Thursday, November 19, 2009

Indiana farmer devises innovative field to market method for small produce farms

After working nights in a factory job, Kevin Cooley is realizing his dream and creating new field to market methods for small produce farms at Cooley Family Farms in Lafayette, IN.

Several years ago Cooley and his wife, Tracy, realized that his manufacturing management job was taking him away from their family and their dream to keep close to the soil and his roots. They decided to expand their gardens to a scale large enough to become Cooley’s full-time occupation.

Through the help of a 2005 Farmer Rancher grant from NCR-SARE, Cooley is designing, building, and testing a washing system, including machines and plastic crates, to reduce the labor requirements needed to harvest, prepare, package, and transport various kinds of fresh produce.

“Using this machine, reductions can be made in the time needed to wash produce that had to be harvested in less than ideal conditions, like green beans covered with dirt from a recent downpour,” said Cooley.

“While attending the Purdue University Horticultural Congress a few years ago, I heard a gentleman talk about how he had received a SARE grant to do some research on season extension,” explained Cooley. “I had the idea, but we lacked the funds that would be needed to try these ideas. I visited the SARE website and learned about how SARE could make it possible to bring the ideas to life.”

Making small produce farming more effective was a primary goal of Cooley’s project. “It was important to me in the concept of this project to reduce labor needs, which would allow for a single operator to accomplish more by doing multiple tasks -- this is being realized. I have learned that our crate based system can save time and money by reducing redundant handling of produce between the field and the marketplace.” said Cooley.

Cooley used the obstacles that accompanied his research and experimentation as learning experiences. “When you hit a road block or difficult period you should stop and look at the purpose of the project and what it will improve for your farm. This will help to refocus and rethink what needs to be done and how to restart.”

Cooley's Project was recently featured in Vegetable Grower's News. Read the piece here.

To read more about the SARE project involved, visit the SARE reporting website at

KSU Students Practice Sustainable Agriculture Techniques at Student Farm

Source: High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal


Growing oyster mushrooms in recycled dorm lofts is one way that Kansas State University students are learning about sustainable farming practices through hands-on work and research projects at a K-State student farm.

Rhonda Janke, K-State associate professor of horticulture, teaches a course on sustainable agriculture and worked with students to start the Willow Lake Student Farm in fall 2007. She said the two-acre farm, which is at the Forestry Research Farm near Tuttle Creek Dam, is a place for students to develop skills and an understanding of sustainable farming practices through hands-on learning.

"This really all began with student initiative," Janke said. "They wanted a place to practice and to really do all the things we talk about in class. I just facilitate getting the grants and the logistics set up, and the students become the managers and decision-makers in terms of what we grow, how we sell it and other details."

The farm produces a variety of vegetables, fruit, mushrooms and honey and is run by students. Besides crop production, students also conduct independent research projects.

The co-managers of the farm are: Keith Unruh-Carey, senior in horticulture, 2005 graduate of Washington High School, Kansas City, Kan.; and Brandon Gonzalez, senior in horticulture, 2003 graduate of Wichita High School East. They are doing research on oyster and shiitake mushrooms for a project funded through a Kansas Department of Agriculture mushroom grant they wrote with Janke.

Gonzalez said mushrooms typically are grown in sterile conditions, but the students are working on growing the mushrooms outdoors at the student farm by using a more sustainable approach.

"Our approach is more sustainable than having to keep the mushrooms in an area that is sterile and temperature-set," he said. "It's also a lot cheaper. Someone that might want to add extra income for themselves can do it at home and not have to purchase a lot of extra items."

Unruh-Carey said the shiitake mushrooms are grown on logs; for the oyster mushrooms, the students have created a boxed structure from recycled dorm lofts with screens to keep bugs out.

"Most outdoor grows have pest problems during certain parts of the season, so we are physically excluding them," Unruh-Carey said. "It has worked pretty well so far, and it's a good setup for people who can't justify the expense of an indoor grow room."

Gonzalez said the students are studying the best variety and the best process to grow the mushrooms. Once it is established, they will teach others their growing process.

"The idea is that we are trying to grow mushrooms in a way that we can teach the community and anyone who wants to learn, to increase the overall mushroom production in the Manhattan area," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said many people start at the farm as volunteers with the Willow Lake Farm Club, which has people from several academic departments who supplement the farm labor.

"You get a lot of people out there working with various levels of experience," Gonzalez said. "It involves a lot of teaching one another. People come work together and learn from each other."

He said the farm's produce is sold through several outlets, including farmers' markets, local businesses and on campus at noon Tuesdays from a kiosk east of Seaton Hall. The club also has events to educate the community about sustainable farming.

"When you're growing local food, it becomes a community venture where you're investing in community development, health and well-being," Gonzalez said. "It builds the community in every way."

Gonzalez said student research projects often stem from grants. The farm isn't financially self-sufficient yet, and the students rely on grant money and donations.

One of these projects involves Jacob Chapman, freshman in agronomy, Olathe, and Aaron Yoder, junior in horticulture, Bluffton, Ohio. They are studying tomato production with and without mulches and irrigation. They're trying to see if tomato production could be sustainable in a low-rainfall region. They wrote and received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant. Chapman is a 2008 graduate of Olathe South High School, and Yoder is a 2005 graduate of Newton High School, Pleasant Hill, Ohio.

Yoder also is assisting May Altamimi, graduate student in horticulture, Manhattan, with a project that involves comparing pac choi and tomatoes that are grown either organically or conventionally and in high tunnels or in open field conditions.

To read more about the SARE project involved, visit the SARE reporting website at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Extension Educator Helps Hispanics

SOURCE: Yankton Press and Dakotan
Published: Saturday, November 14, 2009 12:21 AM CST


Sharon Guthmiller traveled to Mexico earlier this year, but she wasn’t a tourist.

Instead, the Yankton County Extension educator spent 12 days with a Michigan State University program learning about Latino culture. Last week, she gave a presentation to a Michigan State conference.

“My topic was understanding culture,” she said. “Understanding a person’s tradition and background is all part of the process of having them trust you.”

Guthmiller will put her experiences to use in assisting the growing Hispanic population in Yankton County.

“The Hispanics are here, and their numbers have been rising,” Guthmiller said. “I’m not sure if the numbers will keep going up, but they should at least remain stable. The Latinos are here for the long term.”

