The Aphrodisiac of Ag

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There’s nothing like a call-in radio show to bring them out of the woodwork. Or, in the case of young farmers who are excited about producing healthy food in a sustainable manner, out of the rich soil of Minnesota. When the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program was the subject of discussion on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning program Thursday, the switchboard lit up with testimonials from all over the state. It was a celebration of love — love for the land and for good food.

People called in to talk about the deep satisfaction they derive from raising food in a way that’s good for people, the land and their communities. Audrey Arner, who farms in western Minnesota and serves on the Farm Beginnings steering committee, talked on Midmorning about the importance of “romancing young people into farming.”

Well, judging by the enthusiastic reaction she got on MPR, love is in the air. And it’s not just limited to the rural route. Will Allen, the charismatic leader of Growing Power in Milwaukee, talked on Midmorning about the love affair urban folks have with raising their own food within the city limits. (By the way, Allen will be giving a keynote at the Community Garden Spring Resource Fair on Saturday in Minneapolis; he’s got a great story to tell.) One could tell by listening to Arner and Allen, as well as to all of their callers, that these people are at the cutting edge of a new food and farming system that emphasizes quality, accountability and healthfulness.

It’s akin to the back-to-the-land movement of the 60s and 70s with one critical difference: these new stewardship farmers are smack dab in the middle of the fastest growing sector of today’s food market. These farmers represent the entrepreneurial spirit at its best. The take home message of Thursday’s radio show: there are a lot of great opportunities available in sustainable agriculture these days—in the country and in the city. And because consumers love the food produced by those farmers—a match made in heaven—it’s getting easier to make romance pay.

Listen to Thursday’s Midmorning program to get a big picture sense of this movement. And then, for a dose of reality, check out the podcast (episode 48) and Land Stewardship Letter profile featuring Ryan and Kristine Jepsen—two Farm Beginnings grads who were so romanced by agriculture that they left an almost idyllic life out West to farm back here in the Heartland. During the past few years they’ve learned farming isn’t all valentines and violins. I visited the Jepsens on a bitterly cold day in January when even their normally scenic piece of northeast Iowa was looking pretty bleak and barren. But between livestock chores, the young couple sat down to talk about how the intangibles of farming get them through some of those tough days.

“I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in the past few years,” Ryan told me while he downed a pot of coffee to thaw out. “But going out there on a cold day and seeing those cattle chewing their cud, or hearing from someone about how much they liked our beef or seeing the soil improve where there was just dead brome grass before, that makes it worth it.”

Kristine said that the feedback they get from consumers about the meat they produce on grass is particularly satisfying. “I don’t know how the commodity farmer would get that same gratification. It’s really important to what we do and sometimes it’s the factor that revives us after going through months of drudgery.”

Love can be that way.

One Response to “The Aphrodisiac of Ag”

  1. Roxanne Christensen

    What is helping to channel some of this new entrepreneurial farming spirit is a sub-acre, organic-based farming system called SPIN-Farming. SPIN allows aspiring first generation farmers to “go pro” by creating commercial farm businesses in their backyards and front lawns. You can see some of these backyard and front lawn farmers in action in the gallery area of the SPIN-Farming web site (

    Developed by Canadian farmer Wally Satzewich, SPIN-Farming is an organic-based, non-technical, easy-to-learn, inexpensive-to-implement farming system that makes it possible to earn significant income from land under an acre in size. Minimal infrastructure, reliance on hand labor to accomplish most farming tasks, utilization of existing water sources to meet irrigation needs, and situating close to markets all keep investment and overhead costs low. SPIN therefore removes the 2 big barriers to entry for new farmers – land and money, and it is as close to a franchise-ready farming system as you can get while still respecting the creative and place-based nature of farming. It is helping to not only re-imagine the current food production system, but it also provides a tool for re-building it by enablingthe growing corps of entrepreneurial farmers around the world to, literally, take matters into their own hands by establishing farm businesses wherever they happen live.


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