MORRIS - Fall semester has begun at the University of Minnesota, Morris and with it, over 500 new students are making their way around campus and the community.
The Stevens County FFA Alumni chapter saw the new school year as the perfect time to introduce local farming and agricultural industries to students through a local farms tour during UMM's Welcome Weekend. The tour not only highlighted the ways in which farming and agricultural economies function, but as Stevens County FFA Alumni President Kevin Wulf said, the tour created a "contact between the community and university" in the hope that the connection made last Saturday, Aug. 25, would continue through the coming years.
The busload of thirty students, faculty, staff, and community members began the tour at the West Central Research and Outreach Center. The bus met up with Lee Johnston, who guided the tour through the research facility's current projects, highlighting the bio filters that keep odors to a minimum and the differences between conventional farming and organic farming.
"There isn't one right way to produce food in an agricultural system," said Johnston. "There are pros and cons to both [conventional and organic farming]."
The tour also took students to the family farm of Craig and Paula Feuchtenberger. The 1,200-acre family farm raises beef, swine, and homegrown foods, including a pumpkin patch. Through their farm, the Feuchtenbergers are striving to teach their four boys how to manage a business, as well as the practices that come with a family farm. The family sells at the Morris Area Farmers Markets, held on Mondays and Thursdays at East Side Park.
"The farmers market teaches the boys how to answer questions that people have about the food," said Paula. "To [the boys], the questions kind of seem silly or basic, but we remind them that not everyone knows where their food comes from or the differences in it. It is a good opportunity for them to learn customer service skills."
While many of those on the tour were familiar with sustainability and farming practices, for UMM seniors Kelli Larson and Katie Schaefer, the tour allowed them to see firsthand how farming and agricultural industries operate.
"I've never been behind the scenes of a farm," said Larson. "I wanted to see if organic farming is efficient or less costly. I was surprised at how much research there is on the different techniques."
Schaefer joined the tour in the hopes of learning how food is locally produced. "I am interested in eating locally and learning about local farms," said Schaefer. "I can see how farming isn't for everyone, but the community involvement is great."
Lunch was provided by Wurstmachers at Morris Area High School, allowing the group to tour the Morris Area FFA's greenhouse and garden. With the local farms tours, Stevens County FFA Alumni wanted to highlight that there is room for everyone in the industry from gardens, to family farms, to large-scale operations. And with that, the last stop of the tour was Riverview Dairy. The company has eight different sites in three states, with 7,500 dairy cows on the Morris site. The 24-hour milking operation strives to be as self-efficient as possible. The use of a methane digester allows animal waste to be processed and used as fertilizer as well as bedding for the animals. Not only does the methane digester allow the waste to be reconstituted, but it also produces green energy that is sold to local communities.
The concept for the tour came from the FFA's mission statement: "To promote, support, and enhance Ag literacy and Industrial Education to our community."
While this was the first year the tour was held, Wulf hopes that it can become a tradition, bringing the university and community together.