Reflections on the 2014 MOSES Organic Farming Conference
Every year after the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, I leave with pages and pages of scribbled notes and most importantly, an extensive "to do" list full of ideas, things to research, questions and things to update or change on my crop plan. It's really amazing how many new ideas are tossed around over these two days every year! I love how much plaid button ups, big beards, Carhartt and Duluth jackets I see, as well as cute hippy farm moms with babies slung on their chests and Amish and Mennonite families. All farm of the organic farming community. Normally saying "look for the bearded guy with the red plaid shirt" is a clear designation; not there!
I had two profound interactions over the course of the weekend that I would like to share.
The last workshop of the first day was called "Women Farming Solo: Lessons from the Field." And although I am not farming completely solo, I have help from Travis, John, Dave and my mom amongst others, I am the primary owner-operator which means I am a solo act a lot of the time. It was an incredibly inspiring, uplifting and eye-opening workshop. It was a panel of three women farmers who graciously shared their stories with us. The first, Kathy of Simple Harvest Farm Organics, farms with her brother Nick, who has Down Syndrome and is a sweetheart. Kathy offered little wonderful nuggets of advice like her motto "Live within your harvest" and other more concrete thoughts "I have the lowest taxes in the county because I don't put up any permanent buildings." Good things to remember. And then Kristen of Blue Moon Community Farm who I knew from my work at FairShare CSA Coalition came up. She just had a baby last May (not ideal for being the primary owner-operator of a CSA farm!), hired a couple to manage for her and learned A LOT about the benefits of hiring help and letting go of the need to do everything. This is super inspiring as a woman who wants to have children in the future while still running a farm. It also makes me feel good about my work helping John manage Equinox. Lastly, Debra of Sloane Farm was the most amazing of all and a kindred spirit despite of our age difference. I was listening intently, as I always try to do (except for my nap in the previous workshop on keyline water design- it was a great nap and hey, I still learned things!) but my ears perked up when she mentioned that she CrossFits and eats paleo (she just hit 200 pound deadlift PR! Totally started a slow clap on that one!). So lo and behold, she decided to supply her CrossFit gym with CSA shares! And what do you know, she started with the exact same number of shares as me: 20! So of course I had to introduce myself after the workshop, we exchanged information and I hope we can keep in touch and exchange insights after the season: CrossFitter to female farmer. Overall really glad I skipped the organic hops production workshop for some female-farmy-CrossFitty awesomeness.
Alright on to my second profound interaction. While sitting down for breakfast on the second morning, a man from Alaska sat down next to us. Of course, here at the Midwest organic farmers conference, everyone is SUPER friendly and we started chatting. Turns out this guy from Alaska owns a ton of land in the Midwest; basically he is one of those people organic farmers generally dislike: an absentee land owner who leases acres and acres of land to conventional corn and soy bean farmers. This means he makes a ton of money, which he mentioned several times... He's one of the few landowners who leases a large majority of the farmland to farmers in the country, especially in the corn belt in the Midwest. In agribusiness, guys like him and the large food conglomerates are the ones who are making a lot of money in conventional farming, not the farmers themselves. But then he started sharing that the reason he came to the Organic Farming Conference was to ignore all that was coming at him from the conventional agribusiness companies that are saying, "Don't worry about this organic food movement and the publics growing distrust in wide-scale pesticide/fertilizer use, we got it handled; just sit back, continue to make your money and watch your big screen TV." This man heard what we, as he puts it "the granola crowd," are saying, "You guys aren't dumb. You're farming this way for a reason and making a living doing it." I rolled my eyes, nodded my head. He came down to the conference to see if all these things are true: we are making a valid and true living farming this way, there is a market for organic crops and he can pay the farmers renting his land to farm organically until they farmers realize how profitable it is. So he's a convert. Although he was incredible condescending regarding his wealth and us "hippy granola types," I was super impressed and hope filled that an absentee contract landowner flew all the way from Alaska to La Crosse, WI to independently immerse himself in the organic farming scene. He literally jumped right into the belly of the organic beast to see for himself what exactly is going on and came out a convert. This makes me so so so hopeful for the future of our country, as eaters and growers. A drop in the bucket, baby, another drop in the bucket.