Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Indiana Farmer Links Organic Food with Community Support

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) ventures are relatively new in the United States, and not much is known about designing them for rural areas.
Thanks to a North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) grant, Michael Hollcraft of New Carlisle, Indiana plans to test develop an organic CSA marketing model that is convenient for rural consumers and profitable for farmers.

CSAs allow members of the community to become shareholders in a farming operation in return for fresh produce. This provides fresh local food for the shareholder and helps the farmer cover the upfront production expenses. Shareholders also help share the risks of farming when weather or other difficulties arise.

Hollcraft will use his sustainable agriculture grant to explore the best way to operate an organic CSA in a rural community. He will conduct market research to determine consumer food preferences and price points, which membership options work best, and customers’ willingness to use the Internet for membership payments and placing orders.

Hollcraft plans to look at other CSA operations to determine which practices work well, and how he can improve upon them. He also plans to do a literature search to uncover Best Practices for creating a profitable, organic CSA. Hollcraft explains that a Best Practice is a technique or practice that, through experience and research, has been proven to reliably lead to a desired result.

Once the research is done, Hollcraft will put together fact sheets that can be used by other producers who are facing the same marketing problems he faces. He will also offer to share his expertise on the subject through workshops and Extension events.

For more information or to participate in his upcoming CSA Marketing Survey, you may contact Michael Hollcraft at and/or (574) 993-3008.

Research results of all past NCR-SARE funded projects can be reviewed on the national SARE web site

Supporters of the project: From left Diane Kuhl, Elsa Littman, Hollcraft with wife Adriana Don-Hollcraft, Jorge Bourzac, and seated on the tractor is Gene Baughman. – photo by Marcy Dailey

Michigan Community to Benefit from Sustainable Agriculture Grant

Improving community nutrition, providing food for the needy and opportunities for at-risk youth and community members are the goals of an $18,000 grant received by Brian Botkin, Doug and Lee Kirkpatrick, and Charles and Alice High.

Brian Botkin, a resident of Alpena, MI, will coordinate the grant the group received from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) to carry out a regional community food project.

The project will further develop Sunrise Food Coalition’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and help make it self sustaining. CSAs work through a membership system. Typically families or individual members pay for shares upfront to help cover farm operating costs in return for fresh produce during the growing season.

What makes Centurion Farm’s CSA unique is that members include organizations that support the homeless and at-risk populations in Northeast Michigan. Clients of these organizations will receive much more than fruits and vegetables.

One CSA member, Huron House (a residential treatment facility for boys), has committed to bringing their boys out to the farm in 2008 to perform community service and learn work skills. Other members include Shelter Inc. (a human service organization) which has asked the CSA to provide their clients with entrepreneurial agriculture training and classes on nutrition and preparing fresh produce for meals and storage.

Botkin notes that Northeast Michigan has a high percentage of children in poverty and a high unemployment rate. But he also cites studies that reveal a lot of potential to improve the economy by developing new food and farming businesses that focus on fresh local food. Centurion Farms CSA along with advisors, cooperators and volunteers, plans to tap that potential by training at-risk youth to start new food and farming businesses and by working with other sustainable farms in the area to cooperatively market products.

Centurion Farms – photo by Yvette King.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Staple Crops Coming to Ohio and the Surrounding Area

Have you ever stopped to think about where your food comes from? How far did the buckwheat in your pancakes have to travel to get to you? An Ohio resident is hoping that soon you can say “Just down the road.”

Brandon Jaeger of Athens, OH has received a farmer rancher grant from NCR-SARE to investigate how to group staple food crops on the Western Allegheny Plateau.

Jaeger is concerned not only about where his food comes from, but what it costs to get to him. He notes that “Currently, the staple foods of my community’s diet come, for the most part, from large scale operations, with poor crop and wildlife diversity, heavy machinery operating on a nonrenewable resource, and minimal, if any, soil maintenance.” He is also concerned with how much fossil fuel is burned just to transport food to local areas.

Jaeger’s solution is to demonstrate how staple food crops can be grown locally, and with sustainable practices. He intends to grow, among others, four staple crops, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa. These crops will also fit into the diet of someone who is wheat/gluten intolerant.

To make growing staple foods feasible for small farmers with limited resources Jaeger plans to use permaculture and biointensive systems. Both of these systems focus on intensive (low inputs, high yield) practices that rely on renewable resources and self-sustaining ecosystems.

Jaeger’s overall goal for the project is education. He is using donated land in Athens and Meigs counties to set up example plots that the public can view to learn more about sustainable growing techniques.

“I hope that after seeing it can be done, more people will take on these practices and help to grow food locally,” said Jaeger.

