Today I had the pleasure of attending the 1st annual Farm Enterprises in Small – scale Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Stillwater, Minnesota. Wow, how wonderful it was to be around such a great group of people. I first found out about the conference from a friend of mine, and immediately signed up. After the first few emails sent, I found out that Angelica Hollstadt was one of the farmers setting this event up. I first met Angelica about fifteen years ago at a CSA farm that I worked on for the summer. She was renting land from the same farm to grow food for her brand new business, Angelica’s Garden. Over the years, I had run into Angelica off and on at the St. Paul farmers market. I was really glad that I was going to see her again, since it has been a few years since she has sold her products at the market. Anyways, along with Angelica, Andrew and Khaiti French of LTD farms, Susan Dietrich of Very Prairie, and Paula Foreman of Encore farms were also involved in setting up and running the conference.
The morning started out with coffee and mingling with other attendees. After getting settled, and a short intro from Angelica, Paula Foreman took the mic and told us about her Encore Farm. She has found a niche market growing and selling dry, heirloom beans to restaurants. She farms about 2 and a half acres of rented land, and does almost everything herself. She has been at it now for about 5 years and is hoping to finally start seeing a profit this year. Most of her major equipment purchases are out of the way, she has a dedicated customer base, and loves what she is doing.
Next up, Susan Dietrich and Angelica did a presentation on the Minnesota and Wisconsin “Pickle Bill(s)”. These are state laws that have been set up to allow small scale farmers to make, process, and sell home canned products and baked goods. Without getting into too much detail in this post about the Pickle Bill, let’s just say that it provides small time farmers a great outlet for using excess produce in value added products. For those who want to do more research on the Pickle Bill, here are a few links to check out –
Following that, was Andrew and Khaiti French. They did a great presentation about their Living the Dream Farm. They both came from working in food coops for many years, and decided to start a farm. The main part of their presentation was the transition from a homestead to a farmstead. A farmstead being where you are making a living from the fruits of your labor. In their case, their main income is derived from duck eggs, but they also run a CSA, grow chickens and turkeys, and also raise a few pigs. Andrew and Khaiti are great, I didn’t get much one on one time with either of them, but they are young, dedicated, and truly seem to love what they are doing! It was truly inspiring!
Last but not least, Angelica gave us a photo tour of her certified processing kitchen that is in the basement of her house. This is where she now makes all of her fermented and pickled foods. She talked a bit about licenses, inspections, and all the hoops she has had to jump through to become a commercial operation. What she is now doing goes way past the pickle bill, and is her main business!
All of this today was not only inspiring, but also incredibly pertinent to today’s world. We now have over 7 billion people in the world and that is a lot of mouths to feed. All of these farmers and food processors are everyday people, and that is how we are going to feed our selves as we continue down this road. The food system we know and rely on today is balanced on a very shaky base. If one block falls, the whole system will come crashing down, and from my vantage point, when I look out and observe the predicaments of global climate change, peak oil, resource wars, and environmental degradation, it makes me happy to know that people like these folks are out there doing something radical that is good for us and the planet. I left with a great quote today from Paula Foreman. When told by someone that she wasn’t a farmer because she didn’t have a tractor or any outbuildings on her rented land, she responded with this, “It is a farm because I say it is a farm!!” Amen to that sister. That is the kind of attitude that will see us through the hard times ahead, that and a whole hell of a lot of hard work and cooperation! Peace and Cheers!