Monday, December 22, 2008

Developing Added Value, Convenience Products From Free-Range Pastured Chickens in South Dakota

Tom Neuberger grinding chicken – photo courtesy of the Neubergers

In Canistota, SD, a group of family farmers have been experimenting with methods for adding value to their products and income to their operations.

Tom and Ruth Neuberger were traditional livestock farmers in '70's. During the credit crunch of early 80's they found themselves in debt “up to their ears.” They sold off their livestock to pay off debt, and then had to devise a new business plan.

They turned to poultry.

“We turned to poultry mainly because of the faster turnover,” explained Tom Neuberger. “Goose was especially profitable because Ruth could make pillows and comforters from the feathers and down, in addition to profit generated from the meat.”

The Neubergers had been raising, processing, and direct marketing poultry as whole birds for about two decades, and in 2001 they were looking for ways to add value to their products and income to their operations. They, along with a group of family farmers, submitted a proposal to the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program and were awarded $14,513 for their project, “Developing Added Value, Convenience Products from Free-Range Pastured Chickens.”

Rather than purchasing more chickens, the group wanted to find ways to improve the chickens that they already had. On their farm, the chickens used for the project were raised in a free-range manner and cattle and sheep raised on the farm were rotationally grazed. The SARE grant assisted them in acquiring the equipment and supplies necessary to create products that would not only increase profits but also provide convenient food products for consumers.

Through further processing of the chickens, they were able to come up with several new products such as, cut-up chicken, split and quartered chicken, ground chicken, BBQ wings, and snack sticks. The products require a variety of processing techniques and involve different amounts of time and effort to produce.

“The exciting thing we learned from the project was that adding value to a whole bird was more profitable than raising and marketing more birds,” explained Neuberger. For example, we found we could double the value of a whole bird by simply cutting it up in a few minutes and selling the parts in pound packages.”

While this project did not produce a profit due to large labor costs and time spent producing the products, it did confirm that there is potential to add profits by adding value to products on the farm. It took 144 hours at $9 per hour ($1,296) to produce $6,301 worth of value-added products. The 781 processed whole chickens from which the value-added products were made were valued at $5 each ($3,905).

“Many of the birds were seconds and would have been sold at a discount if sold as whole birds,” said Neuburger. “However, the cost of bags and labels, equipment depreciation, and overhead added to the cost of the new products and eliminated any profits during the testing phase.”

Neuberger analyzed the labor and cost data for producing the 8 products and determined that a producer could further process 5.42 chickens per hour. Using a rate of $9 per hour for labor, he determined that a producer could add $1.66 worth of value to each bird raised on his farm. Neuberger noted that there are several factors that could alter the results of the project. A location with a high demand for value-added products would allow producers to charge a higher price and make the process more profitable.

“Our project should have convinced anyone interested in raising chickens that it is more expedient to increase income by adding value than to raise more chickens and selling them whole” said Neuberger.

Read more about the Nueberger’s project online or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.

Monday, November 24, 2008


David Baker, Rhonda Janke, Hans Kandel, Tim Kautza, Juan Marinez, Tricia Wagner have been elected to serve as Administrative Council (AC) members for the North Central Regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE).

Assistant Dean for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri-Colombia, David Baker, has been elected to serve as the Extension Director’s Representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. From 1975-1994 Baker held the extension appointment for Extension Safety and Occupational Health Specialist at the University of Missouri-Colombia. He has previously served on the NCR-SARE Professional Development Program Committee, the Research and Education Program Review Panel, and the Evaluation Committee, among others.

Rhonda Janke is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist for Cropping Systems at Kansas State University (KSU) in the Department of Horticulture. She has been elected to serve as the Kansas Research Representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. In 2006, Janke developed two new courses at KSU, “Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture” and “Organic Farming Systems.” In 2005, Janke interviewed more than 70 leaders in sustainable agriculture. Those interviews are currently being transcribed for a full-text web site, as well a print publication.

North Dakota State University Extension Broadleaf Agronomist, Hans Kandel has been elected to serve as the North Dakota Research Representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. Kandel has previously served as the Minnesota research representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council and is a member of the North Dakota State Variety Release Committee.

Doug Karlen, Supervisory Soil Scientist and Research Leader for the National Soil Tilth Laboratory and Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University has been elected as the Regional Agricultural Research Service Representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. Karlen has previously served on the NCR-SARE Administrative Council and the National Academy of Science as a Panel Member for Alternative Liquid Transportation Fuels, among other activities.

A Science and Environmental Education Specialist for the National Catholic Rural Like Conference in Des Moines, IA, Tim Kautza has been elected to serve as the Regional Non-Profit representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. Kautza critiques and educates about the environment and social implications related to confined animal feeding operations, agricultural pesticides, water supply and quality, bioenergy, and global climate change.

Juan Marinez, Assistant Director for Outreach with the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University and Regional Director of Michigan State University Extension has been elected to serve as the Michigan Extension Representative to the NCR-SARE Administrative Council. Marinez has previously served on SARE’s Sustainable Agriculture Network Steering Committee. Among other activities, Marinez has served as a panelist for the Hispanic Serving Institution Education Grants Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Competitive Grants Program.

Tricia Wagner has been elected to serve as the Missouri Farmer Representative for NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council. Wagner operates Yellow Wood Farmers in Hermann, MO and a 100 share CSA in partnership with Lee Farms of Truxton, MO. Among other activities, Wagner is a member of the Missouri Vegetable Growers Association, the Missouri Organic Association, and recently worked as a Community Development Specialist for Local Food Systems with the University of Missouri Extension.

NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council represents various agricultural sectors, states and organizations. It sets program priorities and makes granting decisions for the region.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SARE Outreach Announces Event Sponsorship Program

SARE grantees are important partners in fulfilling SARE's mission to advance sustainable innovations to the whole of American agriculture. The SARE Outreach Event Sponsorship Program provides financial support for educational events that advance SARE-funded project results to beginning, minority, underserved and commodity producers and the extension and educational professionals that serve them.

The application deadline for the SARE Outreach Event Sponsorship Program is December 15th, 2008.

Visit to download application forms or for more information.

Examples of eligible projects include, but are not limited to:

* Developing a track of conference workshops featuring SARE grant recipients as speakers
* Featuring SARE-funded grant project results in a poster session or display for beginning farmers
* Incorporating SARE-funded research sites on a farm tour for out-of-state producers and/or agricultural professionals
* Organizing conference sessions based on SARE publications
* Providing scholarships for producers who are unfamiliar with sustainable practices to attend a workshop featuring a SARE grantee

Successful proposals must advance the results of SARE-funded research or education projects by addressing one or more of the following priority areas:

* Extend innovative, sustainable production and marketing practices to producers or agricultural professionals, especially beginning, minority, underserved and/or commodity producers.
* Feature speakers, publications, or other content highlighting SARE-funded research and education projects
* Facilitate networking and exchange of SARE-funded research results across state and SARE regional boundaries.

Sponsorships are available in the amount of $500-$5000. Limited funds are available, and sponsorships will be allocated on a competitive basis. Sponsorship allocations will be determined by the event's capacity to achieve clear outcomes in the priority areas stated above.

Rolling applications are accepted on a quarterly schedule with the following deadlines: December 15, April 15, July 15, October 15. Call 301/504-5236 to request a print copy of the application form and guidelines by mail.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SARE Director Accepts New Detail

Farm Bill Brings Changes to SARE Leadership

SARE is experiencing the first ripple effects of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (farm bill) with a new role for Jill Auburn, SARE Director for more than 10 years. Jill is being detailed to a new position in USDA reporting to the Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. She will be chief of the Agricultural Systems and Technology division of the Research, Education and Extension Office. This mouthful was all newly created under the new Act. The move is scheduled for November 17, 2008.

While we'll miss Jill's day-to-day leadership of SARE-the detail could last up to four years-she'll be within hollerin' distance. SARE matters will cross Jill's new desk often, so she'll still be contributing to the effort and better able to link our work with other research, extension and education endeavors at the department.

