Barn dance promises a great time and a new look at agriculture
Bring your dancing shoes and your appetite. The Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota 's Southeast Chapter is hosting a barn dance complete with food, fun and a new way of looking at agriculture.
Chris Gamer, a member of SFA board of directors, said the association invited more than 130 members but also hopes to see the public — consumers — show up to have a good time from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at Four Sisters Farm in northeast Rochester.
"Anyone is welcome to come," Garner said. "I strongly recommend it. My sister is an awesome caller. If you like to square dance, it'll be fun."
The regional chapter's board is looking to reach out to those consumers, said Erik Harris, a member of the Southeast Chapter. While SFA is a farmer-to-farmer network, Harris said the connection between farmers and consumers has been growing over the years, and that's something the association tries to nurture.
"We'd like to have consumers be a part of the agricultural process," he said. "The better connection there is between the consumer and the farmer, the more secure a food system we have."
While there will not be a formal presentation at the barn dance — it's a dance, for goodness sake — those farmers in attendance will be happy to talk shop with consumers.
"We will have a contact sign-up sheet for our upcoming education events," Harris said. That means everything from making a connection between that farmer and consumer looking for a perfect community supported agriculture fit, to chatting with the farmers you find at the local farmers market.
A big part of that connection is education, Gamer said, and SFA has some plans to change agriculture for the better. That starts with making a fundamental change toward permaculture: "Global climate change is a threat to us, and agriculture plays a role in how much carbon we put into the atmosphere."
Permaculture, where farmers plant trees and other perennials once and harvest for years, reduces the use of fossil fuels by farmers, lessens the need for constant tilling — "Carbon is released every time you turn the soil," Gamer said — and increases carbon sequestration by trapping it within the growing plants themselves.
Gamer said he would like to work with farmers — and encourage consumers — to change their habits and replace annual crops such as soybeans and corn with chestnuts and hazelnuts. "They have a similar food profile," he said. "And it doesn't take much to get people to go for hazelnuts. It's largely going into confections. … There's not enough of it being produced."
One of the hurdles farmers face in making the change to permaculture is financial. Harris said that once trees are planted, it can take three or four years before there's a significant harvest. "We're trying to get them placed in border strip lands," he said.
But one of the positives of this kind of agriculture is it allows for mixed crops on the same lands. Nut tress would be planted along with berry bushes, mushrooms, herbs and climbing vines. "It's important to have diversified planting," Harris said. When a farmer plants a single crop, those crops are susceptible to disease. Mono-cropping has also led to the rise of super bugs and super weeds that have become resistant to pesticides and herbicides.
Whether you're looking to learn more about a new farming movement or just looking for a fun time, Gamer said he hoped folks would come dance, eat and, maybe, learn a little. "We'll provide the meat and a vegetarian dish," he said. "It'll be great. Our members came up with the food."