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Supporter Betty Phelps Refior donates farm to Michael Fields

In 2013 the Institute received a gift of prime conventional farmland in Indiana from Betty Phelps Refior, a resident of Whitewater, Wisconsin. A passionate environmentalist and supporter of organic agriculture, Betty has attended the MFAI’s Whole Farm Workshops for many years. Her recent interests and projects include habitat security for bees and birds.

Betty wants her family farm to be an example to farmers and urban dwellers how best to protect the land for future generations. Over the course of the next three years, Michael Fields will convert the farm to organic and have it certified.

The farm is located near Peru, Indiana, in the heart of the corn and soybean belt.  For many decades, the farm has been used to grow corn and soybeans using conventional methods.  Betty says she donated the farm to Michael Fields because she wants it converted to organic agriculture.  This donation will be a legacy for Betty, who is 92 years old, is a passionate environmentalist and has become especially concerned about the environment after learning about bee colony collapse occurring in various areas of the country.  She states, “I care very much about that farm,” and wants her family’s farm to be an example to farmers and urban dwellers how best to protect the land for future generations.

The 226 acre farm has been in Betty’s family since 1887 and in addition to the cropland includes a house, machine shed, grain bins, and 20 acres of trees.  This farm will be a model for how farmers can make the transition to organic agriculture.  It will take three years of farming with non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides to make the conversion and until the land is USDA certified as organic the crops will not bring premium prices.  The long term plan is to show farmers in the area that organic practices are better for the soil and are profitable.  Organic crops yield less than conventional, but farmers can make up the difference through higher prices.  Organic crops can have roughly twice as much market value and cost less to grow.

Michael Fields is currently leasing the farm to a local grower who is planning to grow alfalfa organically. He is very interested in learning about the process of converting from conventional to organic and will be receiving assistance from Michael Fields and an organic certification specialist.  The farm may also be used as a demonstration project for education workshops and research.

We will be honoring Betty’s longstanding support of organic agriculture and the work of Michael Fields’ at a Reception – May 8th, 2014, in Madison, WI.