Employee of the Year

As noted in the previous post, on October 21, 2008, Jill was awarded CSREES' Employee of the Year in Science and Education award-but SARE widely considers her entire tenure worthy of such recognition. Jill brought an openness to new ideas, intellectual rigor, remarkable organizational and management skills and broad experience to SARE. Says one regional coordinator: "She motivates others with positive attitude, clear vision and an ability to solve problems." It's no wonder that at SARE's 20th Anniversary conference in March Jill was given a standing ovation!

The Transition Plan

For the first six months, Western SARE Coordinator Phil Rasmussen will give 25 percent of his time to act as national director. He will receive substantial assistance from Kim Kroll, SARE Associate Director, and Andy Clark, SARE Outreach Coordinator. CSREES will revisit the situation after January 1, 2009 to see what makes most sense going forward as the circumstances of Jill's detail, the new administration, and the transition from CSREES to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (as mandated by the farm bill) develop.

The new SARE team is confident that, with SARE staff's support, the shift in leadership will go smoothly and SARE's work to advance sustainable agriculture will continue unhampered.

Phil Rasmussen

Distributed by SARE Outreach for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), USDA. SARE's nationwide research and education grants program advances farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. SARE Outreach operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Maryland and the University of Vermont to develop and disseminate information about sustainable agriculture.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jill Auburn named the CSREES Employee of the Year in the Science and Education Category

Jill Auburn, CSREES national program leader, is the CSREES Employee of the Year in the Science and Education category. She was recognized for her outstanding leadership of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, championing the goals of CSREES, and dedication to achieving more sustainable agriculture across America.

photo from CSREES web site

Friday, October 24, 2008

SARE Program in USA Today

As sustainable farming takes root, green thumbs get greener
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

ALTURA, Minn. — The 160-acre Kreidermacher family farm, once a traditional dairy operation, has become an incubator for sustainable farming methods.

Ed and Joyce Kreidermacher, now 63, bought the farm when they married in 1967. Over the years, they shifted from cows to hogs to growing flowers. Their son Eric, 33, is using environmentally friendly techniques and making the farm less dependent on oil.

Biomass boilers heat the greenhouses. Ash from the boilers fertilizes fields. Watering systems were designed for conservation, the soil mix used to grow plants includes coconut fiber and rice hulls instead of peat moss from environmentally sensitive bogs, and plants are grown and sold in biodegradable pots.

"We're looking for ways to do things better and be better for the land," Eric Kreidermacher says. "People respect and are willing to pay for a plant produced in a way that's more sustainable."

Kreidermacher is part of a growing trend. More old-school farmers are using techniques that protect natural resources instead of damaging them with chemicals, erosion and animal waste.

Many farmers are "rethinking … what farming is," says Kathryn Draeger, statewide director of the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

'Doing the right thing'

Sustainable farming, the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, with little or no harm to its ecosystem, is catching on across the USA, says Andy Clark, national outreach coordinator for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

Interest is driven by consumer demand for locally grown, organic and sustainable products.

"Farmers have always been good stewards of the land," Clark says, "but now they can get paid for it."

What farmers are doing:

• Dave Petty, who raises cows, calves, corn and soybeans on 4,000 acres in Eldora, Iowa, has turned some crop production land into pasture to prevent erosion and protect nearby streams from fertilizer runoff. After fall harvests, he doesn't till his fields because leaving crop residue in place adds nutrients to soil and helps it retain moisture.

"Every major decision we make has to be sustainable," says Petty, 56.

• Scott Stone's family cattle ranch in Woodland, Calif., irrigates 600 acres of pasture and cropland with water from a nearby soup factory, limits the amount of time cows graze on each pasture to reduce disruption to plants and soil, and makes conservation projects a priority.

It takes time and money, says Stone, 51, but "you're doing the right thing. There are long-term benefits."

• The Yon family farm in Ridge Spring, S.C., also practices rotational grazing, says Lydia Yon, 43. They fenced their streams to prevent erosion and keep cattle from tainting them, making groundwater cleaner, she says. They plant grasses that give nutrients back to the soil.

"What's good for us from a business standpoint and at the same time is good for the environment is not something we do because we have to, but because we want to," she says.

A shift in focus

Sustainable farming makes financial sense for Kreidermacher.

Not long ago, the farm here used 80,000-100,000 gallons of propane every year. Now, by using biomass boilers that burn pellets made of corn and wood, consumption is down to less than 20,000 gallons. Kreidermacher's goal is to reduce that number in the next three to five years and use propane only as a backup.

He buys 600 tons of corn and wood pellets for the boilers each year, so he recently bought a pellet mill and planted native grasses that are being harvested and will be processed into pellets. When the mill is paid for, he'll save more money, he says. Biomass boilers heat two greenhouses, a barn for 1,400 hogs and the house.

Kreidermacher conserves water by capturing rain and pumping water into a growing table for his plants instead of watering them from overhead. The pots he uses are made of rice hulls or wood fiber and can be composted, but they don't break down for two or three years.

The impetus for his innovations was to find ways to make his mums, poinsettias and other plants healthier, Kreidermacher says. Gradually, his focus shifted to the environment. Planting native grasses on 20 acres two years ago, he says, resulted in "an increase in wildlife habitat and water quality, helping erosion problems."

Kreidermacher plants about 30 acres each of corn and soybeans and next year will grow organic corn, wheat and barley. He wants a wind turbine to generate more oil-free energy.

"You have to keep changing for the good of the land," he says.

Read the story at the USA Today site here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Minnesota NCR-SARE Grant Project to be featured on the History Channel

Tim Carroll logging with draft horses – photo by Ronnie Hartman

After working at a treatment facility for juveniles for 16 years, Tim Carroll never planned to have a successful career logging with horses. But Carroll married his wife, Doreen, who had three riding horses, and he soon grew attached to draft horses and began using them to plow his driveway and do other work on his property. Soon after, down the road from his home in Minnesota, Carroll noticed a neighbor had hired a machine logger. The rest, you could say, is history

“Those loggers had left a mess on his property,” explained Carroll. “I asked if I could come by and clean out some of those logs with my horses. It didn’t take long and I had a crowd of people watching. People started asking me if I could come out to their land. Before I had my first job done, I had three contracts waiting. Not long after that, I had 27 contracts. After 5 years, I quit my day job, and started doing this fulltime.”

Cedar River Horse Logging and Wood Products has been in business for 18 years using draft horses for sustainable forest management.

“Equine forestry,” as Carroll calls it, became his new passion. Other than cutting firewood, Carroll hadn’t been involved in forestry. Before he got started fulltime, he traveled around the country working with other horse loggers, such as Jason Rutledge with Healing Harvest Forest Foundation.

Carroll developed a strong desire to educate people about the benefits and sustainability of equine forestry, so he submitted a proposal to from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE). He received a 2006 Farmer Rancher grant from NCR-SARE for $6,000 to promote this low-impact forest harvesting method.

“Draft horses are incredibly efficient, and people need to know that,” explained Carroll. “This project was started to educate the public about equine forestry and to bring young people into the profession. The average age of a horse logger is 45-55. It’s not for a lack of demand for the work; it’s a lack of educated young people getting involved.”

With his project funds, Carroll created a DVD to demonstrate and promote equine forestry. It was aired on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT). For the production, Carroll set up an old fashion logging camp with a 20 man crew, 11 horses, four saw mills, and a camp cook. During production, the camp logged and sawed 36,000 board feet in eight days.

“The film was aired for the first time on January 12, 2008 on TPT and I have had a lot of calls from people who want their land worked with horses,” said Carroll. “I have done a lot of seminars and demos and found people really want this service. This grant has given me an opportunity to understand the PBS system and how it works. My role as a businessman is changing from a producer to a manager and teacher.”

Carroll is convinced his method is sustainable from many angles.

