A Chat with Sam Johnson Regional project manager for Minnesota Soybean

Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation? How long have you served in this position?
Sam Johnson: Regional project manager for Minnesota Soybean. I have served in this position since Sept. 10.

FMN: What are your organization’s primary objectives?
SJ: Minnesota Soybean is a dual organization comprised on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. MSR&PC worked to help Minnesota soybean farmers increase their profitability through a variety of ways, including finding new uses for soybeans in commercialized products, introducing soybeans in international markets and providing educational outreach to consumers about soybeans and their uses. This is all made possible because of the soybean check-off dollars through a federally mandated check-off program. MSGA is the largest soybean association, with nearly 3,000 producers investing in the organization to be the voice of Minnesota soybean farms across Minnesota and Washington, D.C., to fight for farm-friendly policies. They also work to help farmers better understand legislation and push for legislative policies to help farmers in all aspects of their operations.
While we have the state organization that works on behalf of Minnesota farmers, my primary responsibility is being the liaison between the state organization and our county soybean organizations. I attend county meetings, events and promotional activities to help our counties grow and share the message of the soybean industry with those in their area. The county organizations are comprised of farmers and industry representatives who are passionate about agriculture and sharing the soybean message with those in their county.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
SJ: We benefit our members through a number of ways. First and foremost, the MSGA fights to craft and promote legislation. MSGA serves as the voice of all soybean farmers across the state of Minnesota in St. Paul and Washington, D.C. The MSR&PC works to develop new uses for soybeans, identify new international markets in which soybeans would be an asset and provide outreach to those directly and indirectly involved in agriculture. Our ultimate goal is to help farmers increase efficiency and profitability on the farm so they can continue to farm the next year and provide for their families.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
SJ: I grew up in Glenville.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
SJ: I currently help my family farm when I can on our family farm in Glenville.

FMN: Can you describe your operation?
SJ: Our operation is comprised of corn, soybean and cattle.

FMN: Family?
SJ: Father, David Johnson; mother, Sandy Johnson; older sister, Jennifer Johnson; older brother, Collin Johnson.

FMN: Outside interests?
SJ: Hobbies include traveling, golfing and hiking. I love staying involved with the 4-H and FFA programs as a volunteer.

FMN: What advice would you give young people looking at a career in agriculture?
SJ: There are so many possibilities to get involved in agriculture through avenues you might not even think of. With that, it is important for young people, even myself, to maintain an open mind when it comes to agriculture because things change fast and it is important to adapt to those changes. This could be technology, markets, etc., and you never know what might happen. Change is constant in agriculture and it is important to be open and embrace that change.

 

A Chat with Stephanie LaBrune

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Farm Market News: What is your professional affiliation?  How long have you served in this position?
Stephanie LaBrune: I work for the Pipestone Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) and Pipestone County Environmental Office. With the two local governmental entities merged together, most refer to us as the County Conservation & Zoning office. I have had the pleasure of serving in the capacity as Administrative Assistant for nearly 11 years.

FMN: What is the primary objective of your organization?
SL: The primary objective of our organization is to support local landowners and operators by working closely with them to carry out natural resource management practices and assist them with environmental and land use concerns.

FMN: How does your organization benefit its members?
SL: Our organization serves as a one-stop shop for landowners and producers who are interested in conservation practices that reduce pollution and improve natural resources. By working in partnership with other federal, state, and local agencies, we are able to provide technical engineering, planning and financial assistance to aid in the implementation of conservation projects as well as many other soil health and nutrient management practices. Our ultimate goal is to benefit the public as a whole by making every effort to protect our soil and water resources and ensure that the land remains viable and productive for future generations. For more information on the services we provide, visit our website at www.pipestoneswcd.org.

FMN: Where did you grow up?
SL: I was born and raised in Pipestone, Minn.

FMN: Do you farm currently? If so where?
SL: My family and I currently operate a small 40-acre farm on top of the Buffalo Ridge near Holland, Minn.

FMN: Can you describe your business operation?
SL: Our farming operation primarily consists of raising cattle to provide food for our family. However, it is important to us that we are good stewards of the land, so over the last few years we have converted 20 acres of highly erodible cropland into the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program as a way to re-build the soil structure and provide habitat for wildlife. We have also enrolled our pasture into the CRP Grasslands program, which has benefited our operation immensely by still allowing us to graze or hay our pasture at a reduced rate, which in turn has given our acres a chance to mend after many years of intense grazing. By incorporating these valuable conservation practices, our farm is now recognized as a Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certified Farm with the MDA.

FMN: Family?
SL: My husband, Ryan, owns a custom cabinetry business: Ultimate Woodworking, Inc. He is also a volunteer on the Holland fire department. Together we have two children: Danica, 7, and Lincoln, 5.

FMN: Outside interests?
SL: Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family outdoors and riding ATV. I also serve as a member of the St. Paul Lutheran Preschool board.

FMN: What advice would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in agriculture?
SL: If you have a true passion for farming, animals, or conservation, I would encourage you to pursue a career in agriculture. Agriculture is the backbone of our local economy and there is a diverse selection of careers available all throughout the world. In my career, I have found that working with local producers to improve their operation can be extremely rewarding.
 

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

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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!