Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference Sessions

Saturday, January 27

SESSION 1: 8:30-9:45am (Note: Earlier start time this year!)

Building a Sustainable Seed Community with Ben Cohen, Small House Farm

In this workshop we will discuss the importance of seed saving and community seed sharing. Learn about maintaining genetic diversity, preserving history and regional adaptation, as well as basic and intermediate seed saving techniques. Discover how simple and beneficial it can be to incorporate this ancient practice into your small farm operation or garden!

Composting to Balance Economic and Environmental Sustainability with Brad Morgan, Morgan Composting Inc.

Many conventional farms today are locked into a losing cycle of having to apply chemical inputs at increasing amounts annually because their products are no longer producing the yields and quality that they once did. Some are turning to alternative methods that involve using natural sources of fertility to turn these trends around, like creating compost on the farm, which can close the loop on nutrient loss and improve soil health. Composting expert Brad Morgan will share how you can build and maintain a good composting program that follows the state requirements for temperatures and turning times to maximize your farm’s natural resources.

Finding & Acquiring Farmland with Katie Brandt, MSU Student Organic Farm

Choosing farmland with good soils, infrastructure, and a healthy market for your products is a great first step when starting or scaling up your farm. We will share farmers’ land access stories and compare leasing, buying, partnering with landowners and incubator farms. You can find land from neighbors, family, non-profits, land-linking websites, plat maps or realtors and then decide which is the best option using soil surveys, business planning and market research. We will also share land prices, loan programs, bartering tips and the purchase process.

Flower Farming: Season Extension and Crated Lily Production with Shailah and Rowan Bunce, Rock River Farm

This session will discuss what flowers to plant early on for hoop house production, as well as fall starts for spring. Succession lily production grown in bulb crates in a greenhouse will also be covered.

How to Help Pollinators with Kay Charter, Saving Birds Through Habitat

Most people know that honeybees are facing serious challenges, but few know that these beneficial insects are not native, or that we have more than four thousand native bees (some of which are actually more effective pollinators than their European cousins). Did you know that Monarch butterfly numbers are sinking as well? What are the causes for these declines and how can we help reverse these trends? Join Kay Charter to learn what we can do on our own property to aid our native pollinators, even if we only have a small tract of land.

Mind Your Business with Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

What does it mean to be "In Business"? Why should you keep records? Because Richard said so? No! To better manage your farm business so you can work less and make more money? Yes! Now that you are in the farming business, learn the language of business. Be a highly effective manager, learn the macro and micro tools of financials, and benefit from some quick tips for success.

Native American Herbal Medicinals with Nathan Wright, Owner / Co-founder of Herbal Lodge - Authentic Natural Remedies

The core of this session will be about Native American Herbal Medicinals. We will explore herbal plants and their medicinal uses for pain relief and dry skin relief. We will cover a brief history of Herbal Lodge, speak of our personal & customer experiences with herbs, and close the session out with a question and answer session. A sampling of Herbal Lodge products will be available for class attendees.

Pork Production Panel with Aaron Brower, Bluestem Farm, Andre Kitscher, Peaceful Valley Farm, Ben McMurray, Hill Valley Farm and Ryan Romeyn, Providence Farm

Learn about the various options in running a thriving pork business including AI, heritage breeds, options in off-farm processing and small to mid-size options.

Sustainable Management of Your Woodlot with Kama Ross, District Forester, Leelanau, Benzie, Grand Traverse Conservation District and Joshua Shields, District Forester, Manistee, Mason-Lake Conservation Districts

The family/farm woodlot can be managed sustainably to produce many timber and non-timber products and sources of revenue. Learn about how to keep your trees healthy and vigorous through good forest management. Non-native insects and disease make for some very difficult situations, but being proactive can help. We’ll discuss best practices, like connecting with local foresters to inventory your woodlot, deciding on management goals, and creating a forest management plan that will help your family manage your property to its fullest potential. This session will also cover other potential income options for your woodlot and property tax programs specific to forest land.