“I don’t think that there’s a system that’s more sustainable for logging than ours,” he explained. “Horses cost about $2.50 per day to operate, including deprecation, and we can move a semi load of logs per day with them. We even use them to harvest the hay they eat. Skidders don’t produce baby skidders. Horses reproduce colts.”

Carroll’s project will be featured on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels program on November 21st, 2008. Visit the Modern Marvels web site for listings.

Read more about Carroll’s project online at the SARE reporting site.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NCR-SARE Awards $100,000 Diversity Grant

Barbara Norman in her blueberry patch. – photo by Joan Benjamin.

For Barbara Norman, sustainable agriculture is more than an interest; it’s a lifestyle. Norman is a third generation farmer on her blueberry farm in Van Buren County, MI, and has been awarded the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program’s (NCR-SARE) first ever Diversity Grant for $100,000.

The Diversity Research and Education Grant Program is a new NCR-SARE grant program. Its purpose is to fund people and/or projects that can help NCR-SARE reach and work with underserved audiences to improve agricultural sustainability in the region. Chaired by Robin Salverson, the NCR-SARE Diversity Committee was formed to respond to NCR-SARE’s goal to reach and work with underserved audiences.

“We have long had the sense that NCR-SARE isn’t as effective as it could be at involving all the people that are interested in making agriculture more sustainable in our region,” said NCR-SARE Regional Coordinator, Bill Wilcke.

“A majority of NCR-SARE stakeholders believe that agriculture will be more sustainable if we involve a greater variety of people and perspectives in our decision making and if we fund a greater variety of projects,” said Wilcke. The Diversity Initiative is a reection of our acknowledgment that we could use some help in setting up systems and practices in becoming more diverse and serving more diverse audiences.”

Ultimately, along with a call for proposals, NCR-SARE committed to building strong relationships with existing programs and organizations that currently serve those that may be under-served by NCR-SARE. That goal will not only inuence future funding, but also how NCR-SARE communicates and engages in outreach in the region.

Norman’s interest in helping underserved farmers is evident in much of the work she has accomplished with Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). In 2002, Norman coordinated a SARE project centered on African-American and Hispanic farmers in order to serve a growing need in southwest Michigan. This newly funded NCR-SARE Diversity Grant project will work with a broader audience and a broader geographic area than her previous work.

“Service providers in other states within the north central region are also interested in working with underserved farmers; however, they need the mentoring of an experienced outreach person who can make the connections within the underserved community that lead to successful projects,” explained Norman.

“Leaders in the underserved communities recognize the advantage of receiving mentoring from experienced farmer advocates who can bring them together with the service providers who can help them,” said Norman.

Norman has selected three specific areas to concentrate efforts for this project: Detroit, MI, Kankakee, IL, and the historical farms of Nicodemus, KS. Norman and MIFFS outreach coordinators targeted these three underserved communities based on demographic data and the potential to build on key relationships with service providers in those underserved communities.

Moving forward with the project, MIFFS outreach staff will meet with potential leaders and early adopters in the targeted communities, develop partnerships with service providers who are interested in working with the underserved communities, and establish this SARE sponsored project as a means to develop relationships among SARE, the leaders/early adopters, the underserved farmers, and the service providers.

Norman’s enthusiasm about the project is sure to inspire the participants.

“I think this project will contribute tremendously to sustainable agriculture in the region,” said Norman. “The more people we get involved, the more the word will spread. More people will be aware of SARE and what SARE has available. As more farmers see the advantage of working with SARE, it’s going to become more exciting.”

To read more about NCR-SARE Diversity Initiative, click here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wisconsin Chicken Hatchers Receive SARE Grant for Unique Breed Hatching Experiement

Despite the cold Wisconsin winters, Julie Maro and her husband recently were able to establish a small hatchery in Western Wisconsin, hatching a unique breed of chicken that comes from parent stock raised on certified organic feed.

Although Maro and her husband had been raising meat chickens at Coon Creek Family Farm, they had a strong desire to establish the first Wisconsin-based hatchery to produce organically raised chicks specifically bred for a pasture-based poultry production system. The breed they selected for their project was the Corndel Cross developed by Timothy Shell of Mt. Solon, Virginia.

With a 2003 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for $5,981, they managed to raise a healthy flock of breeder chickens through a Wisconsin winter.

“After 9-11, there was some discussion about possibly discontinuing shipping of day old poultry through the mail. That potential threat as well as the desire to have a poultry system that was as sustainable as possible prompted us to consider establishing our own hatchery,” explained Maro.

The couple discovered, during their project that the with the costs of feeding, housing and caring for a breeder flock over our Wisconsin winters, the price of certified organic chicks became cost prohibitive to most. However, they did consider this project successful from several standpoints.

“The knowledge gained from our hatchery project has allowed us to successfully incubate a wide range of poultry and waterfowl both for our farm as well as neighboring farms,” said Maro. “It also put us in touch with a wide range of knowledgeable poultry persons whose expertise we continue to call upon even today.”

According to Maro, the Corndel Cross chickens had few health problems making them enjoyable to raise. Over the course of the summer, they raised more than 350 Corndel cross chickens on their farm. During that time, they lost only 10 in the brooder and only 5 once they were turned out on pasture.

A special insulated room was their structure of choice after a hoophouse proved to be less than ideal due to humidity and moisture build-up.

“The room we added as winter housing for our breeder flock has now been converted to a brooder room for our current groups of meat chickens and turkeys. The research we put into this room has enabled us to start these different varieties of poultry with very little brooder mortality. Our hoophouse is now used as an ideal structure for summer pasture-raised laying hens,” said Maro.

Timothy Shell, developer of this breed, has relocated out of the country and Maro and her husband feel an added responsibility to continue raising these Corndel Cross chickens, since they are one of the few producers who have a Corndel Cross breeder flock.

“We deeply appreciate receiving this grant and the opportunities it has given us,” said Maro. “Without it, we would not have been able to afford to take on this project. We have learned a great deal and feel we can use the knowledge gained during this year to expand and improve on our efforts at developing a local hatchery for organically raised Corndel Cross chickens.”

Coon Creek Family Farm’s pasture-raised certified organic birds are available for the holiday season. Call (715) 834-4547 to reserve yours today.

More about their project is available online at the SARE reporting web site.

Since 1988, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.

Coon Creek Family Farm Corndel Cross chickens – photo by Julie Maro

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kansas Pumpkin patch receives “Extreme Makeover” with funds from NCR-SARE

Just off of Highway 77, running north from El Dorado, Kansas, runs seventy three acres of agritourism property which is a part of Carroll and Becky Walters’ family farm and pumpkin patch, Walters’ Pumpkin Patch.

For almost 20 years, the Walters have been growing and selling pumpkins at their U-Pick patch in Northern Butler County. They host more than 20,000 visitors during their six weeks of operation during September and October. Not long ago, they had been interested in adding another attraction for their pumpkin season, as well as new products and an added attraction to market to the public in the spring and summer.

In 1997, they contacted the State of Kansas in hopes that there might be grants or funding which would help them to build their business. They wanted to build the agribusiness component of the pumpkin patch. After doing their research, they submitted a proposal and received a 2005 Farmer Rancher grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).

“We had heard of the SARE funding when we started the grant writing process. A friend from Burns had gotten funding and suggested we apply too....and she helped us as we wrote that first grant,” explained Becky Walters.

The team set to work with their grant funds and built a leaking pond with a windmill which collected the runoff from the construction work on the new Highway 77. They added signage at the windmill to tell visitors how the windmill works and allow them to “feel” the coolness of the water that was being pumped from deep inside the Flinthills. They supplied the pond with native fish that came from the creek that flows through their property.

They’ve added a self guided walking tour of native Kansas wildflowers and offer their seeds and new plants for sale. They offer educational tours, group picnics, camp fires, and seasonal events.

“Kristie Wilson, owner of Hudson Gardens, set us up with a landscape designer,” said Walters. “She had many good ideas for developing our wildflower areas and I did really like her idea of using a kiosk to set out information for our visitors.”

