Friday, August 20, 2010

Online Resource about Organic and Sustainable Agriculture for Agricultural Educators

Through an NCR-SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) grant, new and ongoing research in the fields of organic and sustainable agriculture has become available online from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln; these sites can be resources for agriculture educators in particular.

In 2006 Charles Francis and Shannon Moncure at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln were awarded an NCR-SARE PDP grant to develop a ‘train the trainers’ program to provide educators in Extension and high schools with practical information and hands-on experience in organic farming and ranching system practices and design. They conducted many training sessions throughout the region in addition to developing this online resource. As part of the project, sustainable and organic agriculture educators, practitioners, and other interested parties were sent announcements about the renovated website. The re-launch occurred incrementally, and the project coordinators continue to add both links to newly discovered sites and also files collected by they interact with experts in the field.

As both a stand-alone resource and a complement to educational experiences supported by this grant, the website now contains links to many more online videos, PowerPoint presentations, and other online resources. These items were collected with the express purpose of supporting agriculture educators in their efforts to help students and others learn about sustainable and organic agriculture.

The website can be found at:

In August, Organic Farming: The Ecological System (Francis, 2009) was published, with influences from the work supported by this grant. The book relates farming practices, understanding of components and mechanisms, and design of systems using natural environments as models.

This website was created in associated with an NCR-SARE PDP project. To read more about the project, visit SARE's online reporting site at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Simple Earth Hops to Host Grand Opening in WI

Simple Earth Hops is proud to present the 1st installment in a series of hopyard event titled "Brewing Up a Community".

The Grand Opening is family friendly, free and open to the public. This event will feature tours of the hopyard, live music, tours of the organic farm and more.

To be held noon-7pm, Saturday, Sept., 4, 2010, Labor Day weekend at Hopyard Grand Opening Location, Greenspirit Farm 4352 State Road 23 Dodgeville, WI 53533. A potluck will follow from 7pm-9pm.

This Grand Opening is being held is association with NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project FNC09-748.

More information is available online at

Kansas Permaculture Institute Introduction to Permaculture Ethics, Principles and Design

The Kaw Permaculture Collaborative and the Kansas Permaculture Institute are proud to present their Fall 2010 course, "Introduction to Permaculture Ethics, Principles and Design" with Steve Moring of Vajra Farm.

The course consists of a series of 9, three hour sessions with lectures and video screenings held every Thursday beginning September 23 from 6 – 9 pm at the Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty St. Overland Park, KS.

“As a community we are entering a period of energy depletion and the resulting decline in our global economy. Learn how the sustainability movement known as Permaculture promises to create an ecologically sound and economically viable system which neither pollutes nor exploits our planet.”

This course consists of 27 hours of lecture which can be used as credit leading to a Permaculture Design Certificate from the Kansas Permaculture Institute, Inc. Lecture topics include food security, permaculture ethics, ecological principles, system design, sustainable soils, food production, food forests, earth works and construction of human habitats.

For more information on course content, meeting times and locations go to websites: or, or

To register: Please contact Steve Moring at 785-691-7305.

This course is associated with NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project, FNC09-793.

IA Farmer Explores Methods for Recovering Heat from Composting Corn Grain

A farmer in Osage IA, has been researching low-tech, small scale methods for recovering heat from composting corn grain and stover for space heating.

Eric Jellum and his wife moved to Osage, IA from Washington State in 1999 and began farming at that time. They grow corn and soybeans in a 2-year rotation, except where mixed grass/alfalfa hay has been included in the rotation. Before coming to Iowa to farm, Jellum worked for Washington State University for about 20 years at one of their outlying research stations. He has a Masters Degree in Soil Science and about 12 years of farming experience.

“I came to Iowa to farm not only out of interest and desire to farm but because I wanted to immerse myself in the problems and challenges that farmers deal with in order to more effectively contribute toward attaining a more sustainable agriculture,” explained Jellum.

Jellum wanted to use the energy in their corn for space heating and still have an organic residue that could be returned to the soil to maintain soil quality. In 2005 he submitted a proposal to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant program, and was selected for funding.
His goal was to conduct a pilot trial with both corn grain and stover to see how feasible composting for heat recovery could be. He worked with Kapil Arora, an agricultural engineer from Iowa State University, who provided input regarding the design and implementation of the research. The motivation for the project was to use locally grown corn and return the nutrients and an organic residue back to the soil in a closed, sustainable loop to maintain or improve soil quality.

