Contributed by co-op staffer Kate Larson
The Land Stewardship Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering sustainability in farming and the community and stewardship of our land. The LSP is the beneficiary of the 1st Annual Co-op Jubilee’s benefit concert, so we thought we’d introduce readers to this unique organization. I talked with Caroline van Schaik, the Community Based Food Systems Program Organizer for the Southeastern Minnesota Branch of the LSP, about what the organization is and does.
The LSP was officially founded in 1982 by a handful of farmers concerned about soil quality and erosion. It developed naturally from there into a private, member-based organization dedicated to answering the needs of small-scale farmers worried not only about the financial viability of their farms, but also about their environmental sustainability. Though the LSP is primarily concerned with matters of farming, Caroline notes that these issues “don’t stop at the farm gate”. Thus, the organization is also involved in the social and political aspects of issues relating to sustainability and stewardship.
Today, the LSP has offices in Lewiston, Montevideo, and South Minneapolis and supports three primary programs: Farm Beginnings, Policy and Organization, and Community-Based Food Systems. The Farm Beginnings program trains farmers in the mindset that farming is something which must be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. Caroline tells me that the LSP holds a Farm Beginnings course in different locations each year, and this year, it’s being held in Winona as well as in St. Joseph, MN, and the Duluth area.
The Organization and Policy program works to advance justice, sustainability, and stewardship of the land politically at the local, state, and national levels. Right now, in accord with its mission of justice, sustainability, and democracy, the LSP is making an effort to promote racial equality in farming.
The Community-Based Food Systems program seeks to promote just food for all through short, local food chains and sustainable farming practices. This is the branch of the LSP in which Caroline works, and she tells me about some of her projects in this area: “I’m working with farmers and landowners to nudge them towards perennial cover on the land in little and big ways,” she says. She pursues this end through “Kitchen Conversations,” which are small gatherings of neighbors in someone’s kitchen to talk about what’s important about their land. Lately, she’s also been doing a series of workshops for women farmers and landowners who want to become more sustainable. The consequences of perennial cover on the land are far reaching, affecting habitat, aesthetics, and of course, soil. Really, soil has never left the picture for the Land Stewardship Project. It’s amazing what an impact plain old dirt has on our very ability to survive: as Caroline points out, we simply can’t have good food without good soil.
Currently, about one-third of the LSP’s members and staff are farming, while the rest share a love for and interest in farming. These members “shape the particulars of our work,” says Caroline, and are actively invited and encouraged to be “at the table.” She emphasizes that the LSP is “stronger because of our members.” The Land Stewardship Project strives to stay true to its farmer-members, work in collaboration with other organizations, and keep things personal, says Caroline. Though it’s easy to get carried away by the impersonal nature of today’s world, she believes it’s important to “keep that human face on our work.” The LSP espouses the idea of a “chorus of individual voices;” “it’s the sort of ‘united we stand’ idea,” says Caroline.
The Co-op Jubilee isn’t the first time the LSP has partnered with Bluff Country Co-op. Not only are almost all of the local LSP staff members of Bluff Country Co-op, but we’ve often worked together to promote local foods. Caroline notes that the Co-op has been a bridge to facilitate the movement towards good food in the community. It has a very “can-do” attitude about promoting local food “so farmers and eaters benefit.” She says she hopes that we can keep fueling each other since “part of our success is being in it together.”