The Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota’s mission is to support sustainable farming practices through farmer-to-farmer networking, education, innovation and demonstration. This non-profit organization has been a voice and a resource in sustainable farming for over 25 years and counting.
There’s currently nine chapters in SFA which cover the varying agricultural landscapes found in Minnesota. As newly-elected president of SFA, Connie Carlson brings her vast experience in both the agricultural and business sectors to the organization.
Sustainable farming is nothing new for Carlson. In fact, she was raised on a diversified organic farm in Madison, Minn. The farming operation included hogs, small grains, corn and soybeans. Her parents, Carmen and Sally Fernholz, own A-Frame Farm and instilled in Carlson the importance of taking care of the land. “I had a deep connection to the land, soil and community.”
After high school, Carlson went to the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. where she earned her degree in English and theater. Life took her away from the farm and into sales and marketing where she worked for 20 years in the metro area. For six to seven of those years, Carlson collaborated on various food projects. “I got hooked backed into ag and the food world.”
It was during that time she found out about the SFA Crow River chapter. She started sitting in on their board meetings and soon became passionate about SFA and what the organization represents in sustainable agriculture. “I started working on their garlic fest.” The festival is a celebration of all things garlic and is held every August at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Minn.
Carlson also started a food council. The Crow River Food Council was created by Carlson in 2014 to connect those in the community with healthy, local food choices. She was able to do all that while working from home.
The more opportunities she had to volunteer in the food and agriculture arenas, the more Carlson saw it as chance to make a difference. She then decided to apply for the position of New Crop Market Integration Specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. That led to the opportunity to serve as co-director of Statewide Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems with the RSDP and specifically with the Forever Green Initiative. FGI works towards developing new high-value commodity crops with conservation in mind.
As agriculture continues to evolve, more and more women are getting involved whether it’s farming or in agricultural leadership positions. For Carlson, “I’m excited about the range of voices we see coming to the table.” She points out that statistics show there’s been an increase in women farmers.
Having a wide breadth of people involved with SFA gives the organization the depth of knowledge and experience that will only continue to strengthen it. “Our board is evenly populated of people and experiences.” There are farmers, chefs and business leaders who serve on the board and their wide-range of expertise is a great asset to the organization.
In her role as president, Carlson sees opportunity to collaborate with those in the agriculture sector and beyond. “I’m excited to see where we can continue to innovate and bring those voices together. Agriculture is in a very challenging place right now. Farming is shifting. It’s a big time of change.”
Whether it’s the low commodity prices or climate change-related issues, there are concerns in the agricultural community. Carlson understands those concerns and looks forward to the chance to work on those issues in her role in SFA.
Carlson is proud of the work SFA is doing for soil health. She sees the importance of soil health for not only farmers, but for the community as a whole. That work includes hosting the Midwest Soil Health Summit which showcases experts in the soil health field.
“As president, my work is to support the executive director, Theresa Keaveny.” Carlson feels that “Theresa is really the engine behind SFA.” Carlson will also be there to support the board of directors as well. She will assist SFA in implementing strategic planning connecting farmers and business leaders throughout the state.
When Carlson is not busy collaborating with farmers and business people, she enjoys spending time with her family which includes husband, Eric; daughters, Madeline, 17 and Ingrid, 14 and son Leif, 11.
There’s plenty of change and uncertainty in agriculture today; but what is certain is that Carlson is committed to helping sustainable farming in Minnesota. She sees an opportunity to continue the dialogue of so many in our community to strengthen agriculture in our great state.