“I was a bit surprised to discover that aerating a large and static corn stover compost pile was really fairly easy,” said Jellum. “The stated purpose in composting manuals for turning a compost pile or windrow is generally for aeration. That is probably true for dense, high moisture, highly degradable compost. The biggest problem I encountered for static composting was how to recycle the water that steamed out of the compost interior and condensed on the surface back into the interior without turning the pile, which would preclude embedding a means of heat recovery in the compost pile.”

Jellum is hopeful that SARE projects like this would ideally result in turnkey ideas that could be readily employed on the farm. He hopes his project will contribute something to another concept that may ultimately be engaged on the farm.

“The bioeconomy that is developing to use crop residues and dedicated crops for energy and chemical production could have devastating effects on soil quality and the productivity of our agricultural systems if there are no residues analogous to manure that can be returned to the soil,” said Jellum. “This project was intended to see whether composting for heat recovery looked like a fruitful enough path to head down and conduct more research. It would be unrealistic to expect a single project like this to be wildly successful, but I think it answered some basic questions that suggest some logical next steps.”

Jellum shared information from his project at a presentation at the 2006 SARE National Conference at Oconomowoc, WI.

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Online Video Features NCR-SARE Project at Earthen Path Organic Farm in MN

Source: Cooking Up a Story

Oak Center, Minnesota. You might say organic farmer Steven Schwen plows a different path through life; one built of a strong connection to the land, without many of the trappings we normally would associate as necessities of modern living.

It was a deliberate choice that he made. Schwen believes that we, as a society, have been lured down the path of consumerism, and profit, at the expense of the environment and of our souls. “I think it’s important for people to understand that we are all connected to land and labor… When I started out, I thought I’m going to change the world. And all of those people who went back to the land who are still doing this, we are going to do something to change this world. And you know, we are helping shape people’s thinking but I think there has been a lot of resistance because of the comfort levels that material security has been providing people. People have been saying, yeah, I want to do that someday. But circumstances are becoming such that people will not have those choices anymore, and people realize that.”

Steven Schwen was not born into farming, and in fact, first went to medical school before realizing it was living a more sustainable existence that he needed to pursue.

…”I guess I grew up in the country, and my family lived a mile and a half out of town. I spent my childhood looking under logs to see what lived there and running around in the woods, and just animals and nature were my life.”

His parents recognized his early love of nature, especially of bugs, and suggested it could lead to a career in science, and so they encouraged him to become a doctor. But Schwen later discovered that the concept of general practitioner that he had growing up, the country doctor that paid house visits, was quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Upon graduating college in the early 1970’s, Schwen developed a vision of a sustainable world based upon the model of an agrarian society: small towns, local economies, and more people on the land. It was the only vision he could imagine that presented a lifestyle without the need for oil. During our interview, Schwen asks, “You know what one family can do with a team of horses, or with their own labor”?

As you can see in this, and the other related videos, Schwen shows us his answer— a lot!

To read more about Schwen's NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant project, visit the SARE online reporting website here.

2010 Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals

The 2010 North Central Region - Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals is now available.

Farmers and ranchers in the North Central Region are invited to submit grant proposals to explore sustainable agriculture solutions to problems on the farm or ranch. Proposals should show how farmers and ranchers plan to use their own innovative ideas to explore sustainable agriculture options and how they will share project results. Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, profitable, and socially responsible.

Projects should emphasize research or education/demonstration. Grants can range from $6,000 for individual farmers up to $18,000 for groups of 3 or more farmers. NCR-SARE expects to fund about 50 projects in the twelve-state North Central Region with this call.

Interested applicants can find the call for proposals online as well as useful information for completing a proposal at

Proposals are due on Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:30 p.m. at the NCR-SARE office in Jefferson City, MO.

Potential applicants with questions can contact Joan Benjamin, Associate Regional Coordinator and Farmer Rancher Grant Program Coordinator, at or 573-681-5545 or 800-529-1342. A hard copy or an emailed copy of the call for proposals is also available by contacting Joan Benjamin. We make slight revisions to our calls for proposals each year, which means it is crucial to use the most recent call for proposals.

NCR-SARE has funded more than 700 farmer rancher grants worth more than $4,300,000 since the inception of this program.

Each state in SARE's North Central Region has one or more State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators who can provide information and assistance to potential grant applicants. Interested applicants can find their State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator online at

2010 Youth & Youth Educator Grant Call for Proposals

The 2010 North Central Region - Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) Youth & Youth Educator Grant Call for Proposals is now available.