According to U.S. Census estimates, Yankton County had 524 Hispanics in 2008, accounting for 2.4 percent of the population. That compares to 395 Hispanics in 2000.

Based on the 2008 estimates, Yankton County has the fourth-largest number of Hispanics in the state and ranks among the top 10 counties for percentage of its population. Hispanics have surpassed American Indians — who stood at 480 — as the largest minority in Yankton County.

“For our community, we need to be ahead of the curve,” Guthmiller said. “We need to put away our cultural stereotypes and take a fresh perspective.”

Many people are surprised that more than 500 Latinos live in Yankton County, Guthmiller said. For the most part, the area Latinos tend to keep a low profile on the job and around the community, she said.

“In Yankton, the Latinos often live in the shadows and aren’t real visible, as far as their tendency to network,” she said. “They tend to be wary of authority and are often afraid of the police, even if they are legal immigrants.”

Hispanics play an important role in the community, and an effort needs to be made to reach out to them, Guthmiller said.

“They want to better themselves and receive the respect they deserve as individuals,” she said. “They are concerned about their economic well-being. They need access to education, health care, housing and transportation.”

The Hispanic children are part of the local school system, Guthmiller said.

“The children are resilient. They come to the United States and make the transition,” she said. “But when families move here, or the children are born here, they become Americanized and often don’t want to go back home. The families become a combination, between the children who are Americans and the parents who are here but not necessarily permanent residents.”

When it comes to health care, Latinos could be affected more than other segments by the H1N1 outbreak, Guthmiller said.

“Hispanics tend to live in large households, and there are H1N1 concerns with the common living arrangements,” she said. “In Michigan, they would have 10 to 12 people living in a small confined area, that could help spread the flu and other health problems.”

Hispanics consider themselves part of the local fabric, Guthmiller said.

“Hispanics are saying they are as American as you or I. They see one ‘America’ for the whole continent,” she said. “Latinos are starting their own oral histories and recording their own stories.”

Latinos need acceptance into the community, Guthmiller said. “We need to be consistent with our message,” she said.

South of the Border

The trip to Mexico helped Guthmiller put a face on Hispanics and their needs. Her participation in the Michigan State trip grew out of classes she has taken at Iowa State University.

“The classes deal with the international perspective on poverty,” she said.

Guthmiller found a common denominator regardless of nation or race. “The face of poverty is the same in all cultures,” she said.

Guthmiller learned of the Mexican trip through the North Central Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).

“The trip was open to farmers, educators and others,” she said. “We were immersed in the Hispanic culture for 12 days.”

Guthmiller received culture shock upon landing in Mexico City. She didn’t speak Spanish and immediately found herself at a loss at communicating with others and using the local currency.

“We were suddenly removed from a culture that we were comfortable with and that was familiar to us,” she said. “Now, we knew what immigrants felt like.”

Guthmiller found poverty upon entering Mexico City, with shacks built on hillsides.

The group spent part of its time in rural areas, learning about indigenous people and an archaeological site with ancient Mexican history. An interpreter helped with the 60 dialects of indigenous languages.

Guthmiller quickly found similarities between rural Mexico and the rural Midwest.

The rural areas are suffering from an out-migration of young people to the cities, she said. The rural areas are seeking to create jobs and start industries that will keep young people or attract those who move away, she said.

In the villages, families ran sustainable businesses such as rug making using simplistic looms. Other villagers created toys.

“Private companies were offering $100 loans to start them off,” Guthmiller said. “If they could prove they were making good, they would receive up to $1,000 in loans.”

Even with such efforts, villagers still find it difficult to make a living, Guthmiller said.

“Many Mexicans come to the United States so they can earn dollars and send money home, so they can build their mom and dad a brick home,” she said.

Besides dealing with unemployment, some rural areas of Mexico find difficulty maintaining an infrastructure, Guthmiller said.

“Their source of spring water was piped to holding tanks,” she said. “They were allowed to use water two hours a day.”

Guthmiller noted cultural values while in Mexico. Traditional family roles remained prominent, particularly in the villages.

“Men were hunters and gatherers, and the women’s role was more for family stability and going to the marketplace,” she said.

Women often remained in the home, Guthmiller said. That trait was noticeable at a large meal served at an outdoors tent.

“The women who fixed the meal stayed in a house, away from the crowd,” she said. “We had to go inside to see them and thank them for the meal.”

The Hispanic culture is very family-oriented, Guthmiller said. “The first thing the leader of our group asked was ‘How’s your mother?’ It’s all part of their emphasis on family,” she said.

One morning, Guthmiller noticed children walking hand in hand to school.

“They were dressed very neatly. They were just clean and impeccable,” she said. “They were walking to school with their grandparents, their siblings and older persons. It was inter-generational, with respect for all ages. In Mexico, the young show respect for the older generation. The older care for the very young.”

Mexicans also honor their guests, Guthmiller said. She noticed the streets were lined with triangle flags and was told the display was in her group’s honor.

“The village was welcoming us with flags,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”

Religion also plays a major role in Mexican life, she said. Most of the population is Catholic, and Mexico City had a big cathedral located in a government square. On St. Valentine’s Day, bands and orchestras played, and people crowded the marketplace.

And plenty of people could be found in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, Guthmiller said. Despite the traffic congestion, Mexican drivers took it in stride, she said.

“Mexicans are not as uptight. They are more laid back,” she said. “In traffic, they honk and don’t use turn signals. They just wave to each other. They have a more tolerant system. There definitely isn’t road rage.”

The Mexican desire to please was also found at mealtime, Guthmiller said. The hosts put out their best, with food ranging from fresh fruit, vegetables and salads to rice, wild rabbit, tortillas and even the inside of cactus with a sauce and scrambled with eggs.

The Mexicans also showed a tremendous pride in their jobs, Guthmiller said.

“When they worked at the hotels, they were dressed with a spit shine. It was their profession, and they were proud of it,” she said. “The same way, the bus driver was very proud that he had followed his profession. To him, it wasn’t just a job.”

That strong work ethic, and the struggling economy, has driven more Mexicans to the United States, including Yankton, Guthmiller said.

“At Michigan State, we learned the land owners and producers were aging, and the Latinos provided the labor that was needed in Michigan,” she said. “The proprietors and land owners needed them, and they needed laborers to fill their meat plants. They are doing things that the other main population wasn’t doing.”