Veggies and Vows: How to Run a Farm Business with Your Life Partner and Still Really Like Each Other with Fred and Michele Monroe, Monroe Family Organics

Anyone who has been farming for any length of time knows that during the season, the farm will take every ounce of energy you can give. So how do you strike a good work/life rhythm for your family when you and your spouse are both full time farmers? And how do you run such a demanding business together without neglecting domestic, romantic, and relational needs?  Fred and Michele Monroe discuss how to get through the season (mostly) happily and (mostly) sanely when your farm partner is also your life partner, followed by a round table discussion of the topic.

SESSION 2: 10:30-11:45am

Becoming and Leaving Strawberry with Bernie Ware, Ware Farm and Ryan Romeyn, Providence Farm

As Bernie Ware prepares to leave strawberry, Ryan Romeyn is learning to be strawberry.  Learn the basics of strawberry culture and why local organic strawberries are an essential ingredient of resilient communities.

Coppice Agroforestry: Resprout Silviculture for the 21st Century with Dave Jacke, author Edible Forest Gardens

Most woody plants have evolved the ability to resprout when damaged by storm, fire, flood, browsing, insects, or other disturbances. Various expressions of coppicing (intentional harvest and management of woody resprouts) formed a key pillar of human survival from the Paleolithic to Early Modern times, and charcoal from coppice energized the early Industrial Revolution. Whether we admit it or not, climate chaos now requires that humanity transition from a hydrocarbon economy back to a carbohydrate economy, and resprout silviculture will likely play a key role in that future. This workshop will cover coppicing basics, like: What is coppicing? How does it work? What coppice systems might we use? How can we establish them? How does coppicing affect ecosystem functions?

Early Season Extension and Harvest/Post Harvest Handling of Flowers with Michelle Shackleford, Leelanau Specialty Cut Flowers and September Dykema, September’s Herbs and Produce

September will discuss the techniques they use to grow flowers earlier and later into the season.  Key flower varieties will also be covered. Michelle will help to demystify the harvest and post harvest techniques for many flower varieties. This will include harvest stage, post harvest treatment and storage.

Growing and Marketing Sensational Salad Mixes with Abbey Palmer and Allison Stawara, MSU North Farm at Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center

Go to the next level with salad mixes in this session on crop planning, harvesting, and economics of salad. Abbey Palmer and Allison Stawara, from the MSU North Farm, will outline an approach to make salad mixes a significant component of a farm’s crop plan. Walk through the options and planting schedules for producing farm-specific custom blends, how to incorporate additional components, like flowers and herbs, compare Salanova and baby leaf, and see our return-on-investment for a quick cut greens harvester.

Organic Certification - Where to Start? with Vicki Morrone, Michigan State University & MOFFA

and Julie Studier, Organic Apple Orchard

Vicki will present from the technical side of organic certification and Julie will share her practical experiences of various ways to transition a fruit orchard. We will cover transitioning a newly acquired orchard that had been abandoned, moving from conventional to organic, and starting fresh with new plantings in a certifiable field. Following a few case study examples, participants will be able to ask questions and together we’ll develop a conversation about the challenges and process of transitioning to Organic production and certification.

Protecting Your Personal and Farm Assets from Legal Predators with Michael Fraleigh, Fraleigh Law

This session will discuss cost-effective legal methods for protecting personal assets from farm liabilities and farm assets from personal liabilities.  Emphasis will be on addressing potential basis for legal liability, creditor claims, divorce, and ways to mitigate or eliminate the risks.

Ranching Exotic Livestock with Chris Butz, Gills Pier Ranch

We breed high-quality Tibetan Yak and Suri Alpacas for ranch or for table. Learn how ranching exotic animals is profitable, healthy for the consumer, and beneficial for the environment.

Sizing Up Your Farm - A Discussion of Equipment, Infrastructure, Costs & Strategy for Different Types of Vegetable Farms with Tom Cary

The workshop will look at common equipment & infrastructure investments & systems approaches to make different types of vegetable farms work. Will look at market and cash flow considerations if possible. Designed for beginning & newer field based vegetable production farmers.

