A record 3,300 attend MOSES conference

A record 3,300 people attended the 2012 Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference this past weekend. Faye Jones is Executive Director of MOSES, she says the fact it is a farmer-focused conference, “We believe farmers learn best from farmers.” The chance to talk to each other plus attend the numerous workshops conducted throughout the conference.

Another reason for the growth in attendance has been the creation of the Young Organic Stewards group created last year. Designed for 18-to-30 year-olds, the program brings the next generation into the industry. There was a noticeable presence of 20 and 30-somethings throughout the conference.

The growth of organic has been strong for years to the point there is a shortage of organic products. A prime example of that has been a shortage of organic milk in supermarkets in the Southeastern United States. Part of that shortage has been caused by the high price of organic feed, that prompted dairy producers who have to purchase their feed to back-off a bit which brought production down. Jones says that is a characteristic of a growth industry, if they can get more organic feed, there will be more organic milk: “The more organic product there is, the more it will sell.”

AUDIO:Jones talks about the conference and the industry 10:00 mp3

Visit the MOSES website here:

Forest hogs, grazing hogs and other happy pigs.

Will Winter became a veterinarian 40 years ago and in 1980 he became a holistic vet. Today he raises grass-fed hogs at Cannon Falls, Minnesota. “You can turn a farm into the Garden of Eden”. He says he doesn’t need to sell people on how healthy pastured pork is, all they have to do is taste it.

He stresses the first thing one has to do is get their soil healthy, “When you have healthy soils you have healthy plants and when you have healthy plants you have healthy livestock.” Once the soil is healthy, you want to establish a medley of plants, “We don’t want a field of alfalfa or a field of just peas.” He also notes pigs love nuts, apples and pumpkins…they want a variety.

For the winter, he bales up barley, wheat, rye, corn stalks, milo or similar crops which allow the hogs to root around and find the grain.

Winter raises Berkshires but notes there are numerous breeds of hogs suitable for pasture.

AUDIO:Winter talks about pastured pork 9:43 mp3

Read more from Will here:

Choosing her future

One thing that really stood-out at the MOSES conference was the number of young producers in attendance. One of those was 20-year-old Sarah Holm, she and her five sisters have Holm Girls Dairy at Elk Mound, Wisconsin. It wasn’t an organic farm to begin with; “We were city people to start with, we tried to create the storybook farm that we thought a farm should look like.” At one point a local veterinarian pointed out to them that they were doing things in such a manner that they could easily be organic, so they made the switch seven years ago.

The farm consists of a hundred acres and is home to 30 Jersey cows. The milk is marketed through Organic Valley. They do end up buying feed so they hope to add more land. They would like to increase the herd to 50 cows and also add chickens and nut trees.

This was her first MOSES conference and she was enjoying the chance to network with other organic producers. “People here believe what they are doing,” says Holm, “and they are so passionate about it.”

I had to ask the young lady, “When it comes to finding a spouse, are you going to look for someone who is organic? She smiles quickly: “I just have to look for someone who’s crazy!”

AUDIO: Holm talks about her goals 3:43 mp3

Protecting against contamination

One of the concerns faced by organic producers is cross-contamination from non-organic sources. Jim Riddle is Organic Agriculture Coordinator with the University of Minnesota; he says there are a number of precautions organic producers can take to protect themselves.

One challenge is pollination drift, in the case of winds, properly-placed windbreaks can help reduce that drift plus the buffers provide quality habitat for birds and other wildlife. In the case where crops are pollinated by insects, the buffers are not as effective.

Another threat comes from contaminated trucks and handling equipment, Riddle stressed the importance of making sure all storage and equipment used in handling organic products be clean.

When contamination does occur, Riddle says there are still a lot of questions regarding the liability for that contamination. For example, in the case of herbicide-resistant crops, the technology is owned by the seed company whereas in the case of bT technology it is cleared by the EPA so they would be responsible. In either case, it is very difficult to prove liability.

AUDIO:Riddle talks about the threats 6:41 mp3

Yes, you do want bats, “and they’re really cute!”