Studying The Figures

Guthmiller said she has been working with Mike McCurry, a South Dakota State University Extension rural sociologist who helped author the analysis, “Hispanics in South Dakota.”

“Between the 1990 and 2000 census, Hispanics were the fastest growing group in South Dakota,” McCurry told the Press & Dakotan. “Census estimates in 2005 showed a 30 percent growth since 2000. The trend obviously continued, even increased, through the first five years of the 21st century.”

The SDSU study notes that Hispanic immigrants often work at meat packing and food processing plants, which explains why Yankton County has seen an influx of Hispanics.

The analysis says Hispanic immigrants rarely take jobs from local residents. Instead, they accept lower-sector jobs that local residents do not want.

The study says Hispanics migrate to places where they know others. A network of relatives and friends shares news about jobs.

The 2010 census will provide definite figures, he said, but he noted some factors.

“Raids on meat packers in the Midwest during the last several years have affected the migration in and out of the Midwest, which would include South Dakota,” he said.

Also, Yankton’s 2000 census data included Gurney’s horticulture plant, which no longer operates in the community, McCurry said.

“That single employer change probably changed the profile in Yankton County for several years,” he said.

On the other hand, the dairy industry along I-29 employs many Latino workers, McCurry said.

Hispanic immigration may not be able to maintain its past pace, McCurry said.

“Despite Hispanics being the largest-growing minority over the past 15 years, the 2005 population estimate was 14,140,” he said. “Maintaining that 6 percent growth per year would have required about 850 more Hispanics each year.

“If the economy and more pressure on employers increased out-migration and reduced in-migration even a little, we could be seeing a slowed population growth.”

On a strictly limited anecdotal basis, McCurry said he has heard less Spanish spoken in his Brookings hometown, particularly by groups of three to five young men.

“That suggests fewer immigrants,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m noticing a bit more Spanish from family groups, which suggests that the Hispanics who have made a home in South Dakota aren’t leaving.”

Hispanics have much to offer the region, Guthmiller said.

“They treasure their culture,” she said. “They have human needs the same as any culture. They value relationships, family and respect.”

Guthmiller said she grew up on an American Indian reservation and was reminded of a Lakota phrase — “Mitakuye Oyasin,” or “We are all related.”

“Hispanics are welcoming, sincere people who want to sit at the table,” she said. “We all have positive hopes for the future. We need an understanding of those positive hopes if we want to work together.”

To read more about the SARE project involved, visit the SARE reporting website at

Yankton Press & Dakotan Archives Community Extension Educator Helps Hispanics

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grantsmanship Workshop - Systems Research

In the 17th century, philosophers debated whether scientific inquiry should be based on a reductionist approach, in which complex processes and systems are viewed as the sum of their parts, or on a systems approach, in which all the components of processes and systems are studied in relation to each other.

For over 300 years, the reductionist approach dominated with remarkable results. With our current ability to manage large and complex data sets, there is renewed interest in adapting a systems science approach to modern challenges in agricultural and food science to uncover solutions at the speed of modern life.

The Sustainable Agriculture and Education program (SARE), the Integrated Organic Program (IOP) and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) within the National Institute of Food and Agriculture require that applicants use a systems approach to meet challenges faced by producers and consumers. The directors of these programs, in partnership with Cornell University, are offering a one-day, national workshop on the preparation and management of competitively awarded, systems-based grant applications.

Information for the workshop and registration information can be found at

Please pass this information to anyone who is interested in applying to these programs. There will be web access to the workshop so travel is not necessary. Please note that the deadline for registration is Dec 3, 2009.

Sean McGovern
Outreach Specialist, SARE Outreach

Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities Guide Now Available

Source: ATTRA

ATTRA is pleased to announce that a long awaited updated publication, 'Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: Federal Programs for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Entrepreneurship, Conservation, and Community Development,' is now available on the ATTRA website at

This guide is an updated version of a previous publication called 'Building Better Rural Places' and is written for anyone seeking help from federal programs to foster innovative enterprises in agriculture and forestry in the United States. Specifically, the guide addresses program resources in community development, sustainable land management, and value-added and diversified agriculture and forestry.

It is designed to help farmers, entrepreneurs, community developers, conservationists, and many other individuals, as well as private and public organizations, to locate information about relevant federal programs.

The 'Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: Federal Programs for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Entrepreneurship, Conservation, and Community Development' guide is a collaborative publication of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and several USDA agencies, and includes content based on work by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. USDA agencies and programs providing support for this publication include the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) program, U.S. Forest Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA, formerly Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service).

A Mid-Missouri gardener gets back to farming roots — and greens — in the cold season

Source: Columbia Tribune
Story by Marcia Vanderlip
Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Jennifer Grabner slogged through mud recently en route to the site of her future livelihood: more than half a dozen hoop houses behind her Ashland home. The wind was brisk, but sun warmed the greenhouse plastic covering her young lettuces, spinach, chard, carrots, beets and other cool-weather vegetables. In all, she plans to grow 20 to 25 various cool-season crops this year.

“This is fun when the sun is shining,” she said as she walked through one of her 20-foot-long tunnels. She pulled a plump golden beet from rich, composted soil. The cool weather improves the flavor and brightens the color of many of the vegetables, she explained as she plucked baby carrots and deep purple beets. She pointed to tiny potato sprouts, optimistic that she could have potatoes in January.

Although many farmers were wrapping up their CSA season last week, late October marked the beginning of Grabner’s budding winter CSA, which will extend into April. This year, Grabner already is harvesting cool-weather crops for 18 families. CSA, or community-supported agriculture, is like subscription farming. The consumer pays for a weekly allotment of a farm’s produce during the growing season. Grabner’s customers pay week to week, she said, so if she has no produce, she doesn’t get paid. “I feel more comfortable with that — for now,” she said.

This year Grabner increased her CSA shares after adding five more passive-solar hoop houses on a small portion of her family’s 5-acre plot. A year and a half ago, this area held only “a ratty shed, sheep, goats and some chickens.” After clearing out the shed and the animals last fall, she was able to provide winter produce for eight families from October to April.

“We would have gone in debt,” she said, if she hadn’t received a $5,588 two-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. The USDA gives SARE grants to farmers who do not use chemicals and who reduce harmful impact on the environment in their farming practices. The SARE grant allowed Grabner to jump-start her business without breaking the family bank. “When we talk about sustainability at our house, we also mean economic sustainability,” she said.

These same grants have helped other families live their hoop dreams — which are not always uniformly sweet.

