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Friday, January 6, 2017

Women in Ag Network Announces Second Annual Conference

“Planning for Our Future,” the second annual Women in Ag Network conference, will be Feb. 16 in Willmar.
The conference runs from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Willmar Convention Center. Discounted rates are available by registering early. 

The conference is an opportunity for women in agriculture to learn how to manage through times of adversity and see a way to the future.  Participants will have an opportunity to both learn these skills and network with others who are facing similar challenges. Breakout sessions during the day are designed to build skills in business planning, marketing, entrepreneurship and more.     

Lilia McFarland, new and beginning farmer and rancher program coordinator for USDA, will give the keynote address, “Planting Seeds for the Future.”

“The number of women farmers in Minnesota is growing– today more than one in four  producers in the state is a woman,” said Extension educator Pauline Van Nurden. “Our goal for this conference is to empower Minnesota women in agriculture -- giving them opportunities to gain skills, enhance their leadership and management abilities, and network with other farmers just like them.”

Women in agriculture want to be proactive and prepared for any situation in agriculture, added Extension educator Betty Berning. The conference will provide tools to proactively plan; participants will leave feeling like they have a path forward. 

As a sampling of the conference, Berning offers these five tips for effective, realistic planning in farming. (

For registration details and more information on the conference, please visit:

The Women in Ag Network formed to provide educational opportunities for women involved in agriculture, to enhance their leadership, management and production abilities. Our goal is to connect women to relevant, research-based education and to each other. For updates, please like our Facebook page:

Funding for this project was provided by the North Central Extension Risk Management Education Center, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Award Number 2015-49200-24226.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Small Farms Newsletter - Winter Learning Opportunities

'Tis the season for conferences

Winter is full of conferences and other learning opportunities.  

The list of conferences seems to be growing.  In this newsletter, I'm sharing a non-exhaustive list of conferences in the region you may be interested in.

Also, we have several online learning opportunities from Extension, you'll find those in this list as well.

Plus! My conference survival tips.

Hope you're enjoying this holiday season.

Online options
Local Foods College is a weekly webinar series going from January 17th to March 7th with topics on 
poultry production, high tunnel disease management, accessing capital, and other topics.  Watch these from home or gather with others at a viewing site.

Beef Home Study Courses are self- paced online courses that start January 17th.  Options include Cow/Calf Nutrition, Health Management for the Cow/Calf Herd, and Introduction to Cattle Feeding.

Regional conferences

MN Organic ConferenceJanuary 12-13, St. Cloud, MN

MFVGA - Getting Started in High TunnelsJanuary 18th, St. Cloud, MN

MFVGA - Beginning Berry ProductionJanuary 18, St. Cloud, MN

MFVGA - Upper Midwest Regional Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference and Trade ShowJanuary 19-20, St. Cloud, MN

WI Fresh Fruit and Vegetable ConferenceJanuary 24-26, Wisconsin Dells, WI

Organic Vegetable Production ConferenceFebruary 3-4, Madison, WI. 

SFA Midwest Soil Health SummitFebruary 15-16, Fergus Falls, MN

MOSES Organic Farming ConferenceFebruary 23-25, La Crosse, WI

Conference survival tips
We've all been there - the first morning of the conference is going great, you've had some coffee, learned a few things, energy is high.  

Then you eat lunch, a lot of lunch, and the rest of the day goes downhill.  Plus, by day two, you get the "drinking water from a fire hose" feeling as you try to absorb more information.  There's gotta be a better way, right?

Well, here are my tips to make your conference more enjoyable and productive.
  1. Stand - sitting all day is no good!  Don't feel like you HAVE to stay seated the whole time. 
  2. Take it easy at the buffet - Food and eating it are my favorite things.  I've attended several of these conferences myself, and the food is great, and there's a lot of it.  But, food comas are real, and they don't mix well with learning.
  3. Take notes with your phone's camera - I can better pay attention to the speaker if I'm not trying to furiously scribble what their presentation slide says - taking a photo is quick and easy and allows you to focus more on the presentation.
  4. Take a break! - If I spend the whole time at the conference in sessions, I eventually hit a wall.  While I might be trying to learn, I'm not because I'm tired and probably a little crabby.  Take a walk, get some fresh air, or find some other diversion to give your brain a break.
  5. Network - I always learn new things by talking to farmers, other ag professionals, and folks at the trade show.  Ask them about the sessions they've attended and learn about their farms/line of work.
  6. Ditch a session - have you ever gone to a session thinking it was one thing, and turned out to be something else entirely?  Well, as polite Midwesterners, we may feel obligated to stay.  You're not, it's ok, you can do it, just get up and leave quietly.
  7. Drink some water -'s water, and you've been drinking too much coffee :) 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Join us for the 2017 Local Foods College

Local Foods College is a series of eight educational webinars on topics related to local food production. The webinars (what's a webinar?  It's a seminar conducted on the web) are at 6 PM on Tuesdays from January 24th to March 14, 2017.  Topics for this year include;
  • Soil health
  • High tunnel disease management
  • Sheep, goats, and fiber
  • Farm to market vegetable handling
  • Poultry production
  • Cottage food law
  • Accessing capital
  • Seed saving
Local Foods College is free, but registration is required to access the webinars, visit the Local Foods College site.