He constantly encourages people to ask their local bakeries and markets for local grains and foods in order to encourage vendors to stock local products, citing the enthusiasm of local vendor Bob O’Neal, owner of Village Bakery and Della Zona Pizza . “Bob said he’d even be willing to close down the bakery to help with harvest,” explained Jaeger.

For more information on the project feel free to contact Jaeger at (740) 590-8240 or

This photo depicts Jaeger preparing site for quinoa trial beds. Photo by Michelle Ajamian.

Michigan Mint Farmer Attempts 6000 lbs of Fudge for a Good Cause

Jim Crosby (“Peppermint Jim”), of the Crosby Mint Farms in St Johns, MI will be participating in a world record candy making event, and help children's charities in the process.

On May 17th and 18th, 2008 in, Lansing, MI, Crosby and a professional chef will attempt to make the world’s largest slab of organic / natural fudge, weighing in at more than 6000 lbs.
In addition to setting a record, the event will also support various children's charities.

Crosby Mint Farms has been a family-owned independent producer of mint and mint products since 1912.

In 2003, Crosby received a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for his project, “The Value of Mint: Preserving Historical Mint Fields with Windbreaks.”

With this project he sought to increase the wind break, provide wildlife habitat and year-round green esthetics as well as protect his fields from wind erosion.

In addition to Crosby, former NFL football players Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Cliff Odom, Billy Sims, Everson Walls, George Teague, and Byron Williams also will be participating along with Bobby Jon Drinkard, of CBS’s “Survivor:Palau” to help raise funds for children's charities.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

NCR-SARE project produces Minnesota cookbook

Renewing the Countryside has spent the past three years working on an NCR-SARE project, "Green Eating and Vacationing in Minnesota: Eat and Play to Support Sustainable Agriculture," which among other things produced a cookbook that features 100 recipes from 38 of Minnesota's best chefs and restaurants who are committed to locally grown, organic, sustainable food.

"The question we are asking ourselves is given the growing interest and excitement in local foods, how do we harness that interest to move the system along," said Jan Joannides, project coordinator and executive director of Renewing the Countryside.

"Various organizations in Minnesota are looking at different aspects of the food system, from building the capacity to produce local, sustainable foods to developing efficient and fair distribution systems to providing access for those least able to get it."

Recipes come from Lucia’s, Café Brenda, Spoonriver, Heartland, New Scenic Café, Angry Trout Café, Restaurant Alma, Brasa, Bryant Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag, Bayport Cookery, Birchwood Café, Hell’s Kitchen, Nosh, Heartland, New Scenic Cafe, Minwanjige Café, and several more Minnesota favorites.

Read more about the results of project (LNC04-246).

Buy the book here.

Michigan Farmer reaches new farming audiences in Community Supported Agriculture

Jim Sluyter first read about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in a now-defunct magazine called Harrowsmith, soon after the first CSAs were started in the north east part of the United States. Although the concept was immediately appealing for their small homestead farm, Sluyter and his spouse, Jo Meller, hesitated to become involved.

“At the time we mistakenly believed that our rural area didn't need, or couldn't support, more than one farm. We now know that we need far more than the dozen or so that serve the region,” said Sluyter.

Twenty years later, Five Springs Farm is a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm serving Michigan since 1994. They offer on-farm pickup at their farm near Onekama, MI and they deliver to members in Manistee, MI.

In 2004, Sluyter and Meller helped to host a major CSA conference in Michigan with a group of other Michigan CSA growers and advocates (CSA-MI) who felt the timing was right.

A year later, Sluyter and the group looked to the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for assistance with a new project, “Growing New CSA Farmers: Conference and Mini-School for Community Supported Agriculture.”

This project aimed to help farmers, especially new and prospective ones, learn about CSAs and sustainable agriculture through a conference and 'mini-school' for prospective CSA farmers. The grant would also provide financial assistance for farmers to attend the CSA conference and/or mini-school, a CSA mentoring program, and a CSA "startup" manual.

“NCR-SARE deals with groups of farmers (or individuals) who are not organized as educational (for the Farmer/Rancher grants) or non-profit agencies, making groups like our CSA-MI eligible,” explained Sluyter.

The group has been pleased with the project so far, and called the 2006 CSA Conference and Mini-school an “unqualified success,” although the project has not yet run the full course of its funding.

“The interest and enthusiasm about CSA, with new growers and those wishing to transition from conventional agriculture (or add CSA to an existing operation) is re-affirmed. We expect to see a measurable increase in CSAs in Michigan and nearby states as these projects come to completion,” said Sluyter.

Sluyter reports a steady growth of CSA farmers in his area of the region, especially among younger producers and women producers.

