CURE is taking a Stand for Food, assisting in a campaign to reinstate a ground-breaking, affordable one-year Sustainable Food Production diploma program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, on the edge of the watershed.
A visit to Paradox Farms near Ashby is like stepping into a textbook for river-friendly farming. Goats, chickens, ducks and dairy cows graze in rotation paddocks, graced by portable shelters and coops. It’s diversified livestock management at its best.
Until recently, the farm was a textbook, a hands-on lab for students enrolled in the Sustainable Food Production diploma program at M State. Program founders and Paradox Farm owners Sue Wika and Tom Prieve, along with other gifted ag instructor farmers in their area, created an innovative program to educate the next generation of sustainable and local food producers and educators.
Students enrolled in a rich blend of liberal arts and technical curriculum that taught critical thinking skills and rural sociology along with farm management, integrated livestock and cropping systems and artisan food preparation. Graduates started their own small farms, managed farms, established community and market gardens, created farmers markets, served as VISTA volunteers on reservations and urban areas, created consulting firms and became educators themselves.
The program became a national model at a time when CSAs, farmers markets and community gardens are booming, reflecting consumer demand for local food, sustainably produced, that’s good for water, soil and people.
Sadly, M State administrators missed this business trend, suddenly announcing last fall the program was suspended. Despite a letter-writing and petition campaign, offers of financial assistance from program backers and the forging of additional community partnerships by SFP faculty, grads and allies, the administration has dug in.
Aided by a small grant from the Unitarian Universalists, CURE launched Stand for Food, a campaign using social media and traditional tools to pressure M State and MNSCU into reinstating this valuable tool. Please joint us with a “Like” on the Stand for Food Facebook page, a visit to the Stand for Food blog, and following @Stand4Food on twitter. Share these tools with your friends.
Watch videographer Sadie Luetmer’s YouTube here and read Agrinews coverage by Carol Stender here.
While we are pulling together to restore the program at M State, the Sustainable Farming Association—Minnesota has taken the SFP program under its umbrella. If you’re interested in acquiring the hands-on essential skills necessary for a forage-based livestock producer, sign up for Farm Skills 101, a course running Oct. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19. Friday classes run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Friday evening local-foods meal is included in tuition. Learn more here.
Another proven winner to becoming a farmer, Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings Program, has extended its enrollment deadline to September 3. Details on the 10 month training course that provides 43 hours of training and hands-on learning opportunities in the form of classroom sessions, farm tours, field days, workshops and accessing an extensive farmer network can be found here.
Duane Ninneman says
CURE is sometimes asked to get involved on issues that are not really at the core of our work or part of our established work plan. Sometimes we get involved and sometimes we can only wish those who ask for help the best of luck. Limited resources limit our engagement. But there are times when we agree to help out. If the request comes from an organized grassroots group of citizens, if the issue relates to protecting and restoring the watershed, and if CURE’s organizing and communications expertise will help – we might take on the challenge.
Stand for Food is one of those times. Every year CURE presents an educational lecture to the Sustainable Food Production (SFP) class at Minnesota State Fergus Falls. At least we did.
After three years of developing a national model for teaching and training the next generation of Sustainable Ag leaders and practitioners, the program was suddenly dropped last fall by M State Administration. The move made little sense to faculty, students, alumni, and program supporters. But a look behind the administrative veil is raising its own set of questions. CURE is helping a growing number of community activists raise awareness and get to the bottom of the college administration’s decision.
The growth of healthy local food systems around the country is revitalizing rural communities and fostering a new appreciation for community, local self-reliance, healthy landscapes and clean water. For years CURE members have lead the way in all areas of sustainable food production, grass-fed beef production, community supported agriculture, local food systems development and education, and the restoration of healthy working landscapes. We know that the way we produce our food is at the heart of water quality problems and water quality solutions.
Solving the water problems in the Upper Minnesota River Watershed can only be accomplished by restoring the integrity of the whole watershed. Sustainable Food Production is one place to start.
Sally Jo Sorensen says
As a blogger who reads rural newspapers in order to write about Greater Minnesota, I’ve felt encouraged to see stories about family-scale sustainable livestock and produce farms, CSAs, farmers markets and the SFP program. It was baffling to learn that the program was suspended.
I’ve gotten to know graduates of the program this summer and all I can do is shake my head at the shortsightedness of the M-State administrators and MNSCU for shutting this amazing and vital program down. Who advised them that there are “no jobs” in this sector of agriculture and who convinced them that starting CSAs, etc isn’t valued in the economy? It’s almost as if there’s a sense that they’re taking their cues from someone opposed to “growth of healthy local food systems around the country… revitalizing rural communities and fostering a new appreciation for community, local self-reliance, healthy landscapes and clean water.” Who wants a rural Minnesota without those things? Why would any family stay here without them?
Tom Prieve says
CURE’s genuine involvement in the Stand For Food campaign is deeply appreciated. CURE’s leadership is an example of the holistic vision needed to ensure healthy and vibrant communities and watersheds in out-state Minnesota.
Chuck Waibel, our recently departed friend and mentor, was very concerned with the loss of innate knowledge and skills relevant to food production. Programs like Sustainable Food Production that intertwine science, community AND skills are the best replacement we can get for actually growing up on a farm. It is important that we continue to try and open the minds of the policy makers to a different kind of education model. Much is written and spoken about “hands-on” and “student engaged” education. It is time to act. Ben Franklin said: “Well done is better than well said”. Let’s carry this message to MNSCU and beyond!