The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (USDA-FSA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) and Land Management/Soil and Water Conservation District joined to present a “Ladies of the Land” event June 3 at the St. James VFW, where topics included everything from the basics and logistics of community-supported agriculture to farming and ranching for women.

Speaker after speaker made the point that women are tied to agriculture through the food they or their family members consume, making a living as a farmer, or owning or being a part of an agri-business. The audience was certainly receptive, as nearly all were raised on farms, according to a show of hands.

Brooke Knisley presented on the “Basics and Logistics of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).” This is the third year Knisley and her husband have operated a four-acre CSA 12 miles outside New Ulm. They specialize in heirloom produce, and they’ll feed 44 families this year.

CSA is a food delivery model that connects consumers to farms through shares, she said. The farmer gets a guaranteed income--which functions basically as crop insurance--that they can budget with, and members share in the risk/reward of the farm while receiving seasonal produce weekly.

Members get extraordinarily fresh produce, plus the peace of mind of knowing how it was grown and where it came from, she said. CSA’s also boost the local economy, because farmers patronize local stores, and the capital stays in the same area.

It is a business, however, not just a hobby, Knisley said. It takes planning, a lot of care, and record-keeping is pivotal.

“I’m living the dream,” she said. “It’s an awesome job.”

She advised starting small and growing modestly, as well as the importance of research and marketing. “You learn so much from year-to-year.”

A packing shed is pivotal, too, for post-harvest handling of produce, as well as storage and packing of CSA boxes, she said. Standard operating procedure is usually to pack seven-13 items in each box and to run the program for 16-20 weeks.

Bridgett Winkels, from the Watonwan County Land Management Department, explained ways in which her office can be of assistance to farmers. They can help with applications on a variety subjects, but they also can provide loans to upgrade septic tanks, address water concerns in the county, ensure that there is no net loss of wetlands in compliance with the Wetland Conservation Act, assist with structural or vegetative practices to correct existing problems with erosion control and water management, and do education and outreach through workshops, educational fairs, the county fair, and elementary school presentations.

Jill Sackett, University of Minnesota Extension Service, was raised on a crop and livestock farm in Martin County, and she said during this event she’s been to countless weddings at this very VFW. She titled her talk “Cover Crop Benefits,” but she also spent a preponderance of time discussing The North Central Region-Sustainable Agriculture Research Education program (NCR-SARE). SARE promotes and supports sustainable agriculture with grants, and Sackett came armed with numerous pamphlets on grant programs like the youth educator grant program, the graduate student grant program, the farmer rancher grant program, the research and education grant program, and the professional development grant program.

Sackett and people of her ilk are currently “very worried about soils.” “Soil is a very important natural resource, and we’re supposed to be protecting that--don’t treat your soil like dirt.”

SARE was launched by the USDA in 1988, and sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production having a site-specific application that will, over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends, make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, sustain the economic viability of farm operations, and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole, according to SARE.

Christy Jackson, Cottonwood County FSA committee, and her daughter, Carli Jackson, Cottonwood County beef ambassador, promulgated that, “Farming and Ranching is not Just for Men.”

According to 2012 census numbers released by the USDA May 2, women are principal operators of 6,370 farms in Minnesota, down from 7,367 in 2007. These operations make up 9 percent of all farms--4 percent of land in farms--and sold $398 million worth of agriculture products in 2012. Of all women principal operators in the state, 2,433 reported farming as their primary occupation, and 1,532 are beginning farmers.

Christy Jackson said she grew up “a traditional farm girl” in Minnesota. She majored in Animal Science at South Dakota State University, and she now helps her husband, Frank, run her father’s Minnesota farm. She met Frank while he was working at a purebred angus ranch in northwest Arkansas, and that’s where Carli Jackson was born.

Christy Jackson said feeding populations is “ a serious responsibility that not a lot of people understand. Don’t ever give up the cause of promoting what you are a part of.”

Carli Jackson wrapped her speech around the one-day contract idea made famous by University of Louisville basketball coach--and motivational maestro-- Rick Pitino. Pitino, of course, is the only college basketball coach to take three schools to the Final Four--Providence College, the University of Kentucky, and Louisville--and the only one to win national championships at two different schools (UK and UL). Lately, Pitino has emphasized the one-day contract, the idea that one needs to do their very best each and every day, as if their lives depended on that one day.

Jackson, who is heading to S.D.S.U. this fall to study agriculture, said, “Being in the cattle business is not an 8-5 job,” and being on a feedlot is more than daily chores. “It takes every single day.”

Jackson, who said showing cattle is her favorite hobby, said people in the cattle industry learned a long time ago that they need to commit to a one-day contract. “We sign that one-day contract every day, because we are driven by passion.”

Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan

The full text of this story appeared in the June 5 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.