Their facility has become a focus on the Flinthills Prairie and its beauty. They use educational signage to draw attention to the native grasses, flowers, and the flinthills rock that are prevalent in the area.

“There is nothing exciting than seeing a group of school kids watching a crawdad crawl along the edge of the pond, or seeing their excitement when a turtle pops his head up out in the middle of the pond. These things, we in the Flinthills all take for granted, but seeing a kid from the city find the amazement in the country, is truly something that we should all do,” said Walters.

“If I had this to do over again, would I do it? Most certainly. Would I recommend this kind of fun to others? You bet I would!” said Walters.

On October 25th, 2008 the Walters will offer an “all you can carry day” at the pumpkin patch. For $15.00, all the pumpkins you can carry with your own two hands/arms and between your knees will be yours for the carrying.

Read more about the project on the SARE reporting site.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beef Research and Education Project Featured by Beef Magazine

Mary Holz-Clause, Margaret Smith, Terry Gompert, and Laura Paine's 2007 Research and Education Project was featured by Beef Magazine.

Their project aims to work with beef producers to collect accurate, current production costs and to document methods, techniques, and the knowledge contributing to success of these businesses.

To read more about their project, visit the SARE reporting web site here.


Sustainability Showdown
Oct 1, 2008
By Loretta Sorensen

Even though there's a demand for grass-finished and organic grass-finished beef, is it cost effective for beef producers to provide that kind of product?

That's the question a Midwest beef study hopes to answer. Terry Gompert, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator, says a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant is providing funds for a 2008-2009 study involving beef producers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota. Margaret Smith, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension program specialist, and Laura Paine, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Division of Agricultural Development, are also serving as study coordinators.

“We're gathering data from producers involved in three types of beef production,” Gompert says. “We want to analyze a comparative study that looks at both input costs and overall profits for organic grain-fed, organic grass-fed and grass-fed beef. The data will tell us if there's enough profit, or any profit, for low-input producers who use a forage system to fatten their cattle.”

Gompert is assisting 12 producers in completing detailed documentation that will provide the study's analysis data. Smith and Paine are working with similar groups.

The study's first challenge was to develop the structure of the form used to gather study information. “What we found in developing the form was that nearly all existing forms were used to gather information on feedlot production,” Gompert says.

In creating the study questions, Gompert says administrators realized the complexity of documenting costs and profits from a grass-finished beef operation.

“How do you allocate part of the ranch assets to ensure the accuracy of your figures?” Gompert asks. “If you're raising annual crops to finish your beef, how do you accurately allocate those costs in your operation? We eventually came up with those answers because we want to make sure the study documentation reflects real numbers.”

Gompert holds degrees in beef production with a focus on grazing management. He also owns a grass-fed beef operation.
Producer input

One portion of the project includes publication of case studies documenting several participating producers. The information should further assist beef producers involved in or considering a grass-fed operation.

“It's no secret every beef producer has variations in their operation,” Gompert says. “In South Dakota, we're gathering data from Pukwana grass-finished ranchers Julie Williams (DVM) and her husband Larry Wagner. We're also obtaining information from Tim Eisenbeis at Marion, who produces organic beef.”

“Neither Larry nor I like the numbers side of our operation,” Williams says. “This will force us to take time to document our cost information. We feel like we have a lot more money when we're using solar collector leaves to produce most of our feed. What we really need to know is what it costs us per pound to raise a calf. That information will help us determine the value of our animals when we sell them.”

Gompert says the data from participating producers will be very valuable, even though the operations are very different. “A comparative study of the two processes with specific input costs and sales prices is what producers need in order to decide the kind of operation they're going to use,” Gompert says.

Although there are completed studies regarding the cost of producing beef, the researchers couldn't locate a study with the same focus as the one they developed.

“We want producers who are considering grass-fed and/or organic beef to be able to review this study's results and identify the questions they need to ask before making any changes,” Gompert says. “This study should help them decide if some aspects of grass-fed or organic beef are too expensive for them, especially if they have to make use of stored forage.”

Gompert reports he found it difficult to locate organic grain-fed cattle because the cost of organic grain currently is about 50% higher than the cost of traditional grains.

“Organic grain-fed beef is absolutely not profitable right now,” Gompert says. “Corn is just too high; consequently it's pretty clear to producers that they're not going to make a profit with that type of product in the short run.”

Organic grass-fed beef producers face entirely different issues than organic grain-fed, beef producers. They need to carefully analyze input costs and operational requirements and changes to make the right decisions for their operation.
The issue of forage supply

“The biggest challenge grass-fed producers face is having a high-quality chain of forage available 12 consecutive months,” Gompert says. “We can put together high-quality silage and hay, windrow grazing and plant annual crops and graze them late into the fall. We can use native plants and improved pastures and manage all of them appropriately so we have the highest quality feed.”

“High tech” isn't a term producers think of when considering grazing management, but Gompert says learning to effectively produce and use forage requires a significant amount of planning and strategic development.

“Some of this doesn't come naturally and we're really in the learning stages of knowing how to make the most of our forages,” Gompert says. “We need to consider a large variety of forage types and forage-management plans in order to fully explore our options.”

While he doesn't have the data he needs to begin developing an analysis, Gompert believes grass-finished beef will prove to be more cost-efficient than other types of production. He says consumer demand is pushing producers toward grass-finished and organic beef products. However, if costs are prohibitive, consumers won't actually purchase those types of beef.

“Consumers have to realize the cost of producing this kind of meat might be more expensive than traditional methods,” Gompert says. “If they're willing to pay the added cost, producers will do well. But if the costs prove too high, that market will go away.

“Feedlots have been popular because producers could efficiently produce lower-cost meat with a high-quality feed,” Gompert says. “It's been a good model, but some other models are being expressed right now and we need to seriously consider them.”

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer based in Yankton, SD.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vaughn and Cindy Pittz's Farmer Rancher Grant project featured on

Vaughn and Cindy Pittz, recipients of a 2005 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project, were recently featured by

To read SARE reports from this project, visit the SARE reporting web site here.

It's the BERRIES
September 21, 2008

Missouri Valley, Ia. - Berries packed with disease-fighting antioxidants are thriving on a western Iowa farm, with the potential to become the next big health food, according to one researcher.

Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms in Missouri Valley is cultivating about 13,000 black chokeberry shrubs and plans to plant an additional 20 acres.

The black chokeberry, often called by the scientific name aronia melanocarpa, produces deep-purple fruit, about the size of blueberries but with more health benefits. In aronia, the level of anthocyanin, an antioxidant, is about 1,480 milligrams per 100 grams of fresh fruit; in wild blueberries, 486 milligrams; and cranberries, 140 milligrams.

Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity, said Xianli Wu, a researcher and assistant professor at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Ark. Wu has been studying the antioxidant content of aronia berries.

Other researchers have looked at how aronia affects cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, liver failure and obesity, Wu said.

"I believe chokeberry has a huge potential to be a healthy food," he said. "Why people don't produce them or market them, I don't know. You need people to push that."

That's where Sawmill Hollow comes in. The farm is owned and run by Vaughn Pittz, 59, Cindy Pittz, 57, and their son, Andrew, 23.

Growing - and promoting - aronia berries has become an unexpected second career for the couple, who retired from their longtime careers about three years ago to focus on aronia. Vaughn worked for more than 25 years with Kraft Foods; Cindy was a schoolteacher for nearly 30 years.

"There was enough opportunity to start developing more aronia berry marketing ideas, and to encourage more farmers and get more people involved to create an industry," Vaughn Pittz said. "It started out just to be more or less a small family project, and it just sort of snowballed."
Festival attracts 600

They held the farm's first aronia berry festival the first weekend of September to spread the word about the healthful fruit. During two days, about 600 people visited the farm, nestled in Iowa's Loess Hills. Farmers and curious consumers from Iowa, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska came to learn more about the nutritional value of the berries and their viability as a crop.

