Friday, November 20, 2009

Minnesota Communities teach Swedes about farms, forests, and clean energy

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Swedes were coming to Minnesota to learn about farms and forestry as part of a "green" education exchange. Many Minnesota communities and organizations participated and the exchange led to shared knowledge, new experiences, and happy memories for both the hosts and the visitors.

Minnesota Communities teach Swedes about farms, forests, and clean energy

Swedes’ visit to Minnesota is a Learning Experience for All

Last month Minnesota became home to Swedish business partners Erik Sundell and Per Hallnevik as they traveled across the state to learn more about farming and agricultural practices.

The two decided to visit Minnesota after meeting Minnesotans Kara Slaughter and Alison Lindburg in Sweden last March. Slaughter and Lindburg were participating in the Rotary Club’s Group Study Exchange (GSE) program, where they lived with host families and studied sustainability practices of Swedish communities for five weeks. Lindburg and Slaughter organized the Minnesota tour as a way to continue the education and exchange process.

“Erik and Per were especially interested in seeing harvesting operations, large farms and big machinery,” says Lindburg, director of the Eco-Affordable Housing Program of Minneapolis-based non-profit organization Dovetail Partners. “We were lucky to be able to also include clean energy production and a forestry tour.”

The tour was a collaborative effort of many organizations and communities, and included site visits and tours across Minnesota. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the South Central Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association sponsored tours, including an observational visit of Sun-Opta organic and identity-preserved grain handling. One visit included picking fresh sweet corn right out of the field.

Wet weather conditions impeded the observation of harvesting practices, but other activities kept Hallnevik and Sundell busy. One day included working at the Farmers' Success grain elevator in Clark’s Grove, and another was spent touring the facilities of Hope Creamery. They also visited Aitkin, where they went on a forestry tour and remarked on the similarities in landscape to Sweden.

Common ground was discovered in the use of similar types of logging machinery on the forestry tour. One major difference was pest control – wild hogs are a major cause of agricultural crop damage in Sweden. “They also noted that our lack of biomass markets leads to more non-merchantable trees and coarse woody debris being left in the forest,” says Mark Jacobs, Aitkin County Land Commissioner. “They were not aware of any coarse woody debris retention guidelines in Sweden.”

Hallnevik and Sundell further experienced Minnesota life by staying with host families during their visit. Jim and Nancy Barbour, who hosted in Morris, found it to be a great learning experience. “It was interesting to hear about their crop rotations and to think about farming without GMO crops, which we take for granted,” says Nancy.

Jim Barbour, who gave a tour of the Biomass Gasification project at the University of Minnesota-Morris, learned “that like many American farmers, they have off-farm jobs in addition to their farming.” The Morris tour also included the University’s wind turbine, the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, and visits to local farms and farm machinery.

One truly Minnesotan moment occurred during a tour when an eagle flew overhead in the Morris area. “It was as if it had been staged! Just beautiful!” says Jim Barbour.

“Everyone had a great time and they really enjoyed Minnesota,” says Slaughter, tour organizer and board member of non-profit organization Renewing the Countryside. “It was great to teach them about Minnesota and watch everyone pull together to make the tour possible.”

For more information on the tour, see this article.


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