My First MOSES Organic Farming Conference
March 27, 2014
The La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI – I arrived at the 25th annual Organic Farming Conference mid-afternoon on Thursday, February 27th with my colleague Christine Welcher, the Farm Manager at Michael Fields. I had never been to La Crosse before and had really only heard it mentioned as the place where the 9-day Oktoberfest was held, whose grounds, coincidentally, were only blocks away from the Center, lying dormant for the time being.
The first thing I noticed was how many people were going to be in attendance; racks and racks of nametags were sitting behind the registration area waiting to be claimed. I had heard people mention how large the conference was and how many people came from all over the Midwest to attend it but I was still awed by the sheer number of people present once the conference was in full swing. In total, over 3,400 people attended this year’s conference.
After Thursday’s Organic University, 6 hour long in-depth sessions on different topics in organic farming, the general conference kicked-off Thursday night with a number of different things to entertain attendees; a social area complete with cash bar, a kick-off speech/event and a poetry slam.
The next two days were filled with plenary sessions and breakouts covering everything from farm-scale permaculture to converting CRP land to organic production to farming in the city.
Now I’m a city boy so I really enjoyed the Farming in the City session. It offered a glimpse of the unique obstacles and benefits that urban farmers face. Presented by Julie Dawson (UW-Horticulture), Alex Liebman (Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, Minneapolis) and Claire Strader (Dane County UWEX and FairShare CSA Coalition), this workshop really immersed attendees in the necessary procedures for running an urban farm. Among other things, intensive vegetable production and labor management practices were thoroughly discussed. Session leaders also provided samples of harvest task sheets and real farm balance sheets. Overall I learned a lot attending this session and I’m sure that aspiring and even veteran urban farmers found this session to be very useful and informational.
Networking and Making Connections
A large part of the value and allure of the MOSES conference is meeting and interacting with so many people who share a common frame of mind and common values. It was wonderful meeting so many different people from farming, agency and entrepreneurial backgrounds.
During lunch (completely organic of course) on Friday, I had the opportunity to meet Scott Mericka, who along with his wife Liana and their business partners, Andy and Caitlin Hatch, run and own Grass Dairy in Dodgeville, WI. Grass Dairy is probably best known for its award-winning cheese, Prairie Ridge Reserve, which incorporates the operations very own milk, imbuing it with the terroir of the Prairie Ridge region of the Driftless Area of WI.
I also had the opportunity to meet Jane Hawley Stevens, owner of Four Elements Herbals. With a wide selection of organic teas, tinctures, and body care products, Jane has synergistically blended her farming/herbalist skill set with a business savvy that has made her booth a perennial “must visit” at the conference and her business a success.
In addition to meeting folks by exploring their booths and mingling with them over meals, I got to meet many people by working the Michael Fields display during the tradeshow component of the conference. Many people were interested to hear about the unique work MFAI does surrounding sustainable agriculture through the organization’s three program areas: Education, Policy, and Research. I also got the chance to inform people of the Whole Farm Workshops that Michael Fields offers to beginning farmers and others who are interested in learning a specific farm-based skill from grant-writing to tractor safety.
Through a mixture of workshop attendance and interpersonal connections and conversations, I walked away from this conference with a better understanding of the organic farming world and really got to witness the movers and shakers in the organic movement share their knowledge and passion with one another. It truly was a great event that convened a community of great people from across the upper Midwest and I have walked away with a renewed respect and admiration for the folks that do this difficult but rewarding work.
In the words of MOSES Organic Specialist Harriet Behar, “The enthusiasm and camaraderie of attendees at the 25th MOSES Organic Farming Conference leads us to see a bright future for organic agriculture.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
Pictures from more talented photographers than myself can be found at the link below: