Hannah Phillips was the 2017 Research Forum Poster Session Winner. Submitted photo
Hannah Phillips was the 2017 Research Forum Poster Session Winner. Submitted photo

Submitted by Audrey Alwell, MOSES

SPRING VALLEY, WI – The proposed organic check-off program, integrity of imported organic grain, and successful organic practices were among the hot topics at the 28th Annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin from, February 23 -25, 2017. A crowd of nearly 3,100 people braved wintry conditions in the region to attend the three-day event, which was organized by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

“Organic is in the crosshairs in the next Farm Bill,” said Nate Lewis, Organic Trade Association, in a workshop about the proposed organic research and promotion program (aka the organic check-off). Lewis shared how the check-off program would pool dollars to support much-needed research on organic production methods, while also funneling money into a collective promotion program. Many of the organic farmers in the room expressed concern about the fairness of the program’s assessments and voting rights. While they agreed there’s a need for more research and better promotion of the organic label, several farmers, including panelist Jim Goodman, questioned the best framework for such a program.

Farmers at the conference also were concerned about the integrity of imported organic grain. Many attended a panel presentation, which included Miles McEvoy, the head of the USDA’s National Organic Program. McEvoy explained the process the USDA uses to enforce the organic label at ports. He encouraged the crowd to continue to work with local producer groups such as the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), which sponsored the panel.

MOSES Conference keynote speakers Mas Masumoto and Liz Carlisle both spoke about how farmers’ individual stories and the movement’s collective story can spread the environmental values of organic and sustainable farming beyond farm fields’ borders. Their presentations will be available online after March 8 at YouTube.com/MOSESorganic.

Masumoto, author of 11 books, including Changing Season, A Father, A Daughter, A Family Farm, spoke eloquently about the hard work of farming and its intrinsic rewards as a way of life rather than a job. His engaging presentation included a clip of Aretha Franklin singing Carole King’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” to show how farmers can feel the joy of a songwriter as they pass on their farms to the next generation of farmers and hear them “sing.”

Carlisle, author of Lentil Underground, talked about the collective might of farmers and advocates, sharing examples from the lentil growers who’ve carved a million-dollar enterprise amidst Montana’s large-scale wheat production. She encouraged the crowd to push for an underlying framework for truly sustainable agriculture, comparing it to the roots of a successful crop. She called this the “below-ground ecology” of supportive policies, infrastructure, and social movements.

The annual event began with an award ceremony for the 2017 MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year: the Bishop family of PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, Illinois. Dave Bishop, his son Hans, and Hans’ wife, Katie run the 300-acre farm, which has been certified organic since 2004. The Bishops grow organic corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, livestock forages, vegetables, fruit, and flowers. The farm also produces organic beef, pork, eggs and honey. A complete profile of these innovative farmers is online at mosesorganic.org/organic-farmer-of-the-year.

The MOSES Conference included 66 workshops with practical information farmers could use to improve their farms. The conference also featured a two-floor exhibit hall with more than 170 vendors offering products and services to encourage farmers’ success.

The MOSES Organic Farming Conference will return to La Crosse Feb. 22-24, 2018.