Minnesota Food Association Hosts Farmer Exchange

By Amy Doeun

Choua Yang and her husband began attending workshops at the Minnesota Food Association’s (MFA) Farmer Education Program last year. The program teaches farmers the ins and outs of organic farming through a series of classes and workshops in the fall and winter followed by on farm training at the MFA farm in Marine on St. Croix. Yang said of the program, “MFA provides us the resources, training, and workshops we need to improve our farming. It gives us the opportunities to attended conferences, visited other farms, and met with other farmers.”

Laura Hedeen, education coordinator at MFA described the program as, “an education program and incubator for farmers who are interested in starting their own organic vegetable farming businesses.”

One of the programs MFA offered this spring was a field trip to the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Verona, WI. “The Farley Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ecological sustainability, social justice and peace,” reads the center’s website.

Hedeen said, “Like MFA, the Farley Center birthed from a history of activism and social justice. Linda and Gene Farley, both fulltime activists and physicians, built their home on the property, and welcomed some neighboring Hmong families to garden on the property. The incubator program followed, and the center currently works with 7 farming businesses from various cultures.”

10 farmers and staff made the 5-hour one way trip to the Farley Center. Once they arrived they began a tour, becoming familiar with the property. Hedeen wrote, “Saturday morning greeted us with an even colder wind, and farmers layered on pajamas and borrowed hats and scarves to stay warm. Five Farley Center farmers joined the group for a breakfast of bagels and coffee, and conversed about marketing strategies, farming challenges, and dreams. As we wrapped up the conversation, excitement built as we transitioned to the machine shed. Seth taught a short lesson on tractor safety, and farmers had the chance to operate equipment that was new to them, including a walk-behind BCS tractor and Kubota tractor. Another walking tour brought us through their wooded, income-generating green cemetery and to a series of upper fields and beehives, before leading us back to the center for a final lunch together before our departure.

Hedeen said that one of the things that she noticed about the Farley Center was, “Their non-reliance on grant funding and ability to raise funds from their cemetery was really interesting and reinforced the need for MFA / our farmers to own our own land.” She added, “I hope the farmers made some good connections with other farmers, realized there is a larger network of people who are doing the same work they are, gathered some new ideas for how they might want to farm (technology, crops, marketing strategies), and got to know one another a little better as well. It was a really great trip – super interesting and thanks to the Farley Center for hosting us!”

Choua added that she appreciates the learning opportunities through MFA, “We are so thankful for getting to join MFA for these two years. It helps us grow every year by getting the right resources, attending the workshops and training, and getting the experience from MFA formal farmer May (a mentor at MFA) along with MFA staffs or farmers. We hope that MFA will lead us to get to our farming goal in the next few years.”