Dirt Rich
38: Getting Water Quality Certified

38: Getting Water Quality Certified

September 15, 2021

“It’s hard to find a Minnesotan that’s not proud of the fact that we’ve got so many wonderful lakes in our region and we’re the source for the Mississippi River...We have a lot of pride for our natural resources in this state and we have a lot of pride for our operations.” -Jennifer Wagner-Lahr

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is a statewide opportunity for farmers to be recognized for their efforts to protect water quality. The certification also provides regulatory certainty for 10 years, and the process opens up opportunities for technical and financial assistance to help achieve certification.

Farmers Jennifer and Larry Lahr laud the financial assistance and the guidance from their certifier, Mark Lefebvre, for helping make “the leap” in implementing some new practices into their crop and livestock operations comfortable. In this episode, the three guests share their experiences with getting certified under MAWQCP, some of the nuts and bolts behind the program and other opportunities for support, and the changes that they’ve seen on-farm as a result of implementing conservation and soil health building practices-- even in the face of drought conditions.

 

Get started on program certification here or reach out to your local Soil Water Conservation District Office. More information on the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium pilot is available here.

 

Katie Feterl, SFA Communications Director

Mark Lefebvre, Stearns County SWCD Certifier, (320) 251-7800 x3, Mark.Lefebvre@mn.nacdnet.net

Jennifer Wagner-Lahr, Lahr Heritage Acres

Larry Lahr, Lahr Heritage Acres, (320) 761-3925, thenewcountrycat@yahoo.com

 

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Leave us a review, or drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

37: Wisdom of the Prairie: Diversity, Connection, Community

37: Wisdom of the Prairie: Diversity, Connection, Community

September 1, 2021

Megan Benage, a Regional Ecologist for the Minnesota DNR, brings her passion for the prairie to 32 counties in southern Minnesota--and to thousands of listeners on the Prairie Pod, which she hosts with fellow scientists. And today, she brings it to Dirt Rich! 

Once covering a full third of the state, Minnesota’s tallgrass prairie is now 235,000 acres of remnant reference prairie. Megan shares what the day in the life of an ecologist is like, and how her work intersects with agriculture. In fact, she describes the balanced prairie ecosystem function that she works towards as incredibly relevant to the farmer: “Every regenerative agriculture model that we have is based on how a prairie is just living its life.”

There’s a lot to be learned from the prairie, especially in a changing climate. Megan distills it down to diversity, connection, and community. “When we put our natural resources first, we are putting ourselves first, because we all need the same basic things to live.”

Additional Resources:

Prairie Pod

Xerces Society

USDA NRCS

Minnesota DNR

Beyond Your Backyard’ archive

 

Katie Feterl, SFA Communications Director

Megan Benage, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Regional Ecologist

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Leave us a review, or drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

36: Growing Grazing Dairy Farmers

36: Growing Grazing Dairy Farmers

August 18, 2021

Angie Walter, the SFA/DGA Central Minnesota Education Coordinator, and her husband Nate run an organic dairy in Central Minnesota, and are also masters in the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program. Today’s episode features them in conversation with their first apprentice, Ryan Heinen, who now manages a dairy in Waukesha, Wisconsin. His passion for ecology and restoration led him to farming and to grass-based dairy, and DGA helped him build a solid foundation to take on a new endeavor.

The Walters and Ryan share their experiences in the DGA program from both the master and apprentice perspectives--it was a positive and valuable learning experience for all.

Angie highlights the value of networking events, such as pasture walks, to dairy farmers of all experience levels. There are two pasture walks remaining this season, one on August 24 in Verndale, MN, and one on September 9 in Brandon, MN. Both are free, they include lunch! More information and registration can be found on SFA’s DGA page.

