Last week, I travelled to Duluth, Minnesota for the summer meeting of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative. This 1,400 mile 4 day trip was my first excursion into the far north of the country and I found it fascinating. The lands were flat, forested, and full of lakes, and the people were warm and welcoming. It called to mind the many many summer evenings spent with my grandmother in her kitchen in the plains of Ohio listening to "A Prairie Home Companion." So, in honor of Garrison Keillor... it's been a quiet week in Duluth, my new town, out on the edge of Lake Superior...
The journey began with the typical early morning departure for the 9.5 hour drive north. I arrived on Wednesday evening at the Radisson hotel, a circular building with a rotating restaurant called the JJ Astor on the 16th floor. For my first evening in Duluth, I was free to explore the city so my traveling companion (Aunt Gretchen) and I sojourned to the Canal Park district to seek evening sustenance. Having found it at a fine Asian bistro, we retired to the hotel to rest for the next long day ahead.
The next morning, we dined at the aforementioned rotating restaurant at the pinnacle of the rotund edifice. The experience of ever so slightly spinning while consuming a breakfast burrito was enough to induce slight vertigo which was quickly remedied by a swift descent to a non-rotating floor. Despite the discomfort induced by the spinning, the views of Lake Superior and the harbor were unparallelled.
Thusly sated, I made my way to the second floor where the proceedings of the day were to be held. My task at hand was to attend the annual summer facilitators' meeting of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative, the group of 11 organizations from across the central and eastern United States who offer the annual farm business training curriculum called Farm Beginnings. Here at The Land Connection, we package this program as Central Illinois Farm Beginnings. On this day, my fellow facilitators and I to develop and refine parts of our shared curriculum. This year, we focused on marketing and exercises for teaching financial statements. I have already begun to fold the valuable tools gained from this meeting into the programming for our upcoming fall class.
After a packed day of sharing resources and tools, our motley crew of farmer educators ventured out into the wilds of the north country to visit two farms, both graduates of past farm beginnings courses. We were treated to tours of a newly established cattle and sheep farm followed by a first season vegetable farm. It was at our second location that we were treated to a delicious on-farm dinner filled with local delicacies (burbot, aka eelpout or Lake Superior lobster) and midwestern staples (chicken and homemade egg noodles!). The evening was magical, full of excellent company and deep conversation, followed by a much needed night's rest.
The following morning was filled with conversation and sharing of resources and educational strategies. When the meeting adjourned, the aunt and I explored more of the region, driving to Two Harbors, learning about iron mining, and exploring the Duluth Whole Foods Coop. We then spent Saturday winding our way down the Mississippi River towards home.
October 2017 marks the 13th year that The Land Connection is offering business training to farmers in our region. Our course is packaged as a multi-session intensive training that will help new and emerging farmers run their farms as a fiscally viable business. We train our farmers in holistic farm planning, integrating personal, business, and environmental interests into a self-supportive system. Our students learn directly from farmers who are successful and willing to openly share their experiences.
Being a part of a national collaborative is an incredible asset to delivering our Farm Beginnings course in central Illinois. This curriculum is offered to farmers in 13 states providing a deep well of experience and knowledge that is shared among the various program facilitators at the summer meeting.
Last week, I had the privilege to connect with farmers and educators from across the country. What sets this experience apart from many national-level meetings is the warmth and intimacy fostered by our farmer hosts. This is an experience we, too, provide our students in Champaign, holding each session on a working farm and inviting farmer speakers to deliver the content. The most valuable asset graduates of our program come away with is an extended farm family full of caring, open, and interesting people!
Well, that's the news from Duluth, where all the farmers are strong, all the produce is good looking, and all the Farm Beginnings facilitators are above average.