Main Street Project


10th Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference

The 10th Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference brought in farmers, farm advocates, sponsors, educators, professionals, and many other participants at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota this past weekend to exchange knowledge, network, and find support in farming.

imgresAaron Blyth, previous farm manager of Big River Farms (a program of the Minnesota Food Association) and has 8 years of experience farming organically on both small-scale and large vegetable farms, presented the first workshop on weed management. A simple definition of a weed started the conversation, “any plant growing in field that makes it harder for you to get a good harvest from the crop you have planted”.  Aaron described the four categories including: summer annuals, summer grasses, simple perennials, and invasive perennials. He gave some examples of common Minnesota weeds: Pigweed, Lambs Quarter, Smartweed, Purslane, Foxtail, Witchgrass, Dock, Thistle, and Quackgrass.

“The best time to kill the weed is when you can’t see it yet. Harvest in the morning, Weeding in the afternoon, Planting in the evening.” The following tools can be utilized in removing the weeds: garden hoe, stirrup hoe/hula hoe, diamond hoe, and wheel hoe. Aaron described other sustainable and organic ways to rid of weeds including mulching (plastic or ground fabric), hay/straw, flame weeding, and stale bedding. Great information!

imgresNick Jordan, a Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and May Lee, a certified organic Hmong farmer that graduated from the Minnesota Food Association farmers training program, presented on farming organically. “Soil is made up of living and nonliving parts and has an enormous number of living creatures.” Nick described the living things in the soil as if they were livestock, “During the winter, you would not leave your livestock with no food to eat for six months. You should not leave your soil creatures that way either.” He overviews some tips to keep your soil healthy during those out of season growing months.

  • Keep soil covered as much as possible. If there is no coverage, it as if the living things in the soil are being “starved”. Utilization of cover crops may improve soil quality and fertility.
  • Don’t disturb the soil very much. Be careful when plowing and tilling.
  • Feed organic matter to the soil “creatures”. Organic matter makes the soil healthy by feeding the soil organisms that control diseases, storing nutrients for plants when they need them, and making soil “crumbs” that hold water like a sponge. These “crumbs” are know as aggregates and are made up of minerals (sand and clay), organic matter, and a “glue” from soil fungi.
  • Keep living roots in the soil as much as possible. Keeping live roots in the soil to feel the soil “creatures”. Use cover crops and other green manure crops.

May Lee was next to follow up examples of what she was doing to help her soil remain healthy. Her daughter, Mhonpaj, introduced her and summarized an interesting and important idea. “The small knowledge that you learn today, take it with you. Practice and then take it home, there is a bigger purpose.” Mhonpaj described the love her mom has for the soil, that being an organic farmer means being a soil farmer.

6818701_orig-CopyMay Lee followed the conversation with what cover crops she uses on her farm, buckwheat (from Albert Lea Seeds) and winter rye. She discusses the importance of crop rotation. Crop rotation balances the soil fertility and soil nutrient balance including nitrogen and phosphorus. For example: corn and tomatoes use up soil nitrogen rapidly and peas, beans, and other legumes add nitrogen to the soil, but need a lot of phosphorus. Rotating your crops each year will balance the depletion and addition of these nutrients to the soil. As May Lee stated in her closing, “It’s thinking about the future for the environment and for the nation.” We need to start with just one community at a time.


“The soil is the great connector of our lives,
the source and destination of all.” Wendell Berry