Under an overcast sky, adults and kids walked through rows of mostly bare aronia shrubs, stretching north from the farmstead as far as the eye could see. Vaughn and Cindy Pittz had wrapped up the harvest the day before. Slightly bleary-eyed, their hands and fingernails stained purple from handpicking berries, they were nonetheless happy, enthusiastically answering questions.

They had left a few plants unharvested for the festival, the branches sagging toward the ground, heavy with fruit. Visitors plucked the berries, popping them right into their mouths.

The berries tasted tart - producing a pucker - dry, and a little bitter. Nothing like the sweet blueberries they resembled.

But Cindy Pittz couldn't get enough of them. She grabbed them by the handfuls, relishing their taste, the juice leaving her teeth and tongue slightly purple.

"It's healthy, and it energizes me," she said. "I just can't seem to stop eating them. It's good for my body and my spirit."

The Pittzes were selling their line of aronia products during the festival, which includes jelly, juice, cayenne pepper sauce, syrup, barbecue sauce and salsa. They sold out.

But this project is larger than just their business, the Pittzes say. It's been a way to help the industry grow, and meet and help educate farmers, consumers and their community.

The buzz surrounding aronia is building as more research emerges, coupled with high public interest in antioxidants and organic products, the Pittzes and others say.

Eldon Everhart, a commercial horticulture specialist with Iowa State University Extension, said there are a lot of aronia products on the market, particularly on the Internet. The biggest interest seems to be in the health food field.

Everhart has worked intensively with the Pittzes for the past five years on this project, he said. But he's also fielding calls from growers in Iowa and other states interested in learning more about aronia.

Everhart said he has "no doubt" that Sawmill Hollow is the largest commercial aronia producer in the United States. For now.

"People like the Pittzes are pioneers," Everhart said. "They're risk takers, but it's a risk that looks good."

Vaughn Pittz learned of aronia berries in 1994 while attending a food technology conference in New Orleans. He spoke to a company there that was importing aronia concentrate from Europe, even though the plant is native to North America.

The family had considered planting a small vineyard as a family project, Vaughn Pittz said. They scrapped the idea because of the intense care involved, and the uncertainty of which grape varieties would grow well in Iowa.

They chose to grow aronia instead. The family hand-planted 207 aronia berry plants in 1995.

They found that the maintenance was easy, and the shrubs grew well in an organic situation. They kept adding a couple thousand more plants every year.

"Little did we know that it would turn into such a huge deal after we started planting them and we saw how well they did in this climate, and they really produced," Vaughn Pittz said. "We figured that this was a great crop for some alternative farming.

"We made our decision right away that we wanted to be organic ... because I knew that the organic thing was going to take off. In the last 15 to 20 years, organic has just grown by leaps and bounds."

Everhart, with Iowa State Extension, said aronia is native to northeastern Iowa, in Winneshiek County, and the eastern United States. It was used by Native Americans and pioneers. Then in the early 20th century, aronia was introduced to Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, he said.

"For some reason, they began to take an interest in it," Everhart said. "Maybe part of it is because Europe seems to be a little bit ahead of us in terms of eating healthy.

"I think 10 or 15 years ago, it wouldn't have flown here. People weren't eating so healthy. Now, with more interest in eating healthy and right, I think it's got more of a chance now."

Everhart said that aronia seems, so far, to be farmer-friendly. It's resistant to insects and diseases, easy to grow organically and grows in different types of soil.

"I think the downside of the aronia is that it takes three years to start producing some crop," Vaughn Pittz said. "It takes four years before you really start to see large volumes of berries on the plant."

The more mature plants have yielded as much as 40 pounds of fruit per plant; the younger, an average of 20 pounds, he said.

The Pittzes, their relatives, friends and groups using the work as a fundraising opportunity have all helped handpick the berries. They had such a bumper crop this year that they had to actually hire help, Cindy Pittz said. Next year, her husband said, they plan to use a harvester.
Supply and demand

It was about five years ago that Vaughn Pittz realized aronia's potential, he said. But the major hurdle has been building a large enough supply to meet the amount of berries that manufacturers want to strike a deal.

Smaller food manufacturing companies require at least 40,000 pounds of berries a year, Vaughn Pittz said. While Sawmill Hollow approached that amount with this year's crop, its best so far, it will take the farm another few years to fully meet that demand.

Another factor: Mother Nature. Last year, all the berries were lost to an early frost.

The Pittzes continue to tout the opportunities, and keep expanding their product line.

"The sky's the limit with the different avenues you can go with the product," Vaughn Pittz said.

They are in the process of making aronia berry capsule supplements, aronia extract and a freeze-dried product. They plan to start selling their products at one of their company Web sites,, in the next three weeks or so, Vaughn Pittz said.

"All the products we're doing - we're focused on keeping it where we don't take heat to the product," he said. "A lot of times when you do a concentrate or pasteurization, they say it really destroys a lot of the nutrients in the product."

Charlie Caldwell, owner of Black Squirrel Vineyard and Winery in Council Bluffs, said he was inspired by the Pittzes' work to begin growing his own small crop three years ago.

Caldwell now has an acre of aronia berries, and plans to add two more acres. He said he sees the market increasing, as more people learn about the fruit.
Earthy flavors to wine

Caldwell said aronia also is good for winemaking.

"It does make a great blending agent for a weak, red wine," he said. "It adds color. It has high tannins in it, so you really kind of have to pucker up. Aronia berries give a little more earthy flavors to the wine, unless you have a very perfumey type of grape.

"I think it's going to add body and structure to a wine more than anything, plus you're going to get some nutritional benefits."

Chris Fletchall, a farmer from Sheridan, Mo., and his son, Josh, along with Rick Glew from Missouri Valley, were among the visitors to the Pittzes' farm to the festival earlier this month.

The farmers said people's interest in staying healthy makes the crop attractive.

"It's more dollars per acre than anything else we've ever seen," Fletchall said.

Vaughn Pittz said a landowner can make between $8,000 and $10,000 an acre from a mature aronia crop.

Glew read about the Pittzes' farm in his local paper and decided to put in 200 plants on his acreage this fall.

"There's such limited maintenance on them," Glew said. "For the least amount of acreage, compared to an acre of corn, it's more of a money crop. You can make the most money off this per acre than anything else you can plant."

photo of Cindy Pittz - by Joan Benjamin

Will Allen has been named a 2008 MacAthur Fellow

photo courtesy of The MacArthur Foundation

Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, has been named a 2008 MacAthur Fellow for his work in urban farming. Growing Power has received and been involved in several NCR-SARE grants.


2008 MacArthur Fellows
Will Allen

Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. In 1995, while assisting neighborhood children with a gardening project, Allen began developing the farming methods and educational programs that are now the hallmark of the non-profit organization Growing Power, which he directs and co-founded. Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather than embracing the “back to the land” approach promoted by many within the sustainable agriculture movement, Allen’s holistic farming model incorporates both cultivating foodstuffs and designing food distribution networks in an urban setting. Through a novel synthesis of a variety of low-cost farming technologies – including use of raised beds, aquaculture, vermiculture, and heating greenhouses through composting – Growing Power produces vast amounts of food year-round at its main farming site, two acres of land located within Milwaukee’s city limits. Recently, cultivation of produce and livestock has begun at other urban and rural sites in and around Milwaukee and Chicago. Over the last decade, Allen has expanded Growing Power’s initiatives through partnerships with local organizations and activities such as the Farm-City Market Basket Program, which provides a weekly basket of fresh produce grown by members of the Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative to low-income urban residents at a reduced cost. The internships and workshops hosted by Growing Power engage teenagers and young adults, often minorities and immigrants, in producing healthy foods for their communities and provide intensive, hands-on training to those interested in establishing similar farming initiatives in other urban settings. Through these and other programs still in development, Allen is experimenting with new and creative ways to improve the diet and health of the urban poor.

