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.
This 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.”
--Duncan Hilchey, regional
planner for Cornell University's Community, Food and Agriculture
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
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 excerpts:
“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
* * *
"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
* * *
“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 commitments?
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 desires.
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 greater interdependence.
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 season.
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 a task
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.