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Organic farm up for statewide award

Ann Gustafson - a local farmer and teacher and all-around engaged citizen - is one of eight statewide finalists in the 2022 Outstanding Conservationist Award Program, along with her family and the business they operate northeast of Carlton, Leaning Barn Farm.

The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts will announce one of the eight as Outstanding Conservationist of the Year at its convention on Dec. 14. The awards program recognizes farm families, individuals, conservation organizations, and other groups for their accomplishments in implementing conservation practices and improving Minnesota's natural resources.

Ann and her husband, Chris Gustafson, purchased the land back in 2011 that eventually grew into Leaning Barn Farm. With the help of Ann's parents, Ken and Ruth Jorgenson, they offer pick-your-own blueberries (sometimes raspberries), Christmas trees, and vegetables that are also sold at local farmers markets.

"We're proud of Ann and her family for what they've done in conserving the natural resources in our area," said Alyssa Bloss, conservation specialist of the Carlton SWCD, which nominated Ann and the farm for the award. "It's great to be able to recognize the work they've done locally. They are truly a showcase to our community," Bloss said.

Above and beyond

Leaning Barn Farm is certified through the state Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. They are conscious about preventing erosion, crop management, integrated pest management, and wildlife practices on the farm. It is also Minnesota Grown certified.

In 2010, Ann attended the course called Farm Beginnings, developed and put on by the Sustainable Farming Association. In 2014, her 4-H group partnered with the city of Carlton and Carlton County Master Gardeners to rehab an ornamental, conventional flower garden with native pollinator plants.

Integrating pollinator habitat into the farm through the Carlton SWCD and Fond du Lac Lawns to Legumes Program are some of the newer projects on the farm. In the last year, a half-acre of pollinator plants were placed on the perimeter of the vegetable gardens to act as weed control and a corridor for pollinators. It also provides habitat, nesting, and resting for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

They have also planted a 500-square-foot pollinator pocket along their driveway to act as a buffer for weeds and education for the community when they visit the farm. Both plantings have a diverse mix of native grasses and flowers that bloom at different times of the year to provide a food source for pollinators and is also aesthetically pleasing for humans.

Touching lives

Ann has been a sixth-grade science teacher for eight years, and special education teacher for 11. She has taught close to 1,000 children and ensures that each class learns about the importance of our natural resources, including where our food comes from and why good soil and pollinators are so important.

She also serves on the Carlton school board.

Ann has taken her passion for the land and our natural resources - which she demonstrates at Leaning Barn Farm - into her classroom. Partnering with the SWCD's Bloss on Earth Day this year, they taught the class about the importance of pollinators and native plants. The class then went outside and planted a pollinator meadow in front of the Cloquet Middle School.

This spring, Ann also coordinated pollinator education with Cloquet Middle School art teacher Andrea Cacek, who received a grant to hire a local artist to paint a mural (with students' help), that tells a story about the importance of pollinators and food sovereignty. The Adam Swanson mural is located outside Cloquet Middle School above the vegetable gardens and just a few feet away from the pollinator meadow.

Ann is currently taking an eight-day course, "Pollinators in the Science Classroom" through the University of Minnesota. The course, taught by professors and researchers, is designed to help science teachers implement activities and information about the importance of pollinators and what we can do to help them thrive.

She has also served as a Carlton and Thomson city council member for four terms.

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