September offers plenty of gorgeous days, perfect for soaking up the sun and cool breeze. But with changing of seasons we often rush around, finishing tasks. Here's hoping you can take some time to enjoy fall colors, crisp air, and end-of-season bounty of apples, pumpkins and all the pretty winter squash popping up at farmers markets.
In this month's Rooster we share gratitude for the valuable connections that have been made and shed light on upcoming events as well. Key among those planning ideas is a farmland access opportunity, just below, that we're very excited and hopeful about. Please enjoy these updates, and as always, we welcome your thoughts.
For years, Singing Hills Dairy has been renewing the countryside, not just by making amazing goat cheese, but by being thoughtful stewards of the land. Lynne Reeck, farmer/owner/cheesemaker, has managed the land in ways that welcome wildlife, build soil health, and protect water quality. She’s done this while also caring for her goats, making delicious goat cheese, and selling her cheese at the Mill City Farmers Market and through CSA shares.
For the past few years, Lynne has been searching for ways to transition her farm to a next generation. Lizy Bryant’s work with Blackland 2020 generated both interest and financial support for a vision to transition the farm to Black stewards, highlighting a larger narrative about the Black, Indigenous, or people of color who have been systematically displaced from land and inhibited from owning farms.
Renewing the Countryside reached out to see how we could help. That conversation, in connection to discussions with American Farmland Trust (AFT), led to an exciting plan that has potential to be a game changer in getting BIPOC and beginning farmers on the land in a way that protects farmland and provides a pathway for current farmers to transition to their next chapters.
Over the summer, RTC Director Jan Joannides and Farmland Access Hub Navigator Jennifer Nelson with MOSES have been working with Lynne to explore options. Through the partnership with the AFT, we’ve discovered the potential of utilizing an agricultural conservation easement: AFT will purchase the land at the going rate, and install an easement that limits non-agricultural development to ensure the property remains in agricultural use—which decreases the valuation. The property can then be resold to an emerging farmer at a reduced price.
RTC and AFT are seeking funds to help cover the easement cost—the difference between the farm’s current purchase price and the price of the farm after it’s protected. A donation to this campaign will not only ensure the protection of Singing Hills Farm and the transfer to the farm’s next steward, it will also keep the land affordable for future generations of farmers. To make a contribution to help protect this land, please visit renewingthecountryside.org/easement.
Food and beverage businesses from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota are invited to register for the eighth annual FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace, to be held on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Fans of the event should save the date to join us for the in-person festival at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, and participate in the Online Marketplace, where customers can preview products and order online for curbside pick-up. Regional food makers can learn more and register online at local-feast.org/registration2021.
With both the in-person event and the online shopping experience you can savor the taste of the Midwest and learn why local is best. Buying regional food helps to build and support our local food system, from the families growing and creating the food all the way to your kitchen table. While a hybrid event is currently planned, hosts are actively monitoring the COVID-19 situation and will switch to an online-only event if necessary.
"There are so many unique regional products at FEAST! that you really can't get just anywhere, and I love being able to discover the passion these food businesses have for local, sustainably-grown ingredients," said Beth Dooley, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and tireless advocate of ecological eating. Dooley has offered cooking demos at past festivals, and is looking forward to repeating that this year.
FEAST! Local Foods Marketplace is co-hosted by non-profit organizations, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and Renewing the Countryside, and sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Learn more at local-feast.org.
We're celebrating a recently published resource from the Artisan Grain Collaborative developed with Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. “Understanding FSMA's Preventive Controls Rule: A Guide for Grain Businesses” empowers grain farmers, processors, and food manufacturers to understand and comply with federal food safety laws.
FSMA—the Food Safety Modernization Act—requires that businesses conducting food processing and handling execute steps to evaluate possible food safety hazards, make plans to prevent or reduce those hazards, and create monitoring systems to ensure the measures are effective.
“I’ve been hearing from farmers and food businesses in the Artisan Grain Collaborative network who are anxious to ensure they understand and comply with new food safety regulations rolled out in the last several years,” said AGC Executive Director Alyssa Hartman.
RTC staffer Elena Byrne works closely with AGC projects. For further information and to stay updated on planned trainings related to this guide, contact [email protected]. Learn more and download the guide here, and please share with farmers and food and agriculture businesses you think may benefit from reading it!
Renewing the Countryside and the Sustainable Farming Association have Conservation Connectors working across MN and Wisconsin. These folks, most who are seasoned farmers, are helping beginning and other historically underserved farmers to connect with support and resources available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a federal agency that offers many programs to help farmers be good stewards of their natural resources.
Kirsten Jurcek of Brattset Family Farm, a grazing beef operation in southwest Wisconsin, is on our team of a dozen Connectors and will be leading two upcoming field days. Host farmers will share their land stewardship experiences and strategies for building soil health, protecting water, and growing their grazing operations through NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) programs. Events are free to attend and all landowners are welcome, especially beginning farmers.
Two field days are coming up in Wisconsin:
Sept. 30: Conservation Connections: Pasture Walk
Presented by Three Brothers Farm - Oconomowoc, WI (pictured above)
Oct. 6: Conservation Connections: Pasture Walk
Presented by Little Red Farms - Whitewater, WI
For more information and to register, visit renewingthecountryside.org/conservation_connections
Farm to School & Early Care
Lynn M., one of the early care providers we work with, made mini apple pies with her local apples last year!