Weed Management for Small Scale Diversified Vegetable Operations with Sarah Geurkink and Denae Friedheim, MSU Student Organic Farm

In this workshop, learn about the MSU Student Organic Farm’s weed management plan and determine which organic methods may work best for your own operation. Mechanical techniques and hand cultivation, cover crops, stale seed beds, and more will be covered. This session will also go over tools for to annual and perennial weeds in direct-seeded and transplanted vegetable crops.

SESSION 3: 1:30-2:45pm

Assessing the Feasibility of Organic Grain Production in the U.P with Monica Jean and Chris Kapp, MSU Extension

We’ll be discussing the research objectives to answer the question of whether or not organic grain production for use in livestock feed is feasible in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We’ll take a look at two organic grain variety trials that were established with different rates of underseeding to look at the different variety yield and weed control, reviewing the research conducted and results gained. This analysis will include determining the cost of production specific to the Upper Peninsula region.

Carrot Production on the Small Farm with Collin Thompson, MSU North Farm

This session will take a detailed look at carrot production for retail/wholesale markets on the small farm. Participants will walk through a year of production, looking at equipment/tools, scheduling, post harvest handling, and cultivation techniques.

Cost of Production - Farm Budgets Made Simple with Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

Ever wonder how much it costs to produce a dozen eggs? A feeder pig? Hoophouse greens? Are you making a profit with them given your current sales prices? Longtime organic farmer Richard Wiswall will demystify production costs for various farm ventures and show which ones are actually making money or not. This group working session will simplify and enlighten the process of determining profitability for any of your farm endeavors. Beginning and seasoned farmers alike will benefit, and share in some eye opening results.

Food Safety 101 with Mark Baker, Director of Technical Services at Cherry Central

The goal of this session is to provide a background to what a food safety system is and why it is important to your business and to any one particular food sector. We will discuss minimum government standards for most food producers, third party food safety audits and schemes, finally GFS schemes and the introduction of food quality. By the end of the session you should be able to identify what type of food safety system is right for your facility and see how future improvements to the food safety systems can improve brand image and increase sales.

Gardening Like the Forest: From Delicious Plants to Edible Ecosystems with Dave Jacke, author Edible Forest Gardens

Healthy forests maintain, fertilize, and renew themselves, naturally. Wouldn’t you like to grow an abundant food-producing ecosystem like that in your yard? You can! Edible forest gardens mimic the structure and function of natural forests and grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizers, farmaceuticals, and fun. We can meet our own needs and regenerate healthy ecosystems at the same time! The vision of forest gardening and some scientific background will illuminate a few living examples and useful species. We’ll also look at how beneficial system properties emerge from putting plants together into effective polycultures—the essence of forest gardening.

A Natural Hands On Approach to Cattle Handling Part 2 with Mike and Stefani Schulte, Narrow Gate Farm

Last year at the NMSFC, we explored the concept of Natural Handling and putting content to the notion of Humane protocol. What a perfect opportunity to continue this conversation to the next level and take a closer look. In depth study will include calf development nursing on biological mother, how natural handling techniques creates the finest finished beef animal on grass, the story of a fertile cow, a closer look at intentional grazing systems, more taming techniques and working with young bulls, mineral supplements and never having pink eye, hoof rot, milk fever, etc., and a no worming ever protocol.

Targeting Tillage for Improved Soil Health and Crop Performance with James DeDecker, MSU Extension and Sieg Snapp, Michigan State University

Currently, little data is available to support farmer decisions regarding which tillage/no-till technologies are best equipped to balance crop performance and soil health objectives. Soil analyses measuring biophysical parameters (aggregate stability, active carbon, respiration, etc.) offer new information to farmers for targeting tillage. In this session, we’ll discuss our ongoing project that engages farmer learning communities from three regions of Michigan in participatory soil and crop monitoring for collaborative development of hyper-local tillage recommendations.

