LSP highlights programs at meeting in Alexandria
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 04/05/2012 1:57 PM
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The buzz in the First Congregational Church basement in Alexandria involved rural life.
Creating a more sustainable western Minnesota was the focus of the discussion. The more than 30 participants learned of a cornucopia of programs and projects from Land Stewardship Project staff and board members.
The programs ranged from the Farm Beginnings program, the Chippewa 10% Project and local foods systems.
The Chippewa 10% Project has a long-term goal of getting more biological diversity on 10 percent of the land in the Chippewa River Watershed, said Julia Ahlers Ness. Ness has is working on the project through LSP.
Research and experience has shown that changing farming practices on 10 percent of the watershed's sensitive agricultural land could be enough to meaningfully improve the safety of the water, reduce flood potential, restore wildlife habitat and stimulate viable local and regional foods economies.
The project is moving into its third year. Project leaders built key relationships with people and organized during the first year. The Chippewa 10 % Project hosted a workshop last year. This year the project will step up efforts to promote the project with landowners especially in the upper and middle main stem of the Chippewa River and in the lower part of the Shokopee.
Other areas of focus are in the northern areas of the Chippewa River Watershed.
They are working with landowners who still have CRP acres to keep the land in grass.
RIchard Ness highlighted LSP's Farm Beginnings program. The program started 15 years ago in Minnesota and is also available in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois and New York. A program is coming to Maine.
For the last two to three years, classes in Minnesota have been sold out, he said.
The course includes nine sessions starting in October, he said. Classes meet on farms during summer. One course in June will introduce the class to grass grazing.
They have established a list of 180 farmers who have a variety of operations from livestock to crops to dairy to poultry. The farmers may have the Farm Beginnings student shadow them through a day of work.
"There is a huge network of producers out there," Richard Ness said. "The students can learn so much from the farmers."
Rebecca Terk mentioned several projects planned in Big Stone County.
One project is creating a community space in a restaurant building that closed in 2010. The kitchen could become a community kitchen where individuals process, store and distribute local foods.
The area is also home to a farmers markets. The building of local foods systems is important to the county with a population of 5,300 people. Establishing the networks among food co-ops is a way to avoid food deserts in rural areas, she said.