October is Farm to School and Farm to Early Care Month!
School nutrition professionals and local farmers nourish our kids and support strong local economies—one way to celebrate their work is through the Great Apple Crunch. Renewing the Countryside supports this great effort every year, especially helping our St. Paul early care providers in accessing local apples.
The Crunch is a great way to purchase local (and delicious) produce. Get a local apple and crunch with us on October 14th! Early care sites, schools, even families can register their Crunch here.
The Minnesota Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch is supported by Minnesota's Farm to School Leadership Team and Minnesota's Farm to Early Care and Education Network.
RTC recently convened Foodservice Directors to meet and talk with farmers.
Do you have a connection to a Minnesota school?
Pass along this opportunity...
AGRI Farm to School Grants support Minnesota school districts that want to purchase and serve Minnesota agricultural products.
There are two categories of Farm to School grants: In fiscal year 2022, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) anticipates awarding up to $748,000 to reimburse school districts for purchasing Minnesota grown and raised foods used in school meal programs. Grants will prioritize applicants that procure and purchase Minnesota grown and raised foods from Emerging Farmers. School districts may apply for one of two grants:
- Farm to School First Bite Mini Grant is intended to be an intentional learning process for applicants with minimal experience.
- Farm to School Full Tray Grant is for schools with some program experience who can provide a match.
Farmers Market Food Hub
New resource about using pandemic relief funds to support community food security in collaboration with farmers’ markets
The Farmers Market Food Hub team, which includes MISA (MN Institute for Sustainable Ag), Minnesota Farmers Market Association, and RTC, wants to increase awareness about an opportunity that could help many communities support their farmers markets and also foster food security at the same time.
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are being allocated to local governments across the state, with specific language to direct funds to food and nutrition assistance, including expanding resources for SNAP EBT, and WIC programs.
The ARPA funds are also meant to support small businesses, public health, and building out of infrastructure to ease the burdens of the pandemic. Choosing to use ARPA funds to ensure farmers’ markets have the resources needed to provide food access programs could provide a vital public service, supporting both food security and nutrition for at-risk households and addressing issues of public health.
How could this look in your community?
Check out this new pair of case studies from the Farmers’ Market Hub team: z.umn.edu/ARPA_and_FarmersMarkets
This document showcases how the rural communities of Aitkin in central Minnesota and Wabasha in southeast Minnesota piloted two versions of vegetable boxes for low-income families in 2020 and 2021. Reach out to Sara George, [email protected] for more information! farmersmarkethub.org/
Women in Ag
Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC) Regional Coordinator and RTC staffer Elena Byrne was treated to a tour of a unique piece of land along the Tainter Creek in rural Vernon County Wisconsin, as part of a site visit to plan for conservation efforts. WiWiC Conservation Coach Harriet Behar advised landowner Kathy Tate-Bradish on matters such as,
- when and how to create a firebreak in preparation for burning to establish appropriate prairie plantings,
- important connections with nearby farmers with equipment such as tractors for mowing and drilling in seed,
- conversations with the township and power company regarding not spraying along the road and under power lines,
- riverbank erosion controls,
- wild parsnip mitigation strategies, and more.
All of this is in preparation for writing a Conservation Plan for the site. That will be then sent to and reviewed by the Vernon County office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which can often provide guidance and even funding to support landowners' conservation efforts.
Kathy said, "I am so delighted to be working with Harriet Behar as my coach to convert some land in a floodplain to more diverse native prairie, eradicating the invasives and adding pollinator-friendly species. I don't want to use glyphosate, and the work to prepare for planting - controlled burns, mowing, etc. - is much less daunting with Harriet's help and advice. I'm looking forward to developing a long-term conservation land plan with her help, and the help of Wisconsin Women in Conservation."
To learn more about the WiWiC program, visit wiwic.org
Nora Shields-Cutler asks,
Have you ever done an apple taste test?
Nora is one of our wonderful Farm to School and Early Care staffers, and loves trying out projects and activities with her own kids—often sharing fun photos and videos with us (you might recall videos on seed tape and painting with beet juice, for example).
To add extra fun to an apple taste test, you can make it a guessing game, or add other elements like dipping sauces or even an art project to capture the visual differences between the varieties.
Visit the F2ECE blog for some other apple-related ideas. Do you have other suggestions for taste test fun? Hit reply and let us know!
MOSES Field Day Recaps and Recordings
One of the benefits of having field days online is that the information shared can be captured and re-shared relatively simply. We wanted to let you know that MOSES—Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service—has a wonderful reservoir of highlights from this season's completed field days on their website, from a recording of "Season Extension at Mhonpaj's Garden" to medicinal herb production, silvopasture, and more.
Read the descriptions and access the recaps here.
2021 National Farm Viability Conference (#FarmViability21)
In the fall of 2019, RTC had the pleasure of hosting the National Farm Viability Conference in Red Wing, MN. This year, the conference is virtual and is co-hosted by Oregon Tilth & Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.
Professionals and others in farm/food business planning, financial planning, land conservation, and market development should register—there's a full month of workshops, discussions & skill sharing, starting with a kick-off event Oct. 1, and finishing up on Oct. 29. Take a look at the excellent session lineup, get your favorite sessions on your calendar, and register here (cost is $100).
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 & sharing stories of rural renewal, providing practical assistance & networking opportunities for those working to improve rural America, and fostering connections between urban & rural people.