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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

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

To sign up to receive this newsletter as an email, fill out this form.

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 workshop runs 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.
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

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

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


Additional resources

Monday, September 19, 2016

Newsletter - Farm Safety and Health Week

I was working last week to harvest a corn silage plot with a local farmer.  We’ve had wet weather in southeast MN lately, and more rain was in the forecast.  Needless to say, they were in a hurry.  I was doing my best to work as quickly and efficiently as possible so that I didn't slow their work down too much.  Having grown up and worked on farms, I was reminded of the pressure one feels in these situations.

That pressure can push us to take short-cuts, stress us out, and is simply tiring.  At these times, it’s important to remind ourselves and one another to always keep safety in mind. 

This week, we recognize National Farm Safety and Health Week by highlighting these useful resources.

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Article:  Farm Safety is a Year-Round Priority

Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator in Stearns, Benton, and Morrison Counties, shares ideas on working with livestock, training, equipment, and creating a culture of safety. 


The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) has multiple MN connections including the UMN School of Public Health and College of Veterinary Medicine.  They have developed many resources on farm safety including fact sheets, posters, videos, and more.  Take a look at their resources.

MDA’s Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) Rebate Program

The MN Department of Agriculture’s ROPS program will reimburse farmers and schools for the cost of rollover bars and safety belts. 

Caught in the grain!

Article from North Dakota State University on grain bin safety with recommendations on precautions and rescue procedures.


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Additional resources

Friday, September 16, 2016

Learn how to graze cover crops at field day

Livestock producers interested in cover crops should attend this field day in the Oronoco/Rochester area to learn about grazing cover crops, cattle nutrition, and the benefits to soils.  Speakers include Eric Mousel, UMN Extension Livestock Educator; Dan Nath, NRCS Soil Scientist; and Dean Thomas, Area 7 Soil Health Tech. 

The field day will be held at the Anthony Rossman farm.  On the farm, a 6 species cover crop mix was planted following peas.  The Rossmans produce beef cattle, the cover crop is being grazed this fall.  Attendees will learn how cover crops fit in their crop rotation and how they are utilized by cattle.

This free field day will be held September 27th from 9:00-11:30 am.  The Rossman farm is located at 7000 70th St NW, Oronoco, MN.  If you have any questions, please contact Dean Thomas by phone, 507-765-3878 Ext 3, or email,

For more information, view the flyer.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Newsletter - Labor Edition

I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend!  Speaking of labor (what a transition!), here are some resources to help you understand the legal side of hiring employees and interns on farms, some labor saving tips, and recommendations for safely working with cattle.

To sign up to receive this newsletter via email, fill out this form.

Legal guides:  Interns and employees
Farmer Legal Action Group (FLAG) has produced two manuals for small farms with guidance on how federal and MN State law apply to farms in these areas. 

Webinar: Tools for small scale crop production
The focus of this webinar is on hand tools, principally for vegetable production.  From the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

Article: Ten steps to better weed control
Weed management can require a lot of labor – here’s a list of ways you can reduce the time you spend handling weeds.  From University of Vermont Extension.

Videos and Factsheets:  Stockmanship

The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) has developed resources providing advice on working with cattle.  They have factsheets and videos in English and Spanish on stockmanship.  Very high quality, useful information. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Newsletter - Soils Farmbyte + Value added grant

I’ve been preparing and holding local field days this week and time is at a premium.  So, I have an abbreviated newsletter.  The field days are nutrient management focused, soils are on my mind and so I’ve got a soils-focused Farmbyte for you. 

Also, there’s a fantastic grant opportunity from the MN Department of Ag that comes around annually, I think many of you could benefit from the grant.

To sign up to receive this newsletter via email, fill out this form.

Soils:  Sampling and nutrient guidelines

In this Farmbyte, we share…
  •          A video on soil sampling procedure
  •          Nutrient guidelines for fruit, vegetables, row crops and small grains
  •          Article on how to maintain soil fertility in organic fruit and vegetable systems
  •          USDA Web Soil Survey

MN Department of Agriculture's Value Added Grant program
From their website...