This is the sixth year for this series, and the 2017 series will provide many options for participants to interact with one another. The webinar format is handy for many participants to access from home or office locations.  There are also public sites that offer opportunity to network with your neighbors.

Sponsors include University of Minnesota Extension and the Statewide Health Improvement Program (aka SHIP).

Monday, October 31, 2016

Newsletter - Let's talk about SARE

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education - SARE.  I typically hear the acronym followed by the word "grant".  If you're into sustainable agriculture, take advantage of what SARE has to offer.  There are a few opportunities coming up - including a webinar tomorrow (!) on their Farmer Rancher grant.  Also, there are a ton of great resources available in print and online, more below!

-Jake Overgaard
 UMN Extension Educator

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Join MN SARE for Farmer Rancher grant webinar

The SARE Farmer Rancher Grant program is accepting proposals until December 8th, 2016.

To that end, on Tuesday, November 1st, from 6-8 pm SARE Farmer Rancher Grant coordinator Joan Benjamin and MN SARE Coordinators Wayne Martin and Kate will provide an overview of the SARE Farmer Rancher grant program and answer any questions you may have

The meeting link can be found here.  For planning purposes we ask that you register for this webinar.

Please contact Kate Seager, or Wayne Martin, with any questions. If you're in the Twin Cities area, you can join in person - though there is limited space available, contact Kate or Wayne if interested.

Reduced tillage systems for organic vegetable production

North Central SARE has a great library of videos highlighting grant project results on YouTube. Visit their channel for info on cover crops, grass fed beef, mushrooms, marketing, and much more.  

Other SARE Grants???

Indeed, there are others.

Travel Scholarships (up to $500) are intended to assist ag professionals and farmers explore topics in sustainable agriculture that are new to them. The goal is then for that individual to share the new information with others via outreach events, presentations, articles, etc. 

Mini Grants (up to $2000) provide support for organized programs such as field days, farm tours, workshops, etc. Mini Grants may also be used to help fund on-farm research trials or demonstration plots as long as there is an associated outreach component.
Applications are accepted three times per year, in January, May, and October.  

For further information about the Mini Grants and Travel Scholarships, or to apply, contact Kate Seager (612.625.8235,, Wayne Martin (612-625-6224,, or visit the Minnesota SARE website

SARE Publications

In addition to grants, SARE has a ton of excellent resources, mostly free publications available on the web, as well as printed books and other materials.  On my shelf you can find "Building soils for better crops", "Managing cover crops profitably", "Building a sustainable business", and "Managing alternative pollinators".  

On their website, take a look at their Learning Center for resources.

Learn about transitioning to organic

University of Minnesota Extension will be hosting a 2nd series of Transitioning to Organic Workshops, December 5 - 7, 2016 in Lamberton, St. Cloud, and Rochester, MN. 
These FREE, one-day workshops are for both producers who are seeking more information about organic transitioning and certification, and farmers currently going through the process of transitioning to organic production. These workshops will be primarily directed to field crop producers, but all are welcome.
Dates and Locations:
Monday, December 5, 2016 – Lamberton, Minnesota
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 – St. Cloud, Minnesota
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 – Rochester, Minnesota

Each workshopruns from 9 am to 4 pm.
Building on the information and feedback from last year’s workshops, 2016 topics include;

  • business plan development and marketing
  • understanding soil microbes
  • weed biology
  • mechanical weed management
Experienced organic farmer, Carmen Fernholz, will be returning to present and field questions. Our team from the University of Minnesota – Kristine Moncada, Adria Fernandez, Gigi Digacomo and Constance Carlson – will join him as presenters.
The Transitioning to Organic workshops are designed to reduce confusion, answer questions, and most importantly, provide guidance for navigating the process of transitioning to organic production.
An agenda and list of workshop topics and speakers is available for download.
Space is limited for these workshops. Registration is required by November 22. Register here.
For more information, please contact Constance Carlson by email: or phone: 612-301-1678.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference II

I had a dream last week about starting a farm…it was a disaster.  I had a partnership with two close friends who both have farming experience and would be great to work with – but then there were a whole bunch of other partners I didn’t know.  They were working on these projects that made no sense at all.  The details are foggy, but they were working on something that was exceptionally time consuming, really elaborate, and had no chance of making any money - and I couldn’t convince them it would not work.

Where am I going with this? First and foremost, my nightmares are atypical.

Secondly, this feeds into my “Dispatch from the National Small Farms Conference, Part II” on profitability.