 

Katie Feterl, SFA Communications Director

Angie Walter, SFA/DGA Central Minnesota Education Coordinator, Walter Dairy

Nate Walter, Walter Dairy

Ryan Heinen, Land and Livestock Manager, Gwenyn Hill Farm

 

Additional Resources:

Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship

SFA/DGA Resources and Events

Dirt Rich Episode 19: Family Dairies & Apprenticeships

 

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Leave us a review, or drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

35: Pastured Pork & an Incubator Farm

35: Pastured Pork & an Incubator Farm

August 4, 2021

“What else is livestock farming but sort of a dance and a balance between farmer happiness, livestock happiness, and soil health happiness?”

Dayna Burtness discusses her “pastured pig-centric farm,” marketing enterprise, and incubator farm near Spring Grove, in the Driftless region of Minnesota. Dayna is the sixth generation in her family to farm in Houston County, and she and her husband Nick Nguyen are finishing 75 mixed breed heritage pigs on pasture this season. They utilize a wagon wheel hub model and are constantly experimenting to improve soil health, pit happiness and health, and farmer happiness and health. 

In her conversation with Jared Luhman, Dayna shares how her production system has evolved over time, her focus on soil health, her intentionality in the incubator farm, and her philosophy on marketing, pricing, and running a farm business. She also offers sage advice to those pursuing similar ventures, and plenty of examples of ‘failed’ and successful on-farm experiments.

 

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead

Dayna Burtness, Nettle Valley Farm

 

Additional Resources:

Soil Health Case Studies Vol. 3, featuring Nettle Valley Farm

“Building Profitable Farms through Direct Marketing” webinar video

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Leave us a review, or drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

Revisited: Implementing Silvopasture

Revisited: Implementing Silvopasture

July 21, 2021

In anticipation of our trio of silvopasture field days and workshops next week, we wanted to re-release Episode 10: "Implementing Silvopasture" as a refresher or introduction to the topic.

If you'd like to learn more, you can also listen to our other episodes that cover this management approach with ecological and indigenous origins:

Find more resources and information about the upcoming field days and workshops on our website.

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Episode 10: Implementing Silvopasture

Jared Luhman and Tyler Carlson return to further discuss Silvopasture: “the intentional integration of trees, forage, and livestock into one intensively managed system.” Formerly a trope to “keep livestock out of the woods,” now farmers have the tools to properly manage their impact. 

 

By intensively managing trees to optimize the growing environment for the forage below, as well as the timing and location of livestock grazing, farmers can reap numerous benefits. Silvopasture practices can boost soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat and diversity, and carbon sequestration. Silvopasture can also raise timber value, animal performance, and overall economic returns, making this system an attractive option for some farmers.

 

Tyler describes his own operation, from his intensive study of agroforestry as a student at the University of Minnesota, to his 200 acres in Todd County today. He and his wife raise grass-fed beef, pastured lamb, and perennial fruits on their farm. Tyler shares his experience in working with both existing woodlands and establishing silvopasture on cleared land for those looking to get started.

 

Resources:

SFA Silvopasture & Agroforestry Homepage - Learn more and register for upcoming workshops here.

Silvopasture Handbook

Silvopasture Webinar Series

University of Minnesota Silvopasture Learning Network

NRCS EQIP

 

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead

Tyler Carlson, SFA Silvopasture & Agroforestry Project Lead

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.

 

This episode is supported and funded by a grant from the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). It is part of the “Oak Savanna Restoration through Silvopasture Project” in cooperation with University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension, Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management (CINRAM) at the University of Minnesota, and Great River Greening.

34: The Potential of Perennial Crops & Kernza

34: The Potential of Perennial Crops & Kernza

July 7, 2021

“I’m so heartened by the work that our farmers are doing, that our researchers are doing, to create these really sustainable crops--they’re actually regenerative crops--that are not only delicious on the plate, but really good for the land.” Beth Dooley shares the excitement for Minnesota perennial crops and Kernza that she, Jacob Jungers, and Peter and Anne Schwagerl all bring to today’s episode of Dirt Rich.