These grants are a part of the Farmer Rancher Grant Program. Their purpose is to provide opportunities for youth in the North Central Region to learn more about Sustainable Agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, profitable, and socially responsible. A total of approximately $34,000 is available for this program.

There are two options:

1. YOUTH GRANTS. These grants are for on-farm research, demonstration, or education projects by youth ages 8-18. Research and demonstration projects are for hands-on efforts to explore Sustainable Agriculture issues and practices. Education projects can involve teaching others about Sustainable Agriculture or attending a Sustainable Agriculture conference, workshop, or camp. $400 maximum.

2. YOUTH EDUCATOR GRANTS. These are grants for educators to provide programming on sustainable agriculture for youth. $2,000 maximum.

Interested applicants can find the call for proposals online as well as useful information for completing a proposal at

Proposals are due by 4:30 pm, Friday, January 14, 2011 at the NCR-SARE office in Jefferson City, MO.

Potential applicants with questions can contact Joan Benjamin, Associate Regional Coordinator and Farmer Rancher Grant Program Coordinator, at or 573-681-5545 or 800-529-1342. A hard copy or an emailed copy of the call for proposals is also available by contacting Joan Benjamin. We make slight revisions to our calls for proposals each year, which means it is crucial to use the most recent call for proposals.

Since 1988, the NCR-SARE program has awarded more than $40 million worth of competitive grants to farmers and ranchers, researchers, educators, public and private institutions, nonprofit groups, and others exploring sustainable agriculture in 12 states.

Each state in SARE's North Central Region has one or more State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinators who can provide information and assistance to potential grant applicants. Interested applicants can find their State Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator online at

Outreach Effort in MN Promotes Conservation Efforts

Source: Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

An outreach effort based out of southern Minnesota is promoting the use of cover crops to protect and restore water quality, and the outreach is resulting in more landowners understanding the multiple benefits of installing these conservation practices. The Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist position with University of Minnesota Extension and Rural Advantage that is doing the outreach was partly funded through a competitive grant from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), which was available through the Clean Water Legacy Act in Fiscal Year 2007. The Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist is being funded through the North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) to promote the use of cover crops in Minnesota.

Cover crops in the landscape help prevent soil erosion and nitrate leaching, which in turn reduces turbidity and phosphorus in water bodies. Other benefits of cover crops include increasing soil organic matter, increasing soil tilth, decreasing disease and pest issues, increasing water infiltration, and increasing the number of species of invertebrates (insects, worms, microbes – these help with pest predation issues and aid in decomposition) and vertebrates (mice, voles, birds – all of which eat weed seeds) in fields. Certain crop species can drastically increase nitrogen levels in the soil or take-up excess nitrogen so that little leaching occurs. All will put nutrients back into the soil as they decompose.

Jill Sackett – Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist – University of Minnesota Extension and Rural Advantage, held field days in May 2010 in Lewiston (Winona County) and St. James (Watonwan County). A local cooperator hosted each event, and Sackett presented data from research plots and described the experiences that cooperators have had with cover crops. The events have been an effective way to promote the value of cover crops to local landowners. Further cover crop field days will be held in the fall of 2010 as well as fall and spring through 2012. Further outreach and education events include 3rd Crop Producer Meetings, listening sessions, and surveys. Cost-share dollars are also available through the project for those willing to become a cooperator. Cooperators must be willing to host a field day or speak at an event if applicable. They are also required to keep simple records and conduct a simple on-farm research/demonstration project with their cover crop acres.

The NCR-SARE cover crop project is available statewide, and to date, cooperators have been from Pope, Watonwan, and Lac qui Parle counties with interested producers from Le Sueur, Martin, Brown, Renville, and Fillmore counties. May 2010 field days were held in Lewiston (Winona County) and St. James (Watonwan County). An August 2010 field day will be held near Madison (Lac qui Parle County).

The following organizations are jointly funding the Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist position: Rural Advantage, Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance, Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, BWSR (Clean Water Legacy Act grant), and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (Clean Water Partnership Phase II Implementation Grant Agreement).

Project Timeline:
Position: Started in fall 2005 – entirely grant funded
Project: Started in fall 2009 and continues until fall 2012. The cover crop topic will be discussed at the 2011 Third Crop Producer Meetings, field days each spring and fall through 2012, and various listening sessions throughout Minnesota.

Keys to Success:
Partner organizations are promoting the multiple benefits of cover crops to landowners instead of relying on landowners to express interest. This project will see success due to the cooperators and event attendees and their willingness to utilize cover crops. It is a goal to develop some simple best management practices that will assist farmers in using different cover crops. The possible use of cover crops as an energy source or 3rd crop are two further possible outcomes.

