Farming Finds a Way: Driftless Grown plants roots, helps farmers

By: 
Jordan Gerard

The seeds have been planted and they’re growing in the first inaugural year of an organization that aims to build collaborations between farmers.

Driftless Grown is the brainchild of Sarah Mann, farmer and single mom at Sweet 16 Farm near Houston. 

“It’s an attempt to build off of farmers’ strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “We can work, collaborate and help one another be as successful as we know we can be.”

The idea surfaced from her own struggles with farming. Sweet 16 grows cut flowers and hops on two acres – a half acre of hops and 1.5 acres of flowers. Though small and not conventional, Mann still experienced the stresses that other farmers have.

“I’m not from a farming community or background. Trying to farm and struggling to find community with non-conventional farming [is tough],” she explained. “Farming can be very isolating.”

But with her idea of connecting farmers to resources and help from fellow farmer Dayna Nguyen (Nettle Valley Farm), Houston County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Spring Grove EDA and grant funds from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), Driftless Grown has started a community of collaboration.

It’s a group where people can come together and help each other out with any kind of project. 

“Within that community we’re trying to connect with each other. So one person could be good at fixing tractors, but needing help with marketing while another person might be good at marketing but can’t fix tractors. Together, they can help each other,” she said.

The main goal is to make it so not all farmers are struggling or doing everything themselves. It goes along with the concept that farmers are happiest when they’re working and happiest when they’re helping people, Mann added.

The organization’s first meeting was held in January and though very impromptu with a potluck meal, nearly 50 farmers/producers attended.

From livestock, apples, fruit, flowers to produce, cheese, bread and other niche markets, Mann said it was clear there was a need for such a group.

“It was something that everyone in that room felt was important,” she said. 

So in its first year, Driftless Grown is forming a steering committee and developing a brand, whereas the Driftless Grown region will become as well known as Napa Valley or wine country; essentially, a recognizable name and area.

A label or brand can also market this area as a desirable location for new farmers or young families looking to get into farming.

“It’s a community of farmers that network and help support each other. We help each other make a living,” Mann added.

They have a Facebook page and a group page where the real work takes place. On the group page, many questions from looking for chickens to purchase to wagons for transporting produce have been asked and a supportive answer has been given, Mann explained.

As for the farming crisis, Driftless Grown’s role is also offering help or other resources, such as mental health and financial solutions.

Additionally, it provides a safe space to talk to someone who understands the challenges of farming.

Mann said the crisis is causing farmers to lose farms, leave the region and take families with them, but with Driftless Grown, they hope to turn it around before people lose their farms.

“We want to get it off the ground and running this year to be of service to our local farming community,” she added.

Hop Harvest Fest

Sweet 16 Farm and Driftless Grown will host Hop Harvest Fest on Saturday, Aug. 24, from 2 to 11 p.m. featuring live music, food truck and vendors, craft beer and camping. 

Watch for more additional information in upcoming editions of the Herald.