AgriNews (this link no longer available)
By Heather Thorstensen
FARMINGTON, Minn. — Atina Diffley wrote her debut memoir about farming in Minnesota to help beginning farmers learn from her experience and to teach the public about organic farming.
“It really gives the reader a good understanding of the challenges a farmer works with,” she said. “All farmers, whether they’re organic or not, we all face the same challenges.”
Atina and her husband, Martin, ran one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest, Gardens of Eagan.
“Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works” is published by the University of Minnesota Press. It is now in stores.
The story spans the majority of Atina’s life so far, from her childhood dreams of becoming a farmer to joining Martin on land that has been in his family for five generations. They had to give up that land to eminent domain for a school, only to move to another farm, which fell in a proposed path of a crude oil pipeline.
“Someone had told me to write a book, the writer has to believe the world needs to hear the story,” said Atina. “…I knew that sharing my mistakes would help people who want to farm and to help people understand why we farm.”
When faced with the crude oil pipeline plan, the Diffleys worked with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to add an organic appendix to agricultural mitigation plans.
The plans are written by companies proposing select energy projects in order to receive a permitfrom the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The plans explain how impacts to farmland can be reduced.The agriculture department reviews the plans and advises the PUC about them.
The Diffleys argued that organic farms are special cases, and need companies to follow specific practices so that the farms can keep their organic certifications.
The organic appendixis still used today in Minnesota and could be the first of its kind in the country.
It takes into account the farmer’s organic systems plan, a federally registered document that is part of organic certification. It details how the farmer manages their operation.
“It’s one very good reason for farmers to get certified if they’re using organic systems, because it provides them with legal protection,” she said.
The book also discusses holistic farm management, which is the methodical goal-setting and farm planning system that she and Martin used on their farm.
“It’s an annual planning process where we looked at the farm as a whole and asked ourselves what needs to change to make the farm healthier,” she said. “Farmers and non-farmers alike have told me how useful that is for them, to understand that planning process.”
In 2008, the Diffleys sold their farm name and equipment, and leased their farmland, to the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis so the cooperative could grow organic vegetables.
Today, the Diffleys work as consultants for their business, Organic Farming Works LLC, to share what they’ve learned with farmers and consumers. They live in Eureka Township, near Farmington.
“We work with farmers of all levels, especially beginning farmers,” she said.
They’ve helped people nationwide, including those who are in the process of gaining organic certification and people wanting help with marketing.
Additionally,Atina sits on the boards of non-profit organizations. One of her positions is vice president of the board of directors for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. The organization named the Diffleys the Organic Farmers of the Year in 2004.
“Organic farming works and it’s a key to solving many of the challenges that we have,” she said.