BWSR role:
BWSR provided a competitive grant through the Clean Water Legacy Act to partly pay for the position of Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist. The position is also partly funded by the Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance, a joint-powers of counties and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs).

Measurable Outcomes:
The major outputs of this project will be farmer to farmer learning, on-farm cover crop demonstration, and research and outreach to increase the base knowledge levels of cover crops with farmers and resource agency staff in Minnesota and Iowa. The goal is to use annual surveys to attempt to find the number of acres of cover crops planted directly due to our outreach efforts as well as the changes made by those already utilizing cover crops.

Link / contact for more information:
Jill Sackett – Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist – University of Minnesota Extension and Rural Advantage – 507-238-5449

For more information on this SARE project, visit the SARE project website at:

Bioenergy Field Day Demonstration at Dordt College’s Agriculture Stewardship Center

Source: Dordt College

Dordt College and Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and Iowa State University Extension will host a field day Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Dordt College’s Agriculture Stewardship Center (located two miles north of the college on Highway 75). The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with a free supper. The program begins at 6 p.m.

On-farm trials demonstrated will include Pioneer®’s corn rootworm "refuge in a bag," Avicta® treated corn seed for nematode control, wide vs. narrow vs. twin row soybeans, corn population study, early vs. late planted soybeans, till vs. no till soybeans, and wide vs. narrow row corn.

Dr. Greg Tylka from the Tylka Nematology Lab at Iowa State University will discuss corn nematodes. Joel DeJong, an ISU extension agronomist, Josh Sievers with the Northwest Iowa on-farm Research Project, and Mike Schouten, Agriculture Stewardship Center Steward, will be on hand to discuss other farm topics.

Dr. Chris Goedhart, chair of the agriculture department at Dordt, will discuss the ag research project the college has been conducting with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Marshalltown Community College, funded by a $138,000 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE).

Side-by-side field comparisons have been planted at the Dordt College and Marshalltown Community College. Each crop site has replicated blocks with either a continuous-corn system or a three-year “gateway to sustainability” rotation of corn, soybeans, and winter/spring small grain/forage with legume underseeding. Student interns at each school (with faculty assistance) are documenting the environmental impact, energy, and economics of these systems and will share their findings to date.

The project is designed to demonstrate a basic cropping system that uses a fraction of the energy that continuously planting corn does yet has the same net energy output. The rotation system also supports a diversity of farm enterprises in a sustainable way.

The Dordt Ag Club will serve a grilled meal beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Everyone interested in this agricultural research is welcome to attend.

For more information on this NCR-SARE project, visit the online project reporting website at:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

MN Farmers market vendor specializes in organic veggies

Source: St Croix Valley Press

STILLWATER — Since she was a young girl, the soil and the plants that grow from it have been a source of fascination, inspiration and just plain hard work for Mhonpaj Lee.

The 26-year-old St. Paul resident is passionate about sustainable agriculture and the health benefits of organic farming. Together with her family, she operates two small community supported agriculture (CSA) plots, three acres in Stillwater and two in Marine; sells organic produce at several farmers markets; and educates the public through classes and presentations on Hmong vegetables and cooking.

Locals may know her by the produce she sells at both the White Bear and Mahtomedi farmers markets and the eggrolls, fried rice and bubble tea she’s been peddling at Marketfest.

Lee grew up working on farmland cultivated by her parents May and Chue Lee, who emigrated from Laos via a Thai refugee camp in 1982. When they arrived in the U.S., the Lees rented land and grew cucumbers for pickles which they sold to a local company. “It was so laborious,” she said. “I was so annoyed by it, I told my mother I’m not going to ever farm again.”

But a volunteer position as youth coordinator at the Science Museum at age 14 helped her fine-tune her widely varied interests and brought her back to what she knew. “It was a phenomenal experience. Everything I learned there revolved around the weather, agriculture, everything engineering-wise with the soil and sediments,” she said. “As much as you want to stray away from it, it goes in a circle.”

Lee became interested in sustainability and its implications for community health, as well as politics. Before entering college, she raised money to go to Thailand to do personal hygiene education and see how people lived in refugee camps. Though she and five of her siblings were born in the U.S., two of her sisters and her parents had spent time at a refugee camp before emigrating. “It was an eye-opener for me,” she said. “I’m very grateful for what I have but I thought, how can I share it with them, what is it that I have to offer?”