Integrated pest management is an integral part of organic production and that includes natural controls for insects. If you want to control mosquitoes, you want bats. “One little brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquito-sized insects in one hour,” says Mary Dussling, “besides, they’re really cute!” Dussling designs, builds and markets Best Bat Houses. The houses are certified by Bat Conservation International and specifically designed for the upper Midwest. Dussling says the size of the chambers and the color of a bat house vary by climate. Houses should be black in Wisconsin, the further south you go, the lighter the color, “parts of Arizona, you want a white house.” Location of the bat house is another key factor.

Like many, Dussling is concerned with the rapid decline in bat populations due in part to white nose syndrome; she helps support research into the disease.

AUDIO:Dussling talks about her bat houses 2:56

Thickes named MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year

MOSES photo

Francis and Susan Thicke of Fairfield, Iowa have been named the Organic Farmer of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

Francis and Susan purchased their land in 1996, taking on the challenge of healing a worn out and heavily eroded row crop farm. Intense management over many years has resulted in productive land and continually improving soils.

Radiance Dairy is in a location well suited for growing grass and raising cattle. The Thickes maximize their grazing by stockpiling grass, with cows out on pasture April through December.

A crop rotation including hay and small grains minimizes weed pressure, and the Thickes sometimes need only to cultivate once per season to keep their soybean crop clean. Diverse plantings in and near pastures are designed for conservation, including windbreaks of fruiting trees and shrubs for wildlife habitat.

The Thickes market non-homogenized milk, yogurt, several cheeses, and soft-serve ice cream mix for restaurants from their 80-cow organic Jersey herd within four miles of the farm.

AUDIO: Francis Thicke talks about his operation 15:00 mp3

Organic Farming Conference has something for every farmer

The mission statement for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) reads: “MOSES educates, inspires, and empowers farmers to thrive in a sustainable, organic system of agriculture.”

MOSES does farmer-to-farmer mentoring, organizes farmer field days, has an 800-number so farmers have access to organic specialists, and partners with other groups on meetings and educational opportunities.

MOSES is probably best known for organizing the largest organic farming conference in the country, the Organic Farming Conference. Faye Jones, Executive Director told Brownfield the conference is about 30% of what they do.

The 23rd annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference will be held February 23-25, 2012 at the La Crosse Center, in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

With over 65 informative workshops, about 150 exhibits, locally-sourced organic food, live entertainment and inspirational keynote speakers, the OFC is celebrated as the foremost educational and networking event in the organic farming community.

Jones suggests navigating the conference by looking at workshop selections (at mosesorganic.org) and pre-selecting the top 4 you want to attend.

She suggests you come early and stay late, as activities continue until 10 or 11 at night. Breakfast is out at 7am.

The exhibit hall is a big draw for many who attend the Organic Farming Conference. Jones tells Brownfield, “It’s a mix of equipment, seed, and fertilizer dealers; consultants, brokers and buyers and educational organizations.

There are other vendors, as well, all with services and supplies relating to organic and sustainable.”

Don’t worry if you are a conventional farmer, not practicing organic agriculture. Jones explains, “Less than half of farmers that come to the conference are certified organic.”

There are a wide range of topics covered that are of interest to everyone.

The deadline to pre-register for the conference has passed, but anyone can walk in and register for 1 day or both days.

For more information on the conference, go to the MOSES website.

 Faye Jones tells Brownfield that she wants farmers attending to leave with hope and inspiration and ideas on how to improve their farming operation.

Conversation with Faye Jones

MOSES Organic Farming Conference

The MOSES Organic Farming Conference is the largest organic farming conference in the U.S. Organized by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and held annually in La Crosse, WI, the OFC is an extraordinary, farmer-centered event. With over 65 informative workshops, 160 exhibitors, locally-sourced organic food, live entertainment and inspirational keynote speakers, the OFC is celebrated as the foremost educational and networking event in the organic farming community. From its humble beginning with 90 attendees in 1989, our most recent conference in February 2011 attracted almost 3,000 farmers, advocates, educators, students, and more!