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Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

At 30, agriculture institute still growing

Written by  Dennis Hines
Intern Julie Battaille of Belgium waters young plants in the greenhouse at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy. The nonprofit research and education organization is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014. Scroll to bottom for video of Battaille. Intern Julie Battaille of Belgium waters young plants in the greenhouse at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy. The nonprofit research and education organization is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014. Scroll to bottom for video of Battaille. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute is all about growing -- both plants and knowledge.

This year the nonprofit agricultural institute celebrates its 30th anniversary of research and education in sustainable agriculture.

“We’re excited about the 30th anniversary,” said Barbara Lucksinger, MFAI director of development. “We’ve had a lot of community support.”

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The institute hosts educational programs, garden tours and workshops each year.

“Basically, we’re here for the farming community and for the local agricultural community,” Lucksinger said. “We raise a lot of vegetables, and a lot of our produce is sold in grocery stores, It’s organic.

She continued, “We have workshops throughout the year. We serve about 300 people a year with our workshops. We have various activities going on this (30th) year. We’re involved with the farmers markets in East Troy. We have customer appreciation nights in August.”

MFAI features about 11 acres of fruit trees, 3.5 acres of vegetable gardens, a greenhouse and expanding acreage for research that compares conventional, organic and biodynamic agricultural production.

An additional 40 acres will be used for research starting this year.

“The research we’re doing shows the value of cover crops to farmers,” Lucksinger said. “(Cover crops are) more sustainable. They preserve water. They reduce pests. They save farmers time by using less pesticides. They help add nutrients to the soil.

“Right now, we’re in our third year of studying cover crops. That could be a significant change on how large agricultural systems operate.”

Planting knowledge

Spring planting already has started in the greenhouse at MFAI.

“We have every kind of vegetable imaginable. We pretty much grow any type of vegetable that is grown in the region,” Lucksinger said. “We have a greenhouse, so we start growing early. We grow potatoes, lettuce and beets. We have a lot of fruit trees. We’re pretty diverse when planning our gardens.”

Helping to tend those gardens are three interns -- one from Belgium, one from France and another from Chicago.

“We had quite a few applicants this year,” including several from other countries, said Christine Welcher, MFAI garden manager. “We selected the candidates who we thought would benefit from the program the most.”

One of those interns is Julie Battaille of Belgium, a recent high school graduate who hopes to make farming a career. (Watch video of Battaille below)

“I want to learn more,” Battaille said. “I want to go back to Belgium and work on a farm with a friend.

“It’s been nice discovering a new culture and learning new things.”

The interns start this month and will work through October.

“It’s nice because we will have them in the greenhouse before the planting season, then we will have them here for the final harvest before winter,” Welcher said. “We have a lot of resources for them. We have a certified kitchen, so anything that the interns want to work on, we can let them try.”

Visitors to MFAI also can sample the locally grown vegetables and fruit in the farm’s self-serve cooler, Lucksinger said.

“People are welcome to come and see what we have,” she said. “We have a cash box, and people leave their money there.”

Even when there aren’t special events taking place, people are invited to come in for tours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

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