Research by a variety of stakeholders, including the Forever Green Initiative and University of Minnesota researcher Jacob Jungers has been focused on the economic and environmental impacts of perennials like alfalfa, hazelnuts, pennycress, and the intermediate wheatgrass Kernza®. They’ve found that fewer pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are needed to grow perennial crops, and farmers reap the economic benefits. Additionally, the deep root systems that perennials grow provide many ecosystem services: fixing nitrogen, building fertility. While Kernza doesn’t fix nitrogen, it takes it from deeper levels of the soil than annuals can reach, and reduces the leaching of nitrogen into groundwater.

Beginning farmers and SFA Western Chapter members Anne and Peter Schwagerl have certainly noticed those benefits on their farm so far. They have 40 acres of Kernza seeded on their organic farm this season. Says Peter, “it also offers a good way for us to tackle some of the very nitty gritty challenges that we face on a farm, particularly us as organic farmers. It really feeds a lot of needs for us from an agronomic standpoint.” They’re able to keep living roots in the soil, reduce tillage, improve pest and weed management, and break up soil compaction.

The Schwagerls intend to eventually incorporate that fifth principle of soil health, 'Integrating Livestock,' and graze the forage that Kernza provides as well. As Jacob Jungers explains, grazing Kernza results in four potential income streams for the crop: grazing forage in early May, harvesting the grain, using the leftover straw for bedding or rations, and grazing again in the late fall.

As markets expand for Kernza--just to name a couple examples: a Kernza grower co-operative is forming, and Dooley recently published a cookbook highlighting perennials--academic and farmer partnered research continues on quality, taste, measuring environmental factors, and increasing yields. The future of the crop seems to have great potential for connecting eaters to growers and land, tied in by the passion for great-tasting food and climate change mitigation.

 

Links: 

July 8 Kernza Field Day

UMN Sustainable Cropping Lab

The Land Institute

Kernza CAP

Forever Green Initiative

 

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

Katie Feterl, SFA Communications Director

Jacob Jungers, Assistant Professor, Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota

Beth Dooley, Food Writer and Cookbook Author, Beth Dooley’s Kitchen  

Peter & Anne Schwagerl, Prairie Point Farm, SFA Western Chapter members  

 

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

33: Growing a CSA from 8 to 80

33: Growing a CSA from 8 to 80

June 23, 2021

Dan Zimmerli is the SFA Community Organizer and Outreach Coordinator, and he also farms full time. He and his wife operate Cedar Crate Farm southeast of Mankato, growing produce for their CSA members. They started out with 8 members in their first season in 2015, and six seasons later they’ve grown it to 80--always with a goal of lifestyle balance in mind.

Dan grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Redwood County, so he wasn’t new to agriculture when he started his own farm. He was drawn to growing produce because he enjoyed making personal connections with customers and knowing that they were taking home a high quality product that they could eat that day. 

“Our goals right now are really to make our farm truly sustainable in a holistic sense.” For the Zimmerlis, this includes being able to take Sundays off. To be able to leave the farm in the hands of their employees from time to time and take a trip. Technology, making processes more efficient, training employees well, and adding infrastructure have all played a role in growing their business while not spreading themselves too thin.

 

His advice to budding farmers considering a CSA model:

  1. Start small. You want to deliver a good experience, because recruiting a new crop of members can be a lot of work.
  2. Network with fellow growers and/or like-minded individuals
  3. Try not to lose sight of the other things that you enjoy in life. Take time to enjoy them.
  4. Don’t discount the financial management and marketing pieces of your business.

 

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead

Dan Zimmerli, SFA Community Organizer and Outreach Coordinator, Cedar Crate Farm

 

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

32: A Chat with Gabe Brown

32: A Chat with Gabe Brown

June 9, 2021

Gabe Brown shares his ranch story and his 25+ years of learning about regenerative agriculture practices.