Walker Claridge received a SARE grant three years ago to build a third hoop house at his 4-acre farm near Fulton.

“There’s a lot of work involved” with hoop houses, he said recently. “You have to baby-sit them, keep an eye on the seven-day forecast so you don’t see the winds pulling off the covers.” And even under plastic cover, some crops still require floating row covers — or plant blankets — when temperatures freeze.

Still, year-round farming is catching on in Mid-Missouri as consumers demand more local produce.

When Grabner advertised her winter CSA at the farmers markets in the spring, she was flooded with takers. “I had to turn a lot of people away.”

“A lot of farmers at the market invested in hoop houses this past year,” said Rex Roberts, a farmer and board president for the Columbia Farmers Market.

Roberts, who offered a “small winter CSA” this year to 11 families, is growing lettuce, arugula and kale in his hoop house in Marshall.

“There is a huge learning curve,” involved in hoop-house growing, he said. “My first hoop house was wiped out by a tornado.” In addition, “you get less light in the winter, so growth can be slower.”

Grabner, who is 40 and currently a stay-at-home farmer, is in the thick of that learning curve. Her husband, Keith, an ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, helped her construct the unheated hoop-style houses, and their three children, ages 5, 7 and 10, all help out in the garden. But mostly “this is a one-woman operation,” Grabner said. “I’m glad I don’t have to depend on this for my livelihood.”

This fall was so wet and cool she faced some trouble germinating seed and starting plants. She is now building a small, heated greenhouse for that purpose. Grabner hasn’t had a problem with the wind yet and speculated that it might help to set up the structures running east-west. Her newest addition — a larger hoop house from a kit — faces north-south. “We’ll see how it does this year.”

The Grabners constructed six of the eight hoop houses behind their Ashland home from welded-wire cattle panels wired together and bent into tunnels. Five panels make a greenhouse that is 20 feet long and 7 feet wide. The outer opening is lined with used garden hoses to keep the sharp metal from tearing the greenhouse plastic. Most are anchored on long baseboards, which they salvaged from the old shed. The boards are anchored with long stakes.

“You could put one of these together for about $200,” Grabner said.

Grabner, who is a trained botanist, began her plans to extend the season about five years ago after watching a presentation at the National Small Farm Trade Show in Columbia. An extension specialist explained how sunlight could heat a tank of water in a hoop house during the day, which would then emit enough heat to raise the interior temperature at night.

Then she read Eliot Coleman’s books about gardening in cold weather. Coleman, an organic farmer and researcher, is known for his cold-weather growing techniques. “He was doing this without tanks of water. I thought: If he can do it in Maine, I can do it in Missouri.”

“The key to growing in the winter is timing,” she explained, “so I have things to harvest in the dead of winter, when the days are short” and plants grow slowly. Grabner is recording what she learns about growing in Central Missouri because locals currently have no manual. As part of the grant, she will record her experiences to share with home gardeners and farmers. On Friday, Grabner passed on what she has learned about cool season growing at the 17th National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference.

“There is not a lot of information on how long it takes things to germinate in December. Or how fast a spinach plant will grow in February in Central Missouri. No one writes about that; we are figuring that out.” She has delighted in the hardiness of some vegetables. Last year, she learned that bok choy grows during the coldest and shortest days of the year. The real advantage to growing in winter is “you don’t have the bugs and disease” that plague summer growers.

“We could all do this,” she said, realizing she was building on a long tradition. “My great-grandmother had a cold frame in her garden.”

Grabner still keeps a couple of cold frames, but she also has gleaned ideas from more modern urban farmers. After attending a workshop by Will Allen, the founder of the Milwaukee-based Growing Power, which promotes inner-city gardens, she realized she didn’t need a tractor to till the soil under her hoop houses.

Allen “was building raised beds on paved, abandoned lots” because the soil beneath was contaminated. “He just covered the pavement with a 6-inch layer of wood chips and put a layer of compost and soil over it,” she said. “I realized that we don’t have to have a tractor, we can do this by hand,” she said. She tried the Allen approach when she erected her latest hoop house. “We mowed the grass, put down landscape fabric, a layer of wood chips and 8 inches of compost and soil. It worked fine, and we don’t stir up weed seed.”

She also has extended her hoop knowledge to Southern Boone Elementary School, where she helped create a school garden three years ago. The school now has a hoop house, and she will help build a second one there next week. The hoop houses will be used as part of the popular garden programs at the school.

“This is what I want to do,” she said that chilly afternoon, holding up a bouquet of freshly picked root vegetables. “I love this.”

Read the first part of this series here:

Jennifer Grabner looks over her greens and root vegetables in one of her eight hoop houses. - Photo by Marcia Vanderclip, Source: Columbia Tribune

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Outstanding Youth/Uncommon Wisdom: Youth Renewing the Countryside

Down a winding country road in Garnett, Kansas stands the Bauman farm, where agriculture is a family affair. Upon purchasing the farm in 2001, the family's first farm venture was to raise pastured chickens and livestock. Today, the Baumans sell about 7,000 broiler chickens each year and an average 350 dozen eggs a week.

With the help of a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the Baumans experimented with pasturing different species of animals in the same area. With the "pasture stacking" project, the family increased their broiler chickens' average weight by 50 percent.

Rosanna, the eldest of the Bauman girls, explains that the weight increase was due in part to the addition of a new water system. "The project had a positive social impact on us kids," explains Rosanna. "It has led each of us to take steps towards farming sustainably."

Rosanna is just one of dozens of young people returning to the roots of American agriculture who are featured in a new book-Youth Renewing the Countryside. Produced by Renewing the Countryside in partnership with young writers and photographers across the country and with support from SARE and the Center for Rural Strategies, Youth Renewing the Countryside shares remarkable stories of young people in each state changing the world through rural renewal.

Download Youth Renewing the Countryside at for free. To order print copies ($24.95 plus $5.95 s/h) visit, call 301/374-9696 or send check or money order to SARE Outreach, PO Box 753, Waldorf, Maryland 20604-0753. (Please specify title requested when ordering by mail.) Discounts are available on orders of 10 or more. Allow 3-4 weeks for delivery. Call 301/374-9696 for more information on bulk, rush or international shipments.


Distributed by SARE Outreach for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) USDA. SARE's mission is to advance - to the whole of American agriculture - innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. SARE Outreach operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Maryland and the University of Vermont to develop and disseminate information about sustainable agriculture. Visit for more information.

