Barbara James Norman and Jim Stordahl Receive NCR-SARE’s 2019 Hero Recognition

May 30, 2019

In 2012, the NCR-SARE Administrative Council created the NCR-SARE Hero Recognition to highlight, recognize, and pay tribute to those who have made significant contributions to NCR-SARE and/or National SARE. NCR-SARE is pleased to announce that Barbara James Norman and Jim Stordahl have been named the 2019 NCR-SARE Heroes. The NCR-SARE Hero Award recognizes individuals who have provided 1) service to NCR-SARE and/or national SARE, 2) leadership in sustainable agriculture locally and regionally, and 3) lasting impacts on sustainability in the North Central region.

Barbara James Norman      

Barbara Norman is a legacy Michigan blueberry farmer who embodies SARE’s efforts to advance sustainable innovation to all American agriculture. Early in her life, Norman, the owner and operator of Barbara’s Blueberry Batch in Covert, Michigan, developed a natural interest in the family’s fifty-three-acre multigenerational high bush blueberry farm. 

For many years Norman has used and promoted sustainable practices such as cover crops, composting, no till, natural/organic, and innovative marketing strategies. In addition to her commitment to sustainable growing practices, Norman has also dedicated her career to improving the quality of life for farmers and ranchers, particularly historically underserved producers. While running her blueberry operation, she has coordinated and/or participated in five NCR-SARE grant projects, including a $100,000 NCR-SARE diversity initiative grant she was awarded in 2008 to mentor farmers of color in three states. Through that project, Norman collaborated with several service providers including Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), Iyabo Farms, and the Kansas Black Farmers Association to reach underserved communities. Her grassroots message about the importance of sustainable farming brought her in contact with Kansas State University, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, urban farmers in Detroit, Michigan, and small-scale Illinois African American farmers in Kankakee, Hopkins Park Village, and Pembroke Township, and the historic community of African American farmers in Nicodemus, Kansas. Norman was a member and two-year cochair of the National SARE Outreach Steering Committee from 2007-2015 and has served as a spokesperson on behalf of SARE at numerous local, state, and national conferences and events.

Throughout her career, her ability to engage with farmers about their inherent potential has garnered her a seat at the table of several organizations including the SARE, MIFFS, the Farm Research Cooperative, the USDA National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michigan State Technical Committee, Michigan State Outreach Committee, Annual USDA Partners Meetings, and Covert School Board. She was named National Small Farmer of the Year by the USDA-NCRS in 2002. For the past 16 years, Norman has personally sponsored and hosted a highly acclaimed Friends and Family Farms Field Day on her farm. This event has touched thousands of students, families, and farmers; a testament for and an exclamation point to her farm advocacy on behalf of legacy land ownership and its inherent value for future generations.  

Jim Stordahl (Presented Posthumously)

As a dairy farmer, sheep farmer, educator, husband, father, and loving grandfather Jim Stordahl wore many hats throughout his life, many of which contributed to his uncanny ability to be a helpful and down-to-earth advocate for sustainable and organic farming. As a young man, Stordahl studied agronomy and ruminant nutrition, and earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in the subjects. In 1996, he was busy running his family’s dairy operation when he had an opportunity to fill in for an extension educator who was on maternity leave in McIntosh County Minnesota. People noted his friendly demeanor and extensive knowledge, and later, he was offered a permanent job with extension; he took that job and continued to work as an extension agent in Clay, Polk, and Clearwater Counties in northwest Minnesota for 21 years until he retired in 2016. During those 21 years, he interacted with SARE as a grantee and advisor, and advanced concepts of sustainability to farmers throughout northwest Minnesota.

In addition to being an NCR-SARE grant recipient and participant, Stordahl served on the Minnesota SARE Advisory Committee for eight years, bringing his diversified expertise to the table. That expertise also made Stordahl a valued member of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Board of Directors from 2002-2008, and earned him awards such as the Outstanding Agricultural Mentor Award from the Minnesota District 11 Agri-Women and the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society 2011 Friend of the Farmer Award. A respected educator and contributor, Stordahl was a featured speaker at events such as the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society annual conference and the Minnesota Organic Conference, and he was sought out by many journalists for his expertise as they covered ag-related stories throughout northwest Minnesota.

Jim Stordahl died in March 2017 from cancer. The University of Minnesota created an Extension Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Endowment in memory of Jim Stordahl. Funds raised for the endowment will be used by farmers and Extension educators to investigate producer-led organic research projects, and scholarships also will be available for farmers to attend state and organic conferences. Questions regarding this endowment can be directed to Nancy Frosaker at frosa001@umn.edu or 701-212-2471. Gifts can be sent to University of Minnesota Extension Development, 9 Coffey Hall, 1420 Eckles Ave, Saint Paul, MN, 55108.

Read tributes and learn more about the NCR-SARE Heroes online.