Tell Your Story & Make Money Doing It with Kalin Sheick, Stems & Sprigs / Sweetwater Lavender Farm

Stop comparing your business to everyone else & learn to navigate digital marketing with ease. Following this advice can be tough. Don't let the comparison game and social media sphere rob you of your joy or let you forget why you started in the first place. In this workshop, you'll learn how to connect with the right people, stay ahead on social & how to effectively tell your unique story.

USDA Rural Development Grants with Bobbie Morrison and Natalie Garr, USDA Rural Development

Are you a producer of a raw commodity? Have you wondered how to get grant funds for your value-added project? Do you want to increase your revenues and customer base? We have a couple of grant programs to go over with you. In this session, we will discuss the application process and eligibility requirements and provide you with tips on writing a grant proposal. You’ll also have a chance to meet some of the local organizations that can help with this process. Another topic in this session with be the Rural Energy for America Program. Have you been contemplating a solar project on your farm? Or do you have energy efficiency improvements you are considering for your business? We will be going over the types of projects and eligibility requirements for this program as well.

SESSION 4: 3:30-4:45pm

Farm Mechanizations with Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

Learn the tools of the trade for greater farming efficiency. Cultivation tools to maximize weed control, tools to speed the harvest, and packhouse tools for quicker and easier processing will all be covered. Cost/benefit analysis will show how long it will take for a new tool to pay for itself.  Greenhouse innovations will be highlighted as well.

Farmer-to-Farmer Discussion Group: On Farm Butchering, Facilitated by Ellie and Matt Evans of Pitchfork Farm

Join this discussion group all about the options in on-farm butchering. Chairs will be arranged in a circle so that participants will be the “presenters” and will be able to address each other with questions, recommendations or information to share. Topics and focus to be chosen by attendees.

Farmer to Farmer Discussion Group: Farmer-to-Farmer Access, Facilitated by Laura Rigan and Sharron May

Join this discussion group all about tools that can assist in farm succession and access. Chairs will be arranged in a circle so that participants will be the “presenters” and will be able to address each other with questions, recommendations or information to share. Topics and focus to be chosen by attendees.

Farmer to Farmer Discussion Group: New Co-operative Models, Facilitated by Evan Smith

Join this discussion group all about new cooperative models in Michigan. Chairs will be arranged in a circle so that participants will be the “presenters” and will be able to address each other with questions, recommendations or information to share. Topics and focus to be chosen by attendees.

Farmer to Farmer Discussion Group: Seed and Rootstock Varieties for our Region, Facilitated by Brenin Wertz-Roth

Join this discussion group all about seeds and rootstocks that are well adapted for our region. Chairs will be arranged in a circle so that participants will be the “presenters” and will be able to address each other with questions, recommendations or information to share. Topics and focus to be chosen by attendees.

Farmer Yoga: Supportive Practices for Working Bodies with Janae Ernst

A healthy farmer is a happy farmer. Learn about the toll that farm work can take on the body and how yoga can help by increasing internal awareness, alleviating pain, reducing stress, and encouraging focus in this hands-on workshop.

Get the Most from Your Soil Amendments by Building Beneficial Biology with Joe Scrimger, Bio-Systems

This workshop is designed for those who wish to attract beneficial organisms to their growing operation. This directly relates to soil management, using specific amendments and farm practices to develop an environment suitable for beneficial microorganisms. Learn what weaknesses open the door to pest and disease problems, and how to set the stage for a beneficial majority.

Extending the Growing Season in Northern Michigan with Brian Bates, Bear Creek Organic Farm

Extending the growing season can increase sales, customer loyalty, and staff retention. It can also be one of the most challenging times of year to grow crops! This session will cover the "off-season" growing opportunities and challenges of fresh greens in northern Michigan in both unheated and heated production spaces. Winter growing can require significant financial and labor investments; this session will help you determine if it's right for you.  

Download the Registration Brochure for full agenda, session descriptions, and speaker bios in a printer-friendly format.