Editor's note: NewFarm.org and The Rodale Institute were
pleased to sponsor the 2005 Midwest Organic and Sustainable
Education Service Farmer of the Year Award at the 16th annual
Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, held February 25-26
in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Presented annually by the MOSES board
of directors, the award includes an honorary plaque, $500 cash,
a $100 gift certificate to the MOSES book sales booth, and free
conference registration, meals and lodging.
year's award was presented to Carmen and Sally Fernholz of
A-Frame Farm in Madison, Minnesota. The Fernholzes have been
farming organically in southwestern Minnesota since the 1970s,
and have been tireless contributors to a variety of organic
farming research, education and marketing initiatives throughout
the Upper Midwest. Today they grow organic corn, soybeans,
golden flax, oats, wheat, and barley on 360 tillable acres.
Reproduced here are Carmen's remarks on receiving the
award, as delivered to the Saturday morning audience.
February 26, 2005:
“If a ‘place’
or ‘region’ is defined by what most scholars
of regionalism argue is the intersection of land and people
or culture and environment, then local food and agriculture
together constitute a profound expression of place. .
. . For it is in the toil of human activity on the local
landscape that food and other tangible products are created
that reflect the cultural uniqueness of a place.”
regional planner for Cornell University's Community, Food
and Agriculture Program
What a humbling experience to be honored by all of you. I
have never intended for it to be this way. I have only wanted
to do for myself what I have hoped others would want to do
for themselves as well: To generate pleasure, happiness and
self-fulfillment from being a farmer.
It has long been my dream, and still is, that I will again
experience the time when three or four viable family operations
will populate each section of prairie in western Minnesota.
Over the years, it has become clear that the most likely way
this dream will be fulfilled is through the evolution of organic
management systems of food production.
It is this dream that has motivated me these many years.
It is the seasonal maturity that keeps me going. It is learning
and then accepting that all experiences cannot happen in one
season because no two seasons are ever the same, just as no
two days are ever the same, as no two people are ever the
same, as no two real entities or substances in nature are
ever the same. It is the lesson the good Sisters taught me
early on when they said, “Behold the snowflake.”
In honoring Sally and me today, I like to think that you
are honoring yourselves equally. Let me explain. Noam Chomsky,
in his book, Understanding Power, talks in one chapter
about a revolutionary change in moral values. Here are a few
“Again, people just have to remember: there is nothing
in the mainstream culture that is ever going to tell you
you’ve succeeded – they’re always going
to tell you you’ve failed.”
* * *
"That’s what people always hear from the intellectual
culture. . . . It’s beating into your head another
story – that you failed, and that you should have
failed, because you were just a bunch of crazies.”
* * *
“And, of course, it’s natural that the official
culture would take that view: it does not want people to
understand that you can make changes, that’s the last
thing it wants people to understand.”
* * *
“That’s what they’re always going to
tell us, and we should try to remember that.”
When each of us imagines what we want the future to look
like for our children and grandchildren, I ask each of you
here this morning: What do we really mean when we say we want
to give our children more than we had?
For me it is the dream I spoke of just a moment ago: People
again populating the prairies of western Minnesota. What does
that really mean in terms of my own personal lifestyle-altering
In one short sentence, it means for me, moving from living
a life of independence to nurturing a lifestyle of greater
interdependence, to borrow from Stephen Covey.
For me it means sharing knowledge and skills with whomever.
It means cultivating a trust with institutions in society
I have many times felt betrayed by.
But for me, foremost and personally, giving to my children
and grandchildren more than I have had means confidently understanding
that we create an economic, social and environmental opportunity
here on the land to pass on.
And, in order to do this, we truly need to become interdependent
in our marketing and commerce, and in our understanding that
a totally free society has a division of labor and responsibility.
It means that I can be successful at growing a saleable product
but not necessarily skillful in retailing it.
It means that I can be successful at processing a raw product
into some useful piece of work, and know that there is someone
who will be my supplier and someone who will be my retailer,
and I can focus, therefore, on my skill and talent of creating.
It means that I tolerate and nurture diversified skills and
All of us must understand that this interdependence ultimately
generates the environment of economic opportunity that allows
all of us to pass on a better life to those who follow.
This interdependence allows this, not because we make more
money or have more “stuff” but because we have
more firmly woven a web of security by our cultivation of
Let me conclude with a poem I wrote a good number of years
ago but that has come to mean more to me with each passing
By Carmen Fernholz
The job is there.
It’s always there--
constant chattering of stones into a wagon,
human rhythms of another springtime.
Yearly they are picked and hauled
seasonally they appear again,
her star-stuff inheritance.
The task is tedious if only
picking these shapes of turbulence
that speak of nature’s patience.
Glaciers have carried them underfoot
rivers have washed their dimpled lines.
What other eyes have gazed on these ancient-fired pieces?
Bits of me have surfaced through
the masonry art of maturity
creating my cosmic mansion.