended and have donated already—it means the world to us!
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!
Renewing the Countryside is a non-profit organization that strengthens rural areas and small towns by championing and supporting farmers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, activists, and others who are revitalizing the countryside through innovative endeavors.
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.