Will Allen received a B.A. (1971) from the University of Miami. After a brief career in professional basketball and a number of years in corporate marketing at Procter and Gamble, he returned to his roots as a farmer. He has served as the founder and CEO of Growing Power, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, since 1995 and has taught workshops to aspiring urban farmers across the United States and abroad.

Information as of September 2008.

Hancock Harvest Council's Farmer Rancher Grant project featured by Farm and Dairy

The Hancock Harvest Council's 2006 NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project was recently featured by Farm and Dairy.

The Hancock Harvest Council is a member-supported group of farmers and others who are concerned about the sustainability of the small family farm.

To read the SARE reports from this project, visit the SARE reporting web site here.


Become a do-it-yourself master
by Janelle Skrinjar
Thursday, September 25, 2008

LONDON, Ohio — Farm Science Review is always packed full of do-it-yourself workshops and how-to seminars. It provides a real education for anyone looking to set out on his own in the world of wildlife or small farming.

At the Review, you’ll find experts on everything from growing blueberries to raising pastured poultry. Here, Farm and Dairy has complied a bit of advice from those authorities, so here’s how to…

Prune fruit trees

Pruning is essential for tree strength and fruit production, according to Jim True, a Gibson County (Ind.) Purdue Extension educator.

Apple trees need pruned annually. You need to remove any limb that’s growing up, down or back toward the middle of the tree. The strongest branches grow at 90-degree angles, so those are the ones you want to keep. But keep in mind that two limbs can’t occupy the same space, so be selective about what stays and what goes. Finally, cut your limbs to outside buds to make the shoots grow out rather than up.

“If you can follow these basic principles, you can prune your trees,” True said.

The same pruning techniques apply to pear trees, but you’ll want to put spacers between the limbs on young trees in order to get the proper angles.

For blackberries, prune long growth runners and side branches. You’ll also need to get rid of the previous year’s dead growth canes in late winter or early spring.

For blueberries, prune by removing the older middle shoots, but remember that it’s OK to leave the bushes thick.

If you’ve got grapes, prune the previous year’s shoots until they have three to five nodes each. That’s 50 shoots per 8-foot vine. This will help balance fruit production and vine growth.

Start a winery

The first thing you need to do is homework.

Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, recommends visiting lots of established wineries, becoming familiar with the local Extension office and getting advice from local grape and wine organizations. If you intend to plant grapes, you also need to identify a site for that.

Next, create a business plan that covers things like cost analysis, cash flow and key employees. You’ll also need to develop a marketing plan, which will help you focus on how to sell your product.

Winchell said it’s a good idea to start the legal process early. It can take six to eight months (or longer) to get the proper permits for making and selling wine.

Once you’re ready to start thinking about the wine itself, remember that the most important
aspect is quality. A good way to get experience in making a high-quality product is to volunteer for an internship at an existing winery.

Once you start, keep your wine selection simple. It’s better to have a few varieties of good wine rather than a large variety of mediocre product.

Form a direct farm marketing group

Hancock Harvest Council in central Indiana is a new direct marketing group that’s working to overcome the barriers that separate farmers and consumers. It’s a producer organization, although non-voting membership is open to local residents.

The council started in 2004 with a few people and a broad focus. A year later, the group went through a change in personnel and progress slowed.

Then in 2006 and 2007, interest in local food surged and the council found its footing. The group defined its focus and received an $18,000 grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. It also partnered with the Hancock County Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

Through that grant, Hancock Harvest Council reached some important milestones in 2007, according to Roy Ballard, Hancock County Extension educator. The organization put out its first farmers’ market guide and developed a Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign with help from the National Food Routes Network.

By partnering with the network, Hancock Harvest Council got help with product branding, securing an online domain name and creating standardized advertising graphics.

The council works with schools, farmers’ markets, retailers, community supported agriculture groups and restaurants to create local direct markets for its members.

Evaluate a wind energy production contract

If you’re talking to a wind energy development company about installing a wind turbine on your property, do NOT start your negotiation with this question: How much?

Instead, said Lynn Hamilton, an ag economist at Michigan State University and California Polytechnic State University, the more important question is: What is the length of the contract?

You may not think that’s negotiable, but it is. If a company tells you they need the right to the land for 50 years, “that’s baloney,” Hamilton said. Shoot instead for a contract that’s renewable or renegotiated after 25 years.

And be careful before accepting a flat payment per year, she added, unless language is included to index that payment to a rate of inflation.

Contracts are typically either for leases (occupation) or easements (rights of use). Regardless, Hamilton said, most contract points are similar: duration of the contract (a certain number of years, or even a permanent transfer of rights), landowner compensation payments, each party’s liability, and transfer of the contract to third parties. Of course, a host of other issues must also be resolved in negotiations, like who’s responsible for taking down a turbine or how quickly repairs are to be made.

The bottom line, Hamilton emphasized, is that every landowner should have his attorney look at the contract before signing.

Southern SARE Region Communications Specialist, Gwen Roland, featured on PBS

Take a journey through Louisiana’s swamps…with SARE’s very own Southern Region Communications Specialist, Gwen Roland,as she recounts her years on a self-built houseboat in the Atchafalaya Swamp.

On October 1st, PBS stations around the country will be rebroadcasting this not-to-be-missed documentary based on Gwen’s book, Atchafalaya Houseboat.

Atchafalaya Houseboat is scheduled to air Oct. 1 at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, but this could vary from one PBS station to another. To find out when your local station is airing the show, use the link below. Search by zip code or state to find your local station, then go to that station's TV schedule for October 1. If you cannot find the show listed, contact your local station directly to find out when it might be airing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NCR-SARE Funds Bioenergy Conference in MO

Auburn University agronomist David Bransby says that agriculture will be an increasingly important player in the energy market, and the energy economy will impact production decisions of farmers throughout the world as this trend develops. "There are 2.5 barrels of oil energy equivalent in one ton of biomass; at an oil price of$100/barrel, that values biomass at $250 per ton, and this will impact farmers´ planting decisions."

Bransby will deliver the keynote address at a Bioenergy Conference to be held December 5, 2008, at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. The conference is being organized by University of Missouri Extension and Truman State University´s Agricultural Science department, with funding provided by a Professional Development Program grant from USDA´s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).

The conference will offer professional development training on a number of bioenergy topics, including grassy and woody biomass feedstocks for cellulosic biofuel production and for co-firing with coal to produce electricity; an overview of wind energy production in the Midwest, focusing on what landowners should know about wind energy leases; financing bioenergy projects; and building community and regional support for bioenergy projects.

Bransby´s research focuses on production of switchgrass and other annual and perennial species for energy and fiber crops, as well as production of annual and perennial crops for forage production. Bransby has degrees from the University of Natal, University of Missouri, and University of South Africa.

Conference organizer Bruce Lane, Adair County Missouri Extension Livestock specialist said, "While we know that agriculture has a role to play in America´s energy future, corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel are not long-term solutions to the United States´ energy needs. Agriculture should be part of a sustainable energy future, and this conference will feature cutting-edge information on renewable energy alternatives."

The conference is targeted to high school and college agriculture faculty members, extension personnel, natural resource and conservation agency personnel, community leaders, and anyone interested in a sustainable energy future. Conference registration is $50 and includes a resource notebook, DVD, lunch, and refreshments. Additionally, a waiver of the registration fee plus a travel scholarship of $200 will be awarded to each of 40 applicants who plan to use this information in educational or outreach activities.

View the full conference program and download a registration/scholarship application online. Registration deadline is October 25, 2008. Scholarship application deadline is October 1, 2008 and recipients will be notified by October 25, 2008.

For more information, contact Michael Seipel at or 660-785-4316.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Water Recycling System Captures Crucial Rainfall in Elsah, IL

Three Rivers Community Farms’ shaded wash station in June 2007, where they trap the wash water and reuse it for irrigation. - Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Community Farm.

In Elsah, IL, Amy Cloud and Segue Lara are working on a project to recycle water at their Three Rivers Community Farm. Their goal was to design and install a wash station that sends produce wash water to a custom built-grey water recycling system as well as capture rain water from the roof of the barn.