For FFA members, Green is the New Blue | | The Indianapolis Star

For FFA members, green is the new blue | | The Indianapolis Star

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Farmer Rancher Grant Writing Workshop

Source: Springfield News-Leader

Farmers and ranchers can learn how to write and submit proposals for grants to promote sustainable agriculture practices at a Nov.9 workshop at the Southwest Research Center in Mount Vernon.

The workshop runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $15, which includes lunch and workshop materials. To register, call (417) 483-8139 by November 5.

For more information or to download a grant application, see

The workshop is sponsored by the Webb City Farmers Market and open to the public.

Funding for the grants comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

SARE awards grants for a wide range of ideas related to sustainable agriculture. Examples of 2009 projects include use of green manure crops, reducing parasites in yellow perch production, pasture management and vegetable production.

SARE invites farmers or ranchers operating in USDA’s North Central Region, which includes Missouri, to submit proposals that test and evaluate adaptable sustainable agriculture practices for their operations. Grants up to $6,000 for individuals or up to $18,000 for groups of three or more people from separate operations are available. SARE expects to fund about 50 projects in the region.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Dec. 3.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

SARE's New USDA Home

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has a new home at USDA, the recently launched National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA, created by the 2008 farm bill, replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES).

NIFA's goal is to elevate the status of science in agriculture with the mission of using sound research and education to address some of the world's toughest problems through agriculture: global food security and hunger; climate change; sustainable energy; childhood obesity; food safety.

"I want USDA science to focus most of its resources on accomplishing a few, bold outcomes with great power to improve human health and protect our environment," says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Read the NIFA launch press release or view the launch video for more information.

SARE is proud to be part of NIFA and will continue to support cutting edge research and education projects advancing sustainable innovations to the whole of American agriculture.


Distributed by SARE Outreach for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) USDA. SARE's mission is to advance - to the whole of American agriculture - innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. SARE Outreach operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Maryland and the University of Vermont to develop and disseminate information about sustainable agriculture. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Field Days Highlight Soil Fertility on Organic Vegetable Farms


Madison, WI (CALS Release) Two field days in November will highlight organic soil fertility management for vegetables.

On Nov. 2, Michael Racette of Spring Hill Community Farm in Barron County will discuss his system that involves annual cover crops, extensive mulching and purchased fertility inputs. Spring Hill Community Farm is located at 545 1½ Ave., Prairie Farm, Wis.

On Nov. 4, Larry O'Toole of Growing Home's Les Brown Memorial Farm near La Salle, Ill. will talk about his use of horse manure compost, cover crops and tillage tools. The farm is located at 2539 N. 30th Road, Marseilles, Ill.

Both events will run from 1-4 p.m.

These farms are participating in a two-state project examining the costs and benefits of soil fertility management strategies on organic vegetable farms. University specialists and project staff will be at the field days to answer questions and discuss findings.

Brochures and directions to the farms are available at For more information, contact John Hendrickson:

608-265-3704 or

The field days are sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS), with support from the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SARE Speakers Showcase Innovations at National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference


Please join us in November when a host of SARE grant recipients plus staff from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program will be featured at the largest annual small farm trade show in the United States-The National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference(tm). Now in its 17th year, the Conference takes place on Thursday, November 5th through Saturday, November 7th, 2009, in Columbia, Missouri, at the Boone County Fairgrounds. The theme for 2009 is "Education is the Key to Success", and the "teachers" include farmers, ranchers, youth and educators with hands-on experience.

Can you farm or ranch while protecting the environment, making a profit, and benefiting your community? These speakers say, "Yes!" and will show you how to do it. There will be 38 Farmers Forum talks featuring North Central Region (NCR) SARE Farmer/ Rancher Grant and Youth & Youth Educator Grant recipients. Sessions are 25 to 55 minutes long and run continuously throughout the three-day event. You'll hear about bioenergy, developing markets, native plants, high tunnels, berries, forestry, heritage turkeys, Angora goats, Christmas trees, poultry, bees, herbs, ginger, reducing pesticides, mushrooms, and much more. After the talks, meet the speakers and pick up free sustainable agriculture resources at the SARE Trade Show booths. Call NCR-SARE for Farmers Forum details: 1-800-529-1342.

Choose from 16 one-hour seminars at the show - two featuring SARE staff and associates. Don't miss the Conservation Planning seminar on Nov. 5 by Cheryl Simmons, NRCS National Technology Specialist and NCR-SARE Administrative Council member, or the Integrating Cover Crops seminar on Nov. 7 by Andy Clark, author of Managing Cover Crops Profitably and Coordinator for SARE Outreach.

Six short courses give you the opportunity to get in-depth information on topics ranging from agroforestry to mob grazing. Explore grant options for sustainable farming at a short course on successful Grants and Grantwriting on Nov. 7. Instructors include: Joan Benjamin, NCR-SARE Associate Regional Coordinator; Margaret Krome, Policy Program Director of Michael Fields Agricultural Institute; and Indiana farmer and SARE grant recipient, Kevin Cooley.

The National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference(tm) is sponsored by Small Farm Today(r) and sustained by Bishop & Associates; NCAT-ATTRA; Truman State University; Great Salt Lake Minerals; and USDA-CSREES Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

Show times are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Preregistration is $8 for 1 day, $12 for 2 days, or $15 for all 3 days, allowing attendance of the trade show, seminars, demonstrations, exhibits, shows, meetings, and Farmer's Forum. Three-hour short courses are an additional $35 each ($25 in advance).

To register, call Small Farm Today at 800-633-2535, write National Small Farm Show, 3903 W Ridge Trail Rd, Clark MO 65243, or see for more information.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Begin Farming Ohio Website Launched to Assist Beginning Farmers

Contact: Sharon D. Sachs, Spokesperson
Phone: 800-372-6092, ext. 3 or 614-885-3042

Columbus, Ohio (Aug 27, 2009)

For the first time Ohio's new and beginning farmers have an entire website dedicated to their unique information needs and designed to make it easier for them to find the services and resources they seek. The website URL is

The website represents the collaborative efforts of the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy; Ohio Department of Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture; Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA); the Organic Food and Farming Education & Research Program of the OSU Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center; and the Ohio State University Extension. These entities, working together as Begin Farming Ohio, aim to build Ohio's capacity to provide, expand, enhance, and sustain services to beginning farmers.