At Gustavus Adolphus College, she majored in health education, health fitness and political science, working a number of jobs to get through school. After graduating, she took a close look at her goals and decided to return to her roots, literally. “I said, here are these skill sets that my parents are really good in. It’s a lifestyle for us to have to farm — that’s how we made it when we were younger.”

The death of her grandmother, who was somewhat of a “medicine woman,” right after Lee graduated from college inspired her to apply for a grant through the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to study Hmong herbs and their medicinal uses. She persuaded Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), where she works as a medical interpreter for Hmong patients, to let her grow a little herb garden so patients can request herbs that have been found beneficial for postpartum uses. Now North Hennepin is asking her to start a garden for them, she said.

“You never really consciously think about what you’re doing. I just keep going out of passion,” she said. For her, that means continuing her education by way of pursuing a Masters in Leadership at Augsburg College, which she attends Tuesday and Thursday evenings. She works at HCMC Monday through Thursday mornings, works in the garden in the evenings and, in addition to her White Bear Lake gig, sells produce at the Mill City and St. Paul farmers markets.

The first Hmong-owned certified organic CSA in Minnesota, her garden has more than 30 varieties of vegetables: cucumbers, chard, potatoes, green onions, cabbage, leeks, zucchini, fennel, radishes — “everything you’d find in the grocery store.” The CSA has about 15 members, and most of her family members help out, if they’re not away at college — she comes from a family of eight brothers and sisters. Though her parents are retired, they still help on the farm. The Lee family was named the 2009 Farm Family of the Year for Ramsey County by the University of Minnesota.

What isn’t purchased is donated to food shelves like Second Harvest or Neighborhood House, she said, which last year amounted to $10,000 worth of produce. “It’s still fresh because we just picked it the night before.”

Though her goal isn’t mass production, she would like to eventually purchase farmland (she now rents), and perhaps open a restaurant to serve traditional Hmong cuisine. She will be hosting a class for the Minnesota Horticultural Society in 2011 on how to cook with exotic greens. She’s excited about having an intern, a nutritionist, helping at the garden. And she would like to back away a bit, to be able to spend more time with her husband and their 4-month-old daughter. “I love being able to work for an institution and also work for myself and my family. I have the best of two worlds and I’m grateful for my experiences.

“We’re not advanced. We’re still using the rototiller, weeding by hand. It’s very rewarding at the end of the season to see everything you have,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how much work you put into the field.”

Read more about Lee’s NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant project online on the SARE project reporting website at

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lardy Receives Animal Science Award

The American Society of Animal Science honors NDSU’s Greg Lardy with an award. Greg Lardy is a member of NCR-SARE's Technical Committee, which reviews Research and Education proposals and makes recommendations to NCR-SARE's Administrative Council .

Source: NDSU

Greg Lardy, head of North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) Animal Sciences Department, is the 2010 recipient of the American Society of Animal Science Extension Award.

The award recognizes recipients for outstanding and noteworthy contributions to Extension animal science programming. Lardy received the award at the society’s annual meeting in Denver.

Before being named head of the Animal Sciences Department in 2009, Lardy was the NDSU Extension Service’s beef cattle specialist for 12 years. He also was promoted to professor in 2009.

This award means a great deal to me and reflects the opportunities I have been given to work with a great set of colleagues in the NDSU Extension Service,” Lardy says. “Without their help in carrying out these programs, I would not have received this award.

This award reflects my passion for the beef industry and the producers I had the opportunity to work with on a daily basis,” he adds.

His Extension work included efforts related to beef cattle nutrition and management with emphasis on the use of coproducts and alternative feeds in beef cattle diets, as well as drought management. In addition, he led multistate projects focused on expanding educational programming on backgrounding beef cattle in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming and developed educational programs such as Beef 101, Cow-Calf Schools and the Feedlot MBA.

He also was instrumental in the development of NDSU’s Beef Systems Center of Excellence; provided leadership for several regional committees with a focus on Extension programming; offered regular in-service training for county Extension agents on beef cattle production-related issues; and works closely with the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, regularly speaking at its annual convention on topics ranging from beef quality assurance to feeding ethanol coproducts to cattle.

In addition, Lardy has been the principal investigator on research projects that generated more than $1.4 million in grant funding and co-principal investigator on projects with grants totaling more than $5 million. He is the author of 55 peer-reviewed publications and an additional 200 research publications, has advised 15 master of science and four Ph.D. students, served on two U.S. Department of Agriculture grant review panels and is a member of the American Society of Animal Science’s board of directors as the organization’s Midwest section representative.