Who's eligible?
  • Individuals (farmers) or businesses
  • Agricultural cooperatives
  • Local government entities

What can you use the money for?
  • Equipment purchase or physical improvements to intended to support businesses that will:
  • Start, expand, or update livestock product processing
  • Purchase equipment to start, upgrade, or modernize value-added businesses
  • Increase the use and processing of MN Ag products (required for all grants)
  • Purchase equipment or facility improvement to increase food safety
  • Increase farmers' processing and aggregating capacity to sell to schools, hospitals, or other institutions

Maximum grant award is $150,000, minimum is $1000.

For more information, visit the MDA website.

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


P.S. Feel free to share this using the options at the top of this page.

Additional resources
UMN Extension Crops Website & Calendar of Events

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Newsletter - Happy National Farmers Market Week

This week is National Farmers Market week (read the USDA news release), so I'm sharing some marketing ideas and resources.

Prior to joining UMN Extension, I worked on a farm in Winona County.  During that time, I spent a season selling (mostly) fruit and (some) vegetables at the Winona Farmers' Market, I really enjoyed it.

Obviously, after just one year I'm not the professional marketer that many of you are, but here are the strategies that worked well for me;
  • The advice "pile it high and deep" is sound
  • Vary the height of product displays
  • Clearly display prices
  • Smile and say hello to EVERYONE that passes
  • Get to know and support your fellow vendors
  • Have fun
For more ideas on display, The Art & Science of Farmers’ Market Display (UVM Extension) has some great ideas.

Other marketing resources

In each newsletter, we list "additional resources" at the bottom.  Among them, is the UMN Extension Community and Local Food Resources.  Within this site, there's a great section on marketing local food.  There's an excellent list of resources, take a look.  

Some of my favorites on the page are;

Marketing local food:  Start with this manual, it's great and has a MN focus.  From MISA, 

Marketing strategies for farmers and ranchers:  Shorter, similar to "Marketing local food".  From ATTRA.


Hope it's a good week at the market for vendors and customers alike.

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


P.S. Feel free to share this using the options at the top of this page.

Additional resources
UMN Extension Crops Website & Calendar of Events

Friday, August 5, 2016

Newsletter - Bees

To me, it seems possible that people in caves have heard about the decline of bees, it’s all over the news.  I think people are responding - It’s exciting that a growing number of people are keeping their own bees.  In addition, as farmers, there’s a great role to play in improving the health of honey bees and the vast range of other pollinators out there for their health and that of our crops.

So, here is some information, resources, and training opportunities for current/future beekeepers, and farmers.  And, if you have a lawn, make it a bee lawn, more below.  To get more bee news, sign up for the UMN Bee Bulletin.

To sign up to receive this newsletter via email, fill out this form.

TED Talk – Why bees are disappearing
Dr. Marla Spivak, University of MN Professor, delivers this TED talk discussing the plight of bees and steps to improve bee health.

In the News - Here's the colony-killing mistake backyard beekeepers make
MPR shares how a novice beekeeper manages varroa mites and details how infested hives are impacted and can spread mites to other healthy hives.

Manual – Honey Bee Diseases and Pests
So how do you know if you need to treat for varroa mites? What are the treatment options?  What about other diseases and pests?
This UMN Extension manual provides guidance on sampling along with treatment recommendations, including organic options.

Article – The importance of pollinators
Fruit is the focus of this article on pollination; which fruit benefits from insect pollination? What are the symptoms of poor pollination? With info on pollination contracts, native bees, and more.

Handbook – Managing alternative pollinators
This book from SARE provides info on how to improve pollination on the farm, rear bumble bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, etc along with info on native pollinators, and additional resources.  Great book!

Beekeeping Classes
Four upcoming classes on beekeeping in northern climates are offered on the UMN St. Paul Campus; one for beginners, another to help beekeepers improve hive survival year to year, a queen rearing course, and a ‘beyond the basics’ class.  Sign up early.

Videos – Beekeeping in northern climate
UMN Bee Lab and Extension produced videos on a range of topics including; frames, brood boxes, foundations, combs, etc. 

Bee lawns!
Do it.
Alright, I could go on, but I’m stopping there.  We’ll talk bees more some other time.  Also, are you impressed at the lack of bee puns in this newsletter?  I am.

Have a great weekend!


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Additional resources

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