The new website was developed with an affiliated partner, Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO). IFO allocated funds awarded by the national outreach office of the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program to enhance the website development process. IFO provided case studies and resource referral information first published in 2008, one output of Wisdom in the Land, a mentor-based pilot program for beginning farmers in central Ohio that IFO operated from 2006-2008.

The website will also provide listings of events of special interest to Ohio's beginning farmers, and facilitate searches for educational and funding resources to assist beginning farmers with challenges related to production, marketing, and business management.

"In order to help sustain the future of agriculture, it is important to support beginning farmers," said Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs. "The department is excited to be part of this collaborative effort, which will assist these farmers with less than 10 years experience."

The USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture reports that 21% of U.S. family farms were beginning farms, and in contrast to established farms, beginning farms were more likely to be small farms.

About Begin Farming Ohio
Begin Farming Ohio was formed in 2008 as a collaboration of higher education, state government, and the non-profit sector to better serve Ohio's beginning farmers. Each of the five founder organizations provides education, training, and other services to farmers and has an employee pool of professionals who are experts in both sustainable agriculture production and farm business management. Additional affiliated partners provide resources that complement the services of the collaborators. See for a complete list of collaborators and affiliates.

Production of Disease and Mite Resistant Queen Honey Bees in Rochester, Illinois

Jacobson pouring liquid nitrogen which is used to test bees for hygienic/disease resistant behavior. – Photo by JP Goguen

In Rochester, IL, Stu Jacobson is attempting to increase interest and understanding among beekeepers in Illinois, eastern Missouri, and southern Wisconsin.

Jacobson has been working with bees for decades. He kept bees in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where he lived from 1970 to 1991. He started beekeeping in central Illinois in 1993. He has a PhD in biology and he did his Post Doc work studying the African bees when they first arrived in Venezuela in 1978.

In 2006, Jacobson submitted a proposal to increase understanding and adoption of disease and mite resistant lines among beekeepers in Illinois, eastern Missouri, and southern Wisconsin and was awarded $4,409 from the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program.

“The project was designed to address the dual problems of a lack of adoption of disease and mite resistant or tolerant lines of bees and an over-reliance on queens from Sunbelt states,” explained Jacobson. “Use of these lines will lessen the industry’s dependence on harsh chemical and antibiotics, which can contaminate honey and cause reproductive problems for the bees, and should be at the core of strategies to address Colony Collapse Disorder.”

A major thrust of the project was comprised of educational presentations to beekeepers on disease and mite resistant lines of bees. During 2007-2008 nine presentations were made to 288 persons. Venues included the Bluegrass Beekeeping School, which draws beekeepers from Indiana and Ohio; the Kankakee Valley, IL Beekeepers Association; an introductory class of the Lincoln Land Beekeepers’ Association; the summer meeting of the Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association; at a State Line Beekeepers Association meeting; and at the Eastern Apicultural Society meeting, among others.

The 2008 Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association (ISBA) and the fall Stateline Beekeepers Association (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin) meetings served as catalysts for the formation of an Illinois Queen Project (IQP). This initiative’s purpose is to promote the Illinois production of disease and mite resistant queens as well as small colonies adapted to the state’s climate and conditions.

The second part of the project was to produce disease and mite resistant, Minnesota Hygienic queens and to sell them to local beekeepers.

Two operations were involved in this project, a mixed grain farm of 250 acres in Loami, IL, and a 2.6 acre homestead near Rochester, IL. The Loami site has 15 honey bee colonies and sells honey and honey soap; the Rochester site has 50 honey bee colonies in three bee yards and sells honey and since the SARE project began, some queens and small honey bee colonies.

Sustainable beekeeping practices were carried out for the past 4-5 years at both sites; either no treatments or only “soft,” botanically-based ones were used for varroa mites in a given year. Antibiotics were not used for at least 7 years at either site.

For the project, Jacobson used standard “cell grafting” methods to raise queens. The cells were introduced individually into small colonies called mating nuclei, from which the virgin queens take mating flights and remain until they begin laying eggs, at which point they are sold or placed into larger colonies.

During 2007, marketing of the queens occurred first through the annual summer meeting of the local beekeeping association, with about 30 persons attending. Marketing also occurred via calls to beekeepers in the area. During 2008, marketing also occurred during an introductory beekeeping class.

Steven Staley assisted by producing queen bees at his farm for the project; Richard Ramsey, past president of the Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association, provided ongoing advice on marketing and related matters. David Burns, a queen bee producer and beekeeping equipment supplier, and Phil Raines, a commercial beekeeper in Illinois and Wisconsin, made important contributions to the project.

Jacobson believes that bees play a vital role in the sustainability of agricultural systems. “About 1/3 of every bite of food we eat requires insect pollination,” said Jacobson. “Honey bees are he most important pollinators for virtually all fruits and many vegetable crops; these foods high in antioxidants, fiber, etc. Native pollinators are unlikely to regain sufficient importance as long as agriculture relies on large monocultures, insecticides, herbicides, and clean cultivation.”

Since completion of this project, Jacobson has commenced a new SARE project focusing on the Illinois Queen Initiative (formerly Illinois Queen Project). Activities for the new project have included a session on state queen projects and formation of an informal association of queen producers at the Heartland Apicultural Society meeting held in Ohio in July.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Indiana Farmers Experiments with Geothermal Climate Controlled Storage Facilities to Lower Utility Costs

The Welch’s open loop geothermal system uses a wind powered in-wall heating/cooling unit. - Photo courtesy of Anna Welch.

In Carthage, IN, Anna and Keith Welch are creating a geothermal model that uses sustainable energy to lower their utility costs for grain storage.

Inspired by Anna’s father’s interest in geothermal, the Welches installed geothermal in the construction of a log home. Not long after, they became interested in supplementing an open loop geothermal system with a wind powered in-wall heating/cooling unit to regulate the temperature and humidity of a community storage room.

In 2007, they submitted a proposal for a CSA Conference and Mini-School project, and were awarded $6,000 from the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program. Their goal was to create a model that uses sustainable energy to lower utility costs as much as possible. Its primary focus is grain storage, but the facility will store a diverse number of local goods.

They have worked with a geo-thermal consultant, Randy Overman, as well as a local construction company to determine appropriate materials for maximum efficiency in the storage facility. It was determined that cement blocks insulated on the interior of the blocks, floor, and ceiling with R25 value sheets of insulation would be the most cost effective to construct, most resistant to rodents and insects, and most efficient to maintain a constant temperature of around 50 degrees.

