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5 questions with ... Tom Nuessmeier, farmer and federal policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, St. Peter, Minn.

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Q: What is the Land Stewardship Project?

The Land Stewardship Project is a membership organization of about 4,000 households, primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It works through members to foster an ethic of land stewardship, to promote sustainable agriculture and build healthy communities.

Q: What do you raise on your own farm?

Corn, soybeans, small grains like oats, barley or winter wheat, and alfalfa. We've grown buckwheat as well and do a good amount of cover cropping. We keep our eyes open for new markets and are comfortable trying new crops and rotations. We've always had hogs on the farm and continue to manage a small farrow-finish operation.

Q: The diversity of your farm — is it because your land is diverse or because you chose to be diverse? Or both?

We farm in the Minnesota river valley — the "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant" — with a canning crop history. The soil generally is very productive, and we get a good amount of rainfall, so we have a lot of options as far as crops we can grow well. We've chosen to be diverse, driven by a strong conservation ethic and an awareness of how diversification can benefit our bottom line and the community around us. To us, a diverse farm is also more interesting, and it spreads the risk some and the workload over the season. Farm crop diversity around here is, I think, generally limited by market access or the type of livestock a farm has to utilize crops grown on the farm or by farm bill policy that tends to favor growing certain crops.

Q: Interest in ag sustainability certainly seems to be growing.  Do you feel vindicated by that?

I wouldn't say vindicated. But I'd like to see agriculture move in this direction even more. There's room for many types of farms to embrace a more sustainable approach, and it's necessary if we want the next generation to be able live in an environment that allows them to thrive in communities that can rely on clean water, healthy productive soils and landscapes that give us all more than just bushels per acre. Agriculture's impact on the environment is huge — we can't dodge that one. The impacts of our farming practices go beyond the property boundaries, and it's up to all of us to embrace a more sustainable path.

Q: A farmer who wants his or her operation to become more sustainable — any suggestions on where to learn more?

Don't hesitate to talk to a neighbor or local farmer who is giving more sustainable practices a try! This could be using cover crops, extending rotations with more small grains or new crops, or incorporating some new technology that allows them to take advantage of the benefits farm diversification has to offer. I can assure you, they'll be happy to share their mistakes and what they've learned from their efforts to innovate in this direction. Extension can be helpful, as can the Natural Resources Conservation Service, when it comes to learning about new research or accessing federal farm programs designed to give farms taking these steps some support.

It's also about becoming more engaged when it comes to farm policy. I think sometimes we're mistaken that the farm bill, which has a lot to do with diversity and sustainability on farms, is something that happens to us. If we don't take part in it, that's what will happen. It's crucial for farmers to get involved. That's a big part of what the Land Stewardship Project is about. It's about organizing farmers and rural residents so that they can influence the policy decisions and laws that can build the type of food and farming system we want. That's one that works for people, for the land and for those that follow us.

Tom Nuessmeier farms with his brother on a 200-acre organic farm in Le Sueur County, Minn. They are the fifth generation of their family to stay in the farming profession. Tom also works for the Land Stewardship Project as an organizer in federal policy.

To learn more about the Land Stewardship Project website, visit landstewardshipproject.org. To see what LSP says about the farm bill, visit

" target="_blank">landstewardshipproject.org/farmbillpetition1017.

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