A chat with Molly Sowash, program educator, Midwest Food Connection

A chat with Molly Sowash, program educator, Midwest Food Connection
Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation? How long have you served in this position?
Molly Sowash: I am one of Midwest Food Connection’s program educators, along with my coworker, Emily Houser, and our executive director, Uli Koester. This will be my third year working for Midwest Food Connection.

FMN: What are your organization’s primary objectives?
MS: Through culinary adventures in the classroom — school programs about natural foods, local sustainable farming and the cultural origins of our food — Midwest Food Connection aims to empower elementary school children to make informed food choices.
In addition to our classroom teaching, Midwest Food Connection also connects students to where their food comes from by teaching classes in school gardens and accompanying them on field trips to local farms.
Our classroom teaching and farm field trips inspire kids to eat well and make caring choices for their bodies, their communities and the land.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
MS: Midwest Food Connection empowers kids from an early age to live healthfully. By tasting real food, putting their hands in the dirt, planting seeds, hearing stories about local foods and cooking in the classroom, they gain lifelong food skills. Beyond simply learning about vitamins and nutrients, our students learn about how food connects them to diverse cultures, to the health of our soils, to local history and to one another. We teach the whole story of food so that our students gain a deep understanding of how they are connected to the food system and how their choices affect their community. Through empowering food education, we help to create the next generation of conscientious consumers.
The average elementary student receives just 3.4 hours of food education each year. In stark contrast, children view an average of one junk food commercial every five minutes of TV time. How can we expect to foster a healthy generation of eaters if children view three hours of junk food ads a week, yet receive only three hours of healthy food education a year? Every day, students practice math, learn science, study language, read and write. Yet food education is nowhere in the curriculum. Midwest Food Connection fills the gap.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
MS: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and moved to the Twin Cities to attend Macalester College. After graduating in 2016, I began working for Midwest Food Connection. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to influence young people’s lives and open the world of food to them.
 
FMN: Outside interests?
MS: Within the field of education, I’m particularly interested in how sustainable agriculture relates to issues of environmental and economic justice. I spend my summers working on farms and I spend my free time organizing against Line 3, a crude oil pipeline slated for construction in northern Minnesota.

FMN: What advice would you give young people looking at a career in agriculture?
MS: I am one of those young people considering a career in agriculture! My advice to others? Intern or work on many different kinds of farms. Read lots of books. Grow your own food. Gain as much experience with all aspects of the food system as you can. Food has the power to change our relationship with the land, to put an end to climate change, to bring diverse communities together, to feed a growing population and to heal. Look to experts in your field and constantly challenge your own beliefs. Lastly, I found the book, “Letters to a Young Farmer,” to be an inspiring read!
 

A chat with the officers of Dakota Heritage, Inc.
Brian Dykstra, Karl Fedeler, Carol Kiecksee and Jim and Deb Redder

 

Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation?  How long have you served in this position?
Dakota Heritage: Dakota Heritage, Inc., two years.

FMN: What is the primary objective of your organization?
DH: To promote and keep alive the way corn harvesting was done in the past by picking by hand. We do this by promoting hand cornhusking contests.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
DH: We help keep the tradition of hand cornhusking alive before machines were used and for future generations. We invite all young people to step up and give it a try.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
DH: All of us were raised on farms in eastern South Dakota.
 
A chat with the officers of Dakota Heritage, Inc.Brian Dykstra, Karl Fedeler, Carol Kiecksee and Jim and Deb Redder 

A Chat with Theresa Keaveny Executive Director, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota

A Chat with Theresa Keaveny Executive Director, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation? How long have you served in this position?
Theresa Keaveny: The Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota is the organization I work for as executive director. I’ve had this position for a year-and-a-half.