2008’s field crops produced around 10,000 pounds of organic, edible grains and seeds. They constructed a small version of the storage room in a similar area which is concrete construction and cooled by geothermal, and were pleased with the results; the crops were dry and pest free.

“We are very pleased with this year's test results and are confident that the storage project will meet the grain storage needs that we face,” said Keith Welch. “We can maintain quality grains and seeds for our clients and other producers, who do not have the capacity to store several month's supply of fresh grains and seeds.”

They plan to complete a blue print with a materials list for the completion of the storage room and geothermal room, which is constructed adjacent to the cold storage. They separated the geothermal unit to avoid any dampness within the cold storage.

“We feel in the times that we are in, the small farmer will need to help his community to survive more than ever,” said Anna Welch. “The storage will not only be for our farm but for the community. Farmers will be able to keep their crops longer to extend the buying season at markets for consumers. With this concept, there would be less waste of needed food. The water can be reused as stated above or for any type of irrigation we may need for green houses or for the crops.”

Read more about the Welch project online at, or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Growing New CSA Farmers: a Michigan Conference and Mini-School for Community Supported Agriculture

Jo Meller and Jim Sluyter. Photo by Jay Raupp.

In Bear Lake, Michigan, Jim Sluyter and Jo Meller have been helping farmers, especially new, prospective, and transitioning farmers, learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and sustainable agriculture.

Sluyter and Meller have been running a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Bear Lake, Michigan, cultivating about ½ acre of mixed vegetables in intensively managed raised beds since 1994.

As their homestead and gardens grew, they felt isolated in an area with few other CSAs. They attended conferences in the Northeast and Canada devoted specifically to CSA in the late 90’s and became energized and excited by these events. In 2004, when there were several years without a conference, and no indication that another was forthcoming, they decided to bring that experience to the growing CSA community in Michigan.

In 2005, they submitted a proposal for a CSA Conference and Mini-School project, and were awarded $14,000 from the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program. Their project was designed to help farmers, especially new and prospective ones, learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and sustainable agriculture.

With the funds, they developed a 'mini-school' for prospective CSA farmers, provided financial assistance to farmers for attendance at the CSA conference and/or mini-school, developed a CSA mentoring program, and created a CSA "startup" manual.

They had participation from almost 200 CSA growers, prospective growers and CSA advocates. Participants in the conference and mini-school provided evaluations of the experience. Mentors and Mentees were also asked to evaluate their experiences.

Also supported by the SARE grant was assistance in the production of the CSA Training Manual that was developed as a companion to the mini-schools. The text of that document is available online at and has been sent in hard copy to many growers, and used in other CSA training sessions in Missouri, Maine and Ohio.

“We have seen a strong upward trend in CSA in Michigan since the first conference in 2004, continuing to this day,” said Sluyter. “In 2003, there were 37 CSAs in Michigan that we knew of. Since then our count has reached 86, and that does not take into account farms that developed sustainable agriculture projects because of the conference but did not start a CSA. Many of these growers have told us that one of the big lessons from the conference, and especially from the mini-school, was to start small and start slowly. We believe this has benefited many growers, who started their CSA a year or more later than they might have, to gain experience in this demanding agricultural model.”

In addition to NCR-SARE, financial support was provided by: CS Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, Michigan Farmers Union Foundation, Michigan Land Trustees, Madison Area CSA Coalition, Higher Grounds Trading Company, Michigan Farmers Union, The Community Farm newsletter, Michigan Catholic Rural Life Coalition and Crop Services International. In-kind support was provided by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Manistee County Conservation District.

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Retrospective Evaluation of NCR-SARE's Research & Education Grant Program

In 2007, North Central SARE conducted a retrospective evaluation of its Research and Education (R&E) Grant Program. The Center for Evaluative Studies in Michigan State University’s Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies (MSU CARRS) conducted the survey research component of the evaluation.

A few highlights from the reports:
  • The surveyed projects had high levels of farmer and extension involvement;
  • NCR-SARE R&E projects led to cooperation and partnership opportunities in furthering advancement of sustainable agriculture systems and practices;
  • Nearly eight out of ten farmer cooperators in NCR-SARE R&E projects found the information gained from the NCR-SARE project useful, and just over half of them used what they had learned on their farm;
  • Market recognition of their farm’s products increased for half of farmers who responded to the survey.
Go here to read more about the evaluation process and results.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NCR-SARE Announces Funded Projects

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 grant programs: Farmer Rancher, Research and Education, Professional Development, Youth and Youth Educator, and Graduate Student.

Go to to find links to lists of the projects recently recommended for funding.

NCR-SARE administers these grant programs, each with specific priorities, audiences, and timelines. The focus for each of the 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’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.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Missouri Man Develops Sustainable Irrigation System for Organic Vegetable Production

Dan Kuebler and his solar irrigation system. Photo by Diane La Mar.

In Ashland, MO, Dan Kuebler is creating an affordable, efficient, and sustainable irrigation system for a two acre organic vegetable operation. Since 1977, Dan Kuebler has been running a certified organic garden operation in Ashland.

Half the property is open fields and the remainder is hardwoods. Kuebler grows a wide variety of vegetables on approximately 1.5 acres of the property, which includes one heated greenhouse for starting plants and two tall tunnels which are unheated.

Kuebler has been intensively growing for over 15 years using organic methods and had been using drip irrigation on his crops for 10 of those years using expensive public county water.

In 2005, Kuebler submitted a proposal for his sustainable solar irrigation project, and was awarded $5,633 from the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program.

“My goal was to irrigate my crops with water from my farm pond and to use renewable energy as the power source for pumping the water up the hill to my fields and to save money in the process,” said Kuebler. “I was familiar with SARE over the years and had tried to keep up with many of the projects. It stimulated me to also think in terms of what I could do on my farm since I had always been very interested in solar power and renewable energy projects.”

Don Day, Natural Resources Engineer, at Missouri University Extension shot the elevation that Kuebler needed from the pond's surface to the top of the hill in order to properly size the solar water pump needed for the project. Day also advised Kuebler on the proper size pipe to use to capture the rainwater from his barn roof and direct it to the pond.

