Ag academy students tour Otter Tail County farms
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 06/14/2012 2:58 PM
UNDERWOOD, Minn. — Andy Hayner removed the liver, crop and other organs from the chicken he was processing and held each up for the 10 Agricultural and Food Science Academy students to view.
Some crowded around the table where Hayner, an intern at Lindentree Farm near Underwood, worked. Others, a bit more squeamish, stood to the side, glimpsing quickly from time to time.
The 10 students selected a week of farm visits among the many activities they could pick from during the school's mid-term break. The sustainable farms were in Otter Tail County, western Wisconsin and near the Twin Cities.
At Lindentree the students built a chicken tractor, learned about beekeeping, saw mushroom production and viewed a raised intensive gardening system.
Other stops in their two day stay near Fergus Falls included high tunnel production on Mark Boen's Bluebird Gardens and the grazing pastures of Kent Solberg's farm near Verndale.
Freshman Sadie Korich of Brushwood held many of the farm's chicks during her afternoon farm visit.
Korich enrolled in the ag academy for its strong science curriculum. She will need the background for her future career as a therapeutic nurse.
Senior Desirae Peterson plans to operate a small-acre farm. Her parents have purchased a 10-acre farm, she said.
Although not all of the students will farm or seek an ag-related job, it exposes them to agriculture, he said. The school works closely with several ag companies and cooperatives including Cargill, General Mills and Cenex Harvest States. The companies offer scholarships and internships.
The trip to Otter Tail County got its start during the school year when Fergus Falls' M-State sustainable agriculture program instructor Sue Wika visited the ag academy campus during career day. Through discussions between Sahr and Wika, the M-term trip was planned.
Two of Wika's program graduates became the teachers. Hayner graduated from the program two years ago. His wife, Noelle Hardin, graduated this year. Together they are learning about sustainable production from Lindentree Farm owners Ron Roller and Katy Olson.
Roller and Olson are no strangers to sustainable production. They've sold garden produce at farmers markets and organized a dried flower cooperative that covered a six county area. The dried flowers were popular and it was a good market until China began production of silk flowers, Roller said.
They've turned their attention to other parts of their farm. Of Lindentree's 100 acres, about 5 percent is tillable, he said. The rest is woodlands. They plan to sell wood and are using a portion of the logs for shiitake mushroom production.
They raise vegetables in a raised bed intensive gardening system and also have open fields for specialty crops, he said.
Most produce is sold locally to family and friends. They may also market through a roadside stand at the end of their driveway.
As Roller talked about the farm, Hayner and Hardin moved to the next project —the chicken tractor. A student placed the boards in position as another drilled screws to hold the frame. Another student drilled holes so flexible pipe could be installed to create a hoop effect. Chicken netting surrounded the bottom of the structure as someone stapled it to the wood.
It was topped with a tarp held in place with bungee straps.
Like a Pied Piper line, the students moved the laying hen and her chicks from their old home to the new. Once inside the structure, the chicks began moving around the grass as Hayner put a feeder and waterer in place.
The group next moved to Bluebird Gardens, where they ate a locally grown meal.
Although some of the students are from the inner city and others from suburbs, they have many opportunities to learn about plants and animals. They are growing produce and hydroponic lettuce in the school's greenhouse.