Also, there is a grant opportunity for livestock producers available, and a research opportunity for organic produce farms that use manure.

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From the National Small Farms Conference:  Small farm profitability:  I attended several presentations and viewed multiple posters along this theme.  Cindy Fake, of University of California Extension gave a presentation titled “Beginning farmers and ranchers 2.0: Scaling up to profitability”. 

Through a survey they did of local farmers, they found…

  • A need to focus production on fewer crops to gain efficiencies, their recommendation was fewer than 10
  • I asked the presenter if they’re advising against CSAs, the answer was “yes”
  • While highly diverse cropping systems weren’t as profitable, diversification in markets was important

I can imagine you might be shaking your head, I get it -  MN and CA are different, and yes diversity is important for soil health and biology, fertility, diseases, insects, etc, etc, etc.  They, nor I, are advocating for a monocropping scenario.  There’s a lot of room for rotation growing 10 crops.  Also, scaling up may not always be the answer – marketing, financing, and labor/production management adjustments (among others) could provide solutions.

However, while a farm can lack diversity, the pendulum can swing too far the other way, at some point, we may end up juggling too much, getting away from what we’re best at producing and our most profitable enterprises.  Finding the right mix is a challenge – take a look at the Farmbyte below and business planning resources to find ideas.

Farmbyte:  Profitability, financial benchmarks, and economic impact of local food

Ryan Pesch, Extension Educator produced a report on his work assessing profitability of local farms in central MN.  Listen to an interview and read the report in this Farmbyte.

Business planning resources

There’s a lot out there, here are some resources that come to mind.

AgPlan (Web based business planning, UMN.  Find online training here)
Fearless Farm Finances (book, MOSES)
USDA New Farmers (website).

Livestock investment grant

It’s a grant, for livestock producers, from the MN Department of Ag.  Will help pay for construction of facilities, fencing, feeding and waste management equipment, etc.  More details on their website.

Research opportunity

The UMN Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) is looking for organic produce farms to participate in research investigating the breakdown of microbes in raw manure used to fertilize organic fruits and vegetables. Participants will receive soil test results, feedback on managing manure, and an incentive payment.

SWROC Research

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farm Conference

Last week, I attended the National Small Farms Conference in Virginia Beach (don’t get jealous, it was raining pretty much the whole time, I blame Poseidon, at right).  The conference is held every four years, this year it was hosted by Virginia State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the USDA with support from Virginia Tech.  Three of us from the UMN Extension Small Farms team attended.

The conference is designed for folks like me in Extension, but also farmers, government, and researchers – along with anyone interested in learning how to better support small farms.  Here’s part 1 of what I learned followed by a training opportunity that’s coming soon to SE MN.

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Ideas for online education: Some of you have participated in our “Living on the land” program.  In the past year, our team has been working through a process of moving towards a hybrid in-person/online educational program. 
  •  I was encouraged to learn what Oregon State University (OSU) has done with their “Growing Farms Workshops”
  • We know from our own survey work that our audience is open to learning via online education, but still want an in-person experience to connect with peers and educators
  • This was how they built their program, OSU has had success in reaching audiences by going to a hybrid model

Staging farmers in their first 10 years:  OSU (again, they’re doing good work) has assessed how farmers move through their first 10 years of farming.  In the presentation “Successfully navigating the first ten years: Education targeting farm developmental stages to achieve long-term viability for small farms” from Garry Stephenson and Lauren Gwin shared how they break down the stages;
  • Stage 1:  Proving you can grow and sell
    • First 2-3 seasons, inefficient, learning from mentors, high levels of confidence
  • Stage 2:  More deliberate, less frantic
    • Easing the burden with equipment and hired labor, letting go of perfection, scaling up and saving backs
  • Stage 3:  How can we make money?
    • Systems are in place and time for experimentation, balancing idealism and realism, maybe time for a business plan
  • Stage 4:   I can do it, but should I still?
    • Assessment, reflection on lifestyle, career, future, family

Do these stages ring true for you? If so, what stage are you in?


Speaking of farmer education…

Living on the Land: Buffalo, MN

Living on the Land will provide you with a solid background in all aspects of land management. The basic agricultural information will help you be a good steward of your land and prepare you for more advanced learning opportunities.  The eight-week course, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, begins on October 19th with goal setting and individual property inventory, then addresses soil, plant, livestock, and water basics. You’ll also have plenty of time for networking and questions. 

New Farmer U

New Farmer U is a weekend training for beginning farmers Oct. 21-23, 2016 in Lanesboro, MN. Experienced organic farmers and ag experts will lead workshops on topics such as soil fertility, pest management, and farm machinery. Land access, certification, and business planning are also on the agenda, along with expert-led roundtables. New Farmer U is hosted by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Renewing the Countryside, and Land Stewardship Project with support from the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher. 


That’s all for this week, have a great weekend.

PS:  Feel free to share using the social media icons at the top of the page, or with this link,

Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator


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