Three Rivers Community Farm was established in December 2006, with Cloud and Lara’s lease of 12 acres located just beyond Elsah. Three Rivers is a small, chemical-free vegetable farm, where Cloud and Lara have battled drought conditions throughout the past 5 years, despite a rainier season this year.

My husband and I have been farming in the St. Louis area since 2003 and witnessed three consecutive years of drought in 2004, 2005, and 2006,” said Cloud. “This and the uncertain impacts of climate change have encouraged our interest in water conservation. If this area continues to warm and is prone to periods of drought, we want to make sure we have mechanisms in place to farm as best as possible.”

In 2006, Cloud submitted a proposal for her water recycling project to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant program, and was selected for funding.

For Cloud's project, water recycled from Three Rivers' wash station and rain water collected from the roof will be used to water the farm's animals, irrigate the “pick-your-own” crops, and long-term, will be used to water Three Rivers’ mid-to-late season greenhouse production.

This grant has given us the opportunity to become better educated about the innovations out there concerning water conservation and waste water recycling,” said Cloud. “We've found that water conservation can be as complicated and high-tech as you would like, or it can be just as effective relying on simple, gravity-fed systems.”

Cloud is attempting to find that middle ground between high tech and low tech.

“We are trying to look far enough in the future and base our cistern purchases on possible growth: as our farm grows, as we grow more produce, then our water needs will increase as well. At the same time we don’t want the cost to get out of hand.”

Cloud experienced a setback in 2007 with her project. The consultant she hired in 2007 to help with the project went out of business. Several months after the fact, she received a basic design from the consultant, but felt it was not worth the money she paid.

But Cloud is not one to throw in the towel.

“Since then, I have been using my own resources and partnering with one faculty member from Principia College to augment and expand the consultant’s design,” said Cloud. “We’ve decided on a plan that will work for our farm.”

Cloud is confident that their project results will benefit other producers who may not have access to streams, ponds, or wells for irrigation and therefore, rely on city water for washing and irrigating.

As water rates increase, it is important to get as many uses from city water as possible. Hence, collecting the hundreds of gallons of water remaining from washing produce and being able to use it again to irrigate or water animals saves money and a very precious resource,” said Cloud. “In addition, to lessen our dependence on city water, being able to capture rainwater is crucial. Our system will be one example of how to do both.”

Read more about Cloud’s project online, or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kids Get the Skinny on Whole Grains in North Dakota

Photo courtesy of Richland County Extension

In Lidgerwood, North Dakota, the issue childhood obesity is being addressed by a group of people committed to developing acceptance of whole grain products through experiential learning, child-friendly marketing, and colorful packaging. The goals for their project, “Kids Get the Skinny on Whole Grains,” are to create a niche market for their white wheat products for sustainability, profit for family farms, and healthier kids in the region.

Working in an extension office, co-owner of Dakota Family Mill, Adrian Biewer, became aware of the health needs that wholegrain products could address. Developing a better tasting wholegrain product made practical sense. In 2006, the farm families of Dakota Family Mill, Duane and Jean Smith, Bob and Debra Evenson, and Adrian and Anne Biewer, submitted a proposal to the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant program, and were selected for funding.

They chose the SARE grant program because it was flexible. “It best fit our needs and it also would allow us to meet the need for nutritional education in the communities,” explained Biewer. Community outreach, especially to kids, is an essential component of the project.

“I have always enjoyed the flavor and texture of whole grain,” explained Richland County Extension agent and project participant Colleen Svingen, “But as research continues to reveal the numerous health benefits of whole grains it reinforces the need to teach the health benefits to the public.”

In addition to programming for 35 4-H students at various age levels, “Kids Get The Skinny on Whole Grains” has met with much success with their “Bread in a Bag” program reaching 190 students, and also at each afterschool program in seven elementary schools reaching 130 students with “Pretzel in a Bag.”

The owners of Dakota Family Mill have been pleased with the response to the products, and are hopeful that production costs can be cut.

“People who have tried the products seem to really like them. However, we really wish we could do it cheaper so more would consider buying it. When you line it up with other products at, say, Walmart, - it looks expensive. And, there are no places close to us to custom mill or pack,” said Biewer.

Through this project, the owners of Dakota Family Mill have learned many aspects of the flour business.

“Most companies want huge quantities of product to work with thus either our company did not have that much product or it would be too expensive at this time,” said Biewer. “It has been a learning experience to work with our local grocer. They were very open to offering our product on the shelf and have started providing baked white wheat products from their bakery. We were part of the baking mix refinements for their batches and were asked to evaluate their products. They have been very helpful and will enable us to better meet the needs of future customers.”

The group is confident that people are ready and willing to learn about and embrace the idea of eating more whole grains. They stress that White Wheat Whole Grain Flour can be used in ordinary recipes, and teach that whole grains can be implemented in recipes and food for every meal of the day.

The group hopes to become more experienced at sales strategy, marketing, and develop a larger market area.

Read more about their project online or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.

Monday, June 23, 2008

SARE 20/20: Sustainable Innovations Are Revitalizing American Agriculture

A New Mexico farmer cut annual greenhouse heating costs from $2,000 to zero using the power of the sun. Perched at the edge of the Sonoran desert in New Mexico, Don Bustos’ family farm is endowed with ample sunshine - but cool temperatures limit the growing season to only four or five months. When rising fuel costs threatened his farm and family, Bustos tapped nature’s own energy source: the sun.

With the help of a grant from SARE, Bustos tested a new system that uses solar heated fluid to warm greenhouse beds, lengthen his growing season and increase profits.

Bustos’ innovative approach is just one of dozens profiled in SARE’s newest free publication, SARE 20/20: Celebrating our First 20 years, Envisioning the Next. Featuring farmers and ranchers who are turning to sustainable agriculture to boost profits, protect the environment and build their communities, SARE 20/20 chronicles two decades of agricultural innovation supported by SARE.

“We are proud of how SARE grantees – from every corner of the nation – have used sound research to advance the frontier of sustainable agriculture,” said Jill Auburn, SARE director.

SARE 20/20 highlights cream-of-the-crop projects from more than 3,700 SARE funded grants, illustrating how producers, researchers and educators are collaborating to advance sustainable innovations to the whole of American agriculture. A few examples:

• A nonprofit uses innovative marketing strategies to open new markets for more than 40 produce farmers, resulting in a tenfold increase in sales spanning six years.
• Researchers in the South develop a toolbox of low-cost strategies to detect and target parasites in goats and sheep, reducing the use of chemical dewormers.
• Minnesota researchers find success using reduced tillage and rotations to control corn rootworm.

Download SARE 20/20 for free at

To order print copies, visit, call (301) 374-9696 or write to Sustainable Agriculture Publications, PO Box 753, Waldorf, Md. 20604-0753. (Please specify SARE 20/20 when ordering by mail.) Allow 3-4 weeks for delivery.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stahl and Brummond Win NACAA Awards

The Minnesota Association of Extension Agricultural Professionals and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) have selected NCR-SARE Administrative Council Member and Extension educator, Liz Stahl, as the Achievement Award winner from Minnesota for 2008. The NACAA has also named Brad Brummond, NCR-SARE Administrative Council former chairperson and Walsh County extension agent, the Distinguished Service Award in North Dakota.

Stahl is an educator based in Worthington and conducts programming in the areas of tillage, commodity crop production, pesticide safety and organic crop production. The achievement award goes to a member that has demonstrated excellence in programming within their first five years of employment in Extension.

Brummond is the State Extension Organic and Sustainable Agriculture contact
and specializes in Private and Commercial Pesticide Certification for North Dakota.

Congratulations to Liz and Brad on their accomplishments!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New High School Curriculum Developed: "Toward a Sustainable Agriculture"

A new curriculum has been developed for educators to teach high school students about sustainable agriculture.

It was developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Wisconsin Madison with funding in part from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE).