The total cost of the system was $5,930.37. Kuebler estimates that it would cost $2,850 annually using county water for irrigation. He calculated that the solar irrigation system yield annual saving starting in the third year of operation.

Kuebler hosted a Demonstration Field Day in May 2007 and presented his project at the National Small Farm Today Trade Show & Conference.

“I learned that I should have acted on my idea for a solar irrigation system years ago and I would have been more profitable in my operation,” said Kuebler. “My system is very efficient and so does not really need to run for very many hours of each day. It presents a model that can be duplicated by other growers in our region and the country as well as stimulating others to refine it further for their unique situations. This project is getting me excited about the possibilities for more creative ideas for solar and wind energy on the farm.”

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ohio Katahdin Sheep Producer Finds a Fairly High Heritability for Resistance to Parasites in the Breed

In Wooster, Ohio, a producer of Katahdin sheep is working with producers from two other states on the heritability of parasite resistance. The group is investigating methods of identifying ewes with a reduced periparturient rise. They are comparing the fecel egg count of sheep selected for their low fecal egg counts as lambs to determine how it relates to their adult parasite resistance and that of their offspring.

Prior to 2000, Kathy and Jeff Bielek of Misty Oaks Farm wanted to diversify their tree farm and incorporate some livestock. After attending Ohio Sheep Day in Wooster in 2000, they decided on sheep. They started with Shetlands, but then switched to Katahdins in 2001, and grew to love the breed. Katahdins are a hair sheep raised for their meat.

The Bielaks, along with a group of ten Katahdin producers, submitted a proposal to the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program in 2005 and were awarded $17,950 for their project, “Selecting Sheep for Parasite Resistance.” In 2007 they applied for another grant to continue their work with three producers from three states, and were awarded a subsequent grant from NCR-SARE for $14,215 for their project, “Building on Parasite Resistance Selection in Sheep.”

In their current project, David Coplen of Birch Cove Farm in Missouri, Donna Stoneback of Wade Jean Farm in Pennsylvania, and the Bielaks are raising registered Katahdin Hair Sheep. All are forage based, and all are using rotational grazing and selective deworming strategies. Flock sizes range from 25 to 32 ewes. Each farm uses at least two rams, some closely related to rams used on other farms.

“As we were monitoring the parasite levels in our flock over two years we noticed distinct differences in the resistance to parasites between offspring of different sires. We really wanted to see if these differences in the parasite resistance in lambs of different sires that we had identified on our farm could be duplicated on other Katahdin farms,” said Bielak. “SARE was the perfect source, since they have such a strong reputation of supporting farmers in looking for more sustainable yet profitable ways to farm.”

Data collected on ten farms as part of the initial SARE group producer grant was submitted to Dr. David Notter, Professor of Animal Science at Virginia Tech and head of the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP), for analysis and for use in his work on developing a fecal egg count measure of expected progeny differences (FEC EPD) in Katahdin sheep. Dr Notter reported a fairly high heritability for resistance to parasites in the Katahdin breed.

In addition, the group was able to learn and demonstrate the effects that management had on parasite levels in their flocks. All three couples learned methods they could use to better manage parasites in addition to selecting more resistant sheep.

“In our project we were able to demonstrate how different management strategies, like managed grazing, time of lambing, nutrition and genetics can impact parasite management on our farms,” said Bielak. “This will enable farmers to lessen the use of expensive and increasingly ineffective dewormers while still maintaining healthy, productive sheep.”

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Iowa Farmers Utilize Alternative Crop to Develop New Opportunities for Small Family Farms

Photo of Vaughn and Cindy Pittz courtesy of Vaughn and Cindy Pittz

In Missouri Valley, IA, Vaughn and Cindy Pittz have been developing the opportunity for small family farms to utilize the aronia berry as a sustainable organic alternative crop at Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms, located 6 miles north of Missouri Valley, Iowa in Harrison County.

Vaughn Pittz attended a food technology conference in New Orleans, where he learned about aronia. As a family project, the Pittzs established small test plots. By the late 1990’s the bushes were producing 20 to 25 pounds per bush. Based on preliminary results, they decided expanding their planting was necessary to support new product development/test marketing of aronia Berry products.

By 2005, the Pittzs were eager to research the feasibility of the aronia berry as a value-added, profitable, alternative crop which could be produced in the North Central Region by the small family farm, and to develop the opportunity for small family farms to utilize the aronia berry as a sustainable organic alternative crop. They submitted a proposal to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant program, and received a grant for $5,990.

“We could see that a sustainable, value added crop would benefit not only our farm but also provide opportunities for others, with the potential to create a new industry for our declining rural communities,” explained Vaughn Pittz.

Commonly known as the Chokeberry, the aronia berry is a lesser-known berry variety, native to North America that is becoming increasingly popular for its coloring and antioxidant properties.

Throughout their project, they planted more than 13,000 aronia berry bushes. They developed a business relationship with Bluebird Nursery to assist with the propagation of the organic aronia berry plants using soft wood cuttings from the Sawmill Hollow stock. They continued to research and developed six aronia berry products: aronia jelly, aronia cayenne Sauce, aronia BBQ sauce, aronia syrup, aronia salsa, and aronia wine.

Dr. Eldon Everhart, a commercial horticulture specialist with Iowa State University Extension, conducted educational seminars highlighting the aronia berry as a sustainable, value-added crop.

Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms presented two Aronia Field Day workshops in 2006 and 2007 respectively; they had eighty-five participants at their first Aronia Field Day, and approximately 150 people attended their 2007 field day. They offered tours of the organic plantation fields, demonstrating hands-on planting, growing techniques, and harvesting techniques.

In September 2008, Sawmill Hollow held the first ever 2-day Organic Aronia Berry Festival attended by more than 700 people. They featured artisans from the Loess Hills region of Western Iowa and guest speaker Joan Benjamin of NCR-SARE. The Sawmill Hollow Log Cabin Country Store will be opening in April 2009, where organic aronia berry products and Loess Hills artisan products will be sold.

Today, Sawmill Hollow Organic Farm is the largest aronia berry plantation in the Midwest and the first in the United States to be managed organically, certified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship.

“The potential for this to become an industry for our Region is real,” said Pittz. “We have discovered and demonstrated that the aronia berry is a low input crop, one with roots native to America. The berry has the potential for value added farm to market production and it also displays great promise as a high value raw berry. We consider it to be an asset for small diversified sustainable farms.”

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.

Read more about this project online.