FMN: What are your organization’s primary objectives?
TK: SFA’s mission is to protect and enhance farming resources, air, land, water and people by advancing sustainable agricultural practices. We support conservation and environmental stewardship, economic viability of farmers and strong communities through our farmer-to-farmer network, education, innovation and demonstration. SFA works with farmers on soil health practices including adding livestock to the landscape using managed grazing techniques, assisting grass-based dairies and growing and marketing profitable specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. SFA also partners with other groups to assist the next generation of family farmers.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
TK: SFA members and others attending our field days, workshops and meetings have access to a farmer-to-farmer network to help producers learn from each other. SFA members learn soil health practices, including cover crops and small grains, how to incorporate livestock into farming operations, how to grow and market specialty crops such as garlic and asparagus and how to operate grazing dairies. SFA also has a wealth of information on sustainable farming and food production.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
TK: I grew up on a diversified family farm northeast of Morton, then later Redwood Falls.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
TK: I don’t farm, but do some gardening. However, our members, particularly those in southwestern Minnesota, have diversified family farm operations and are seeing the benefits of soil health practices to the soil, wildlife and their bottom line.

FMN: Family?
TK: I have several nieces, nephews, cousins and siblings with whom I enjoy spending time.

FMN: Outside interests?
TK: I hike, camp, swim, read, play guitar and sing.

FMN: What advice would you give young people looking at a career in agriculture?
TK: There are opportunities to farm the land, and programs and strategies to overcome startup barriers and challenges. Increasingly, consumers want clean, safe, locally grown food, and continue to seek organic food, grown with stewardship of the land as a priority. This opens up market opportunities for new farmers and employment for those interested in our overall food and fiber system.
 

A Chat with Jason Walker Communications Director, Sustainable Farming Association

A Chat with Jason Walker Communications Director, Sustainable Farming Association
Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation?  How long have you served in this position?
Jason Walker: I’ve been Communications Director of the Sustainable Farming Association for nearly seven years. I came to SFA after a decade in the newspaper industry and feel lucky my skills can be used to advance the extremely worthy topic of sustainable agriculture.

FMN: What is the primary objective of your organization?
JW: SFA is an inclusive farmer networking organization that works for anyone seeking innovative methods to protect Minnesota’s food-producing resources. From urban farmers to rural grain producers, SFA promotes soil health and sustainable techniques that boost farmer profitability and local food availability. We teach farmers ways to farm using the Five Principles of Soil Health: keep the soil covered, minimize disturbance, increase crop diversity, keep living roots in the soil and integrate livestock.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
JW: SFA was founded at the grassroots level in 1989 by sustainable farmers who felt isolated in their communities, so it’s always been focused on farmer networking and education. In addition, our members can join regional chapters to work toward mutually beneficial projects and goals, one recent example being the Cannon River Chapter, which obtained a grant to market their local products under a “Cannon Valley Grown” label. Other examples are the Greater Mille Lacs chapter, centered in Aitkin County; and the East Central Chapter, in the Cambridge-Isanti area, both of which have allowed its farmer-members to unite and sell more farm product through shared distribution and, in the case of Mille Lacs, a yearly festival, Farm2Families.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
JW: In a small town south of Wichita, Kan. I was not a farmer but spent time on my grandparents’ place outside the even smaller town of Logan, Kan., on the Solomon river. Upon their passing, the farm was sold to a local grassfed beef producer. We came to Minnesota in 2006 and live in Minneapolis where we raise a large garden and have a beehive and some laying hens.

FMN: Can you describe your business operation?
JW: As a nonprofit organization, and one with a small staff, SFA has had to use technology to its advantage. Our smaller staff size and budget can be tricky in some cases, but it also gives us the ability to be nimble and quickly shift focus to the issues affecting farm profitability and sustainability. For instance, we saw what was happening on the ground with soil health and for five years now have hosted our yearly Midwest Soil Health Summit. Another example is the way we promote the profitable, highly marketable crop of premium garlic through our Minnesota Garlic Project.

FMN: Family?
JW: My wife, Leita, is an attorney in Minneapolis who works mostly on First Amendment issues. We have four children: Hank, 10; Nettie, 7; Ida, 3; and Freya, 18 months.

FMN: Outside interests?
JW: Having four kids and two working parents makes outside interests challenging, but we manage to still keep our garden producing each year. I made sure our house had a space for a woodshop, I coach youth sports every year and I play basketball as much as I can. My wife and I both volunteer at a school in Minneapolis, Nellie Stone Johnson, and that’s been an incredibly rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone. Making time to make a difference is worth the effort!

FMN: What advise would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in agriculture?
JW: By building sustainability through soil health, you can have both principles and profitability that will benefit your farm, our air and water, and rural communities. You CAN have it all, and following the Five Principles of Soil Health is the way to do it.