Diane Mayerfeld, the Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum Coordinator for CIAS, and the Wisconsin state coordinator for NCR-SARE's Professional Development Program, participated in creating the curriculum, and is approaching with project with hopefulness and enthusiasm.

"I developed this curriculum for two reasons. First, high school agriculture teachers did not have access to sustainable agriculture materials. Quite a lot of the teaching materials they use are provided by larger agribusinesses, and most of the rest also has a large-scale, intensive agriculture focus, where questions of environmental sustainability are at best an afterthought and often are dismissed or ignored," explained Mayerfeld.

"Second, the kinds of information and programs we generally deliver to Extension agents and other agricultural educators are of limited use to teachers who engage with a very different audience in a very different way. They need specifically prepared curriculum materials that they can use directly in the classroom."

What makes this curriculum unique is the comprehensiveness of the project. It consists of 5 modules:
1) Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
2) Corn, Beans, and Burgers: field crops in sustainable agriculture
3) Flesh, Fish, and Fowl: animals in sustainable agriculture
4) Apples, Beets, and Zinnias: sustainable horticulture
5) A Growing Market: organic agriculture

"There are several excellent stand-alone lessons in sustainable agriculture or food systems that have been developed," said Mayerfeld, "but I think there is a need for a curriculum that puts those activities into a comprehensive framework."

From the beginning of the project, Mayerfeld was committed to creating a curriculum specifically for high school students, although she iterates that education about food systems and sustainable agriculture is important for everyone.

"I believe that high school is an important time to open students' minds to critical thinking about food and agriculture. For some students, high school is the final step in their formal schooling," said Mayerfeld. "For those who go on to further education exposure to ideas about sustainability may lead them to look for and demand more education in that area."

Educators are welcome to adapt and reproduce sections of the curriculum for non-commercial use. It is available online for free at

To order a CD of the curriculum, please send a check for $5.00, payable to “UW-Madison CIAS” to:

Curriculum Project
1535 Observatory Dr.
Madison , WI 53706

Questions, comments or suggestions can be directed to:
Diane Mayerfeld
1535 Observatory Dr.
Madison , WI 53706
(608) 262-8188 or

Diane Mayerfeld

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Field Notes - Winter/Spring 2008 Issue

The Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Field Notes is now available online.

Field Notes is a newsletter that shares announcements and news topics from the North Central Region SARE program.

Read about NCR-SARE's 2008 Madden Award Winner, Henry Brockman, urban agriculture in Kansas City, and more!

If you'd like to receive a hard copy of NCR-SARE's Field Notes, please call (612) 626-3113 or send an email including your mailing address to

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jim Koan Featured on MSNBC and NPR

"Jim Koan has gone hog-wild in his battle against a beetle that threatens his 120-acre organic apple orchard." - MSNBC

Former NCR-SARE Administrative Council member and Michigan farmer, Jim Koan , was recently featured on MSNBC for his work with pigs in his apple orchard. Read the MSNBC feature here.

His work has also been featured on NPR's "All Things Considered." Listen to the program here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farm Fresh Eggs and Chicken Coming to the Table in Missouri

Dominique Chickens - photo by Mark A. Fields, Clark, Missouri

What is the best way to promote small farm poultry flocks and save heirloom poultry breeds from extinction? A dedicated group of poultry producers in East Central, Missouri thinks creating a broader market for the birds is the key.

The group, consisting of Kelly and Phyllis Klober, Paul and Kelly Harter, Mark and Michelle Wagstaff, and Nathan and Sarah Price, recently received a grant of almost $6,000 through the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Program. The goal of the grant is to explore new ways to market their poultry through the River Hills Purebred Poultry Marketing Alliance Project.

The River Hills Alliance growers specialize in raising heirloom poultry -- traditional and beautiful birds such as Orpingtons and Dominiques that used to be common on family farms but which now are rare and endangered. The birds are hardy and well adapted to the traditional and natural production methods these small farmers prefer.

The Alliance growers started out trying to preserve and promote heirloom poultry breeds by marketing the birds and surplus eggs through a local farmers’ market and to friends and neighbors. Now, the number of heirloom birds is increasing and the group hopes to take their poultry breed preservation work into the next era by creating a web site, publishing a directory of breeds and their availability, and creating public interest through outreach at a variety of events such as The Fall Poultry Fest on Sept.13, 2008.

“Our plan is to work through an alliance of small-scale producers of a number of breeds to form a plan of work to guide movement beyond local markets,” says Kelly Klober. In addition to their marketing and promotion efforts, the group will use their grant to explore shipping methods for eggs, chicks, and birds and how to turn their heirloom poultry table eggs into a distinct premium product tied to their region.

The River Hills Growers want their marketing plan to help heirloom poultry breeders nationwide develop markets that will sustain the birds and the farmers who raise them.

Kansas Producer Reducing Commercial Fertilizer Costs Using Legumes

With the cost of commercial fertilizer mirroring the price of oil this past year producers like Calvin Adams are looking at other fertilizer options. Legume crops do not require nearly as much commercial fertilizer as other crops thanks to their nitrogen fixing ability. If including nitrogen fixing plants into cool season smooth bromegrass pastures can potentially reduce production costs as well as protect the ground and surface water sources from potential pollution then producers in the North Central Region of Kansas may have found an economic production advantage.

For years farmers and ranchers have been trying to answer the question of how to maintain optimum production of cool season pastures while decreasing costs and improving late season forage quality. Many have tried to include alfalfa and sweet clover into the grass mix but haven’t been able to maintain persistent and productive stands of legumes or forfeiting grass production or quality.

Adams of Beloit, KS, along with Keith Harmoney, of Kansas State University, and Dwayne Rice, of NRCS, hope to solve this problem using a grant Adams received from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE). With the $2,758 dollars in grant funding Adams will look at the effects of adding legume crops such as grazing tolerant alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, hairy vetch, and several others to his pastures.

The trial will be set up in two paddocks of a 12-paddock rotationally grazed smooth bromegrass pasture. The two test paddocks have distinct soils. One soil is an upland soil with a moderate slope, while the other is a lowland soil with a minimal slope. This will allow Adams to examine which legumes work best on the predominant soils found in the North Central region of Kansas.

Adams will also examine the effects of fertilizer on the legume crops. A portion of each test strip will be fertilized while the remainder will be unfertilized throughout the growing season to see how the legumes establish in both fertilized and non fertilized areas. The fertilized and unfertilized strips will later be compared for total forage production to ascertain the economics of reducing the amount of commercial fertilizer while optimizing cattle production.

Adams’s results will be shared through the local grazier’s group and Kansas Graziers Association farm tours. There are also plans to write newsletter and journal articles so that others can benefit from the findings.

Photo of birdsfoot trefoil from the NRCS National Plant Materials Center Photo Gallery, NETSC

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two Weeks Remaining to Submit Applications to the Sustainable Agriculture Standards Committee

This is a reminder that two weeks remain to submit applications to participate on the Standards Committee that will work toward development of an American National Standard for sustainable agriculture.

Stakeholders interested in working on specific advisory subcommittees are also encouraged to apply during this period.

To Learn More
Please click here for the official Standards Committee application deadline reminder sent to stakeholders and interested parties.

Please click here for the Leonardo Academy press release announcing the Standards Committee application deadline reminder.

Call for Standards Committee Applications If you have not already submitted your application to participate on the Standards Committee or supporting subcommittees, we encourage you to apply! Please note: In the event that a Standards Committee member is not able to attend a meeting, an alternate from their organization can be appointed to serve as a proxy for that meeting. Knowing that you may have to miss a meeting should not prevent you from applying to the committee. Please help us increase awareness about the efforts to develop an American National Standard for sustainable agriculture among potentially interested parties and stakeholders by forwarding this announcement and the attached press release to anyone you know who may be interested in and/or affected by this standard. If you have any questions, please contact Amanda at Leonardo Academy (608-280-0255,


Amanda Raster
Leonardo Academy

phone: 608-280-0255