Before “soil health” concepts entered the mainstream, a few hail storms in the ‘90s, financial challenges, connections made with soil experts, and some serendipity prodded Gabe to try things that were rather unconventional in commercial ag; he stopped tilling, he started planting some cover crops, he grazed, and he ran side-by-side trials with and without chemical nutrient inputs. He’d never seen earthworms in the soil there before, but soon they were appearing. He noticed soil aggregate and improvements in water infiltration--which, by the way, has increased from a half inch per hour to 30 inches per hour. Something was working.

Another factor that Gabe attributes to his somewhat inadvertent foray into soil health is the fact that he didn’t grow up on a farm. He was a “city kid” who grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and he and his wife eventually took on her parents’ ranch over the years. Knowing his neighbors would laugh at him no matter what he did, he wasn’t too worried about doing anything unconventional. And it’s been worth it: healthy soil has made Brown’s Ranch both more resilient and more profitable than it used to be. But he didn’t do it alone, Gabe is blunt about the valuable role of connecting with and learning from others in his own success: “Gabe Brown’s not very smart, but I know a lot of smart people.”

Throughout their conversation, Gabe and Jared discuss how building healthy soils and stacking enterprises can boost farm profitability, and challenge the “feed the world mentality” as a promotion for high-yield, monocrop agriculture. Gabe also shares the ethos behind his “200-year plan” for Brown Ranch: “We don’t own the land that we farm and operate, we’re only borrowing it from our children and future generations.”

Now retired from the ranch, Gabe helps other farmers work within their farm’s individual context to implement soil health principles and benefit their triple bottom line. He co-owns Understanding Ag, a for-profit consulting company that is currently consulting on over 22 million acres across the country. An active presenter, Gabe Brown spoke at SFA’s virtual 2021 Midwest Soil Health Summit. All session recordings are available on SFA’s Youtube channel.

For more resources, visit Understanding Ag’s website, or their non-profit arm Soil Health Academy (there’s a June event in Cold Spring, MN for dairy farmers). There are also soil health and grazing resources and technical assistance available on the SFA website.

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead
Gabe Brown, Brown’s Ranch, North Dakota; Understanding Ag

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

 

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Rate, review, or drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.
Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

31: Managing Spring Grazing

31: Managing Spring Grazing

May 26, 2021

When is the best time to turn the cows out? Kent Solberg and Jared Luhman dig into this decision that sets you up for the rest of the grazing season. It can be awful tempting to get started as soon as we see green, but Kent illustrates how letting the pasture mature a bit more can extend the grazing season by one to two months.

Waiting for the third leaf stage, starting in a new paddock each spring, increasing plant diversity, and grazing about 30-50% of the plant height are all beneficial towards animal performance and forage production in the long term. Kent and Jared also discuss some tips for management once you start your grazing season. Of course, it always depends on the context of the land and your goals. This is adaptive management, after all. Listen in for more sage advice from SFA’s resident grazing expert!

 

More soil health and grazing resources are also available on the SFA website.
Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? Drop us a line on our Virtual Comment Box.

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead
Kent Solberg, SFA Senior Technical Advisor; Seven Pines Farm & Fence (Verndale)

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

30: Spring Break

30: Spring Break

May 12, 2021

We’re thirty episodes in, and Dirt Rich is nearly one year old! To celebrate, my co-host Jared Luhman and I (Katie Feterl) would love to hear from our listeners and hand out some sweet SFA swag. To be entered to win an SFA hat (snap-back or knit, winner’s choice), simply post your favorite Dirt Rich episode to Facebook or Twitter, tell us why you like it, and tell us what you’d like to hear more about! We’ll use your feedback to inform our upcoming episodes. Don’t forget to tag us so that we see it. We’re @SFA.MN on Facebook, and @sfamn on Twitter.

Thank you for listening! It's been a delight to bring these conversations on food and farming to you. Look out for a new one on May 26. 

 

Jared Luhman - Soil Health Lead, SFA

Katie Feterl - Communications Director, SFA

 

Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.

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