“At many agricultural conferences I would consider myself, at best, in the middle of the age range at 58. A conference for CSA attracts a significant number of young growers and wannabes, and I find myself feeling much more like one of the 'elders.' This bodes very well for the future of CSA and agriculture in general. The number of women is also noticeable, with perhaps half of those attending being women.”

Although Sluyter already considers their project a success, he is looking forward to the final phase of the project, a mentor pilot project. NCR-SARE is will provide support for that phase of the project as well.

“SARE offers a few advantages over many funding sources. The application process is straightforward and easy to understand. With a direct interest in issues of sustainable agriculture, applications do not need to be detailed on the concept of small farm needs and interests since the agency knows the terrain,” said Sluyter. “Local food has become a real force in people's eating and food selection habits. We hope that our conference and mini-school will be an important part of the growth of Community supported Agriculture.”

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

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.

CSA Conference and Mini-school audience. – photo by Jim Sluyter

Monday, April 7, 2008

14 Youth Grants for 2008

BROOKINGS -- The Dakota Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is offering 14 youth grants for 2008.

The grants of up to $250 each are available to young people ages 8 to 18 who wish to carry out projects about sustainability in agriculture.

The application deadline is April 23. For information, call Frank Kutka at 701-483-2348, ext. 113, or e-mail him at

"The purpose of these grants is to provide opportunities in the Dakotas for young people to learn more about sustainable agriculture," said Kutka, North and South Dakota SARE state coordinator based at NDSU's Dickinson Research Extension Center. "Youth will design and carry out their own projects, then report the results to the public," South Dakota students developed a number of strong projects last year, from meat goat production to growing raspberries."

An application for the grant is available at this link: Or ask for it at your county Extension office.

The Dakota SARE Web site also has a link to the form at their Web site. Visit and then click on the "programs/forms" link. Scroll down on this page to find the forms and more information on the program. It is listed under the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Youth Grants for the Dakotas heading. It includes examples of past awards and projects.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

NCR-SARE Announces NEW Grant Recommendations

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) has made public the lists of projects most recently recommended for funding for each of its four main grant programs: Farmer Rancher, Research and Education, Professional Development, and Graduate Student.

Go to to find the lists of the projects recently recommended for funding. NCR-SARE administers these four grant programs, each with specific priorities, audiences, and timelines. The focus for all four NCR-SARE grant programs is on research and education.

Funding considerations are made based on how well the applicant articulates the nature of the research and education components of their sustainable agriculture grant proposals.

NCR-SARE funds 50 to 75 cutting-edge projects every year in the four grant programs. NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council (AC) members decide which projects will receive SARE funds. A collection of farm and non-farm citizens, the AC includes a diverse mix of agricultural stakeholders in the region. Council members hail from regional farms and ranches, the Cooperative Extension Service, universities, and nonprofit organizations.

In addition, regional representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and NCR agribusinesses, state agencies, and foundations sit at the table to distribute grant money.

The USDA's NCR-SARE program has awarded more than $30 million worth of competitive grantsIllinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. to farmers and ranchers, researchers, educators, public and private institutions, nonprofit groups, and others exploring sustainable agriculture in 12 states:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ohio Farmer, Shoshanah Inwood, Presents her Winning Entry at the SARE 2008 National Conference

Ohio farmer Shoshanah Inwood of Colombus was the winner of the SARE 2008 New Voices Contest. - photo by Martha Nieset

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. In support of SARE’s mission to advance sustainable practices and innovations to the whole of American agriculture, SARE's 2008 New Voices Contest called for written, audio, and or video submissions that articulated new perspectives and illustrated an inspirational and pioneering vision for the advancement of sustainable agriculture over the next 20 years.

Contestants were asked to address the entrant’s vision of how truly sustainable production and marketing systems would improve profitability, stewardship of the land and water, and quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities. Applicants were asked to highlight practical strategies for evoking deeply held and/or broadly shared values to advance sustainable agriculture on a wider scale.

Inwood presented her contest entry at the closing plenary session at SARE’s 20th Anniversary New American Farm Conference, held March 25-27, 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2000, Inwood co-founded Silver Tale Organic Farm in Lucas, Ohio. She has collaborated on projects with local farmers, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Central-Ohio Chef Grower Network.

Inwood's dissertation work, examining farm succession at the rural-urban interface, was funded by NCR-SARE (GNC06-0070). She served on the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA) board for four years.

Inwood's 2007 annual report for "Sustaining the Family Farm at the Rural Urban Interface: Farm Succession Processes of Alternative Food and Agricultural Enterprises and Traditional Commodity Farmers" (GNC06-070) is available online here.