Soil Social: Finding common ground in agriculture
WILLMAR — Sitting near a soybean field that was planted this spring by students who will harvest the crop this fall, Ridgewater College teachers shared a meal and conversation with Kandiyohi County farmers Thursday afternoon at Ridgewater College in Willmar.
Called a "Soil Social," the purpose was to talk about food that's grown and consumed in Kandiyohi County and find "common ground" in the topic of agriculture, said Kim Lippert, an instructor with Ridgewater's ag department.
The event focused on the premise that people have a common interest in food.
Lippert said there are different ways of growing food but "having conversation about that helps us understand each others' needs and interests and we can agree that having healthy food that all of us can feed to our families is a good thing."
About 60 college faculty and staff attended the outdoor event, which was decked out with white table cloths, locally grown flower bouquets, locally made food and placards with tidbits about the county's ag sector.
"Kandiyohi County has 1,310 farms," said one sign.
Another listed statistics about the county's farm industry, including that it ranks eighth in the state for ag cash receipts of $495 million.
Co-sponsored by several companies and organizations, including a local group called "Common Ground," the event provided an opportunity for people to "have a good conversation about farming," said Karisa Fettig, a loan officer with AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Willmar.
Fettig said it's also hoped that if non-ag educators learn more about farming that they will also encourage students to consider a career in agriculture. "We need more young people," she said.
Sarah Leshuk, who farms with her family near Svea, said she liked seeing teachers asking questions of farmers in one-on-one conversations. "It's great to be able to see that support come from all sides," she said.
During the Soil Social, Lippert said teachers were thanked for their service as they head into a new school year that starts Monday and were invited to learn more about the work ag students do in the program, including planting and harvesting crops from a 65-acre farm that's across the street from the college.
For the last five years the college has used the state-owned land as a classroom.
"Our students plant and our students harvest the school farm," Lippert said. " It's a very hands-on experience for the students."
It's the kind of experience students need to launch them into a career in agriculture, she said.
Leshuk, who left a corporate career to take over the family farm, said farming is challenging and a "labor of love" but has a strong future in Kandiyohi County.