• Keynote Address with Chuck Benbrook
entitled “A Bill of Goods: Agricultural
Policy and Technology Innovation Since the mid-1990s.”
The talk will address current agriculture policy
and its impact on organic farmers.
• New classes at the Organic University.
(These are one-day classes focused on a single
topic, held on the Thursday before the conference.)
New topics include Wind Energy on the Farm, Organic
Poultry on Pasture, Organic Dairy Production,
and Organic Seed Production with John Novazio.
OU classes are on February 26.
• Organic Farmer-of-the-Year Award.
New in 2003, the award celebrates a certified
organic farmer who has made a significant contribution
to the organic community.
This year’s conference takes place Feb.
26-28 at the Lacrosse Center in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.
For more information, visit the MOSES website
February 17, 2004: If you’ve ever
been to the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference (UMOFC),
you might wonder just how such a vast and successful undertaking
began. The annual gathering represents the largest sustainable
agriculture conference in the Upper Midwest—growing
in the past 15 years from just 90 attendees to about 1,400
in 2003. Conference-goers are typically positive, inspired
and enthusiastic, making this granddaddy of all conferences
a memorable experience. It’s the perfect place to recapture
some of the energy that motivates us to begin farming in the
first place, to make new friends and to catch up with old
ones. Behind this wonderful event is Faye Jones, the conference
organizer. Learning more about her life and work provides
insight into the UMOFC and the world of organic education.
Faye first became interested in organic farming at the age
of 19, when she visited her boyfriend’s family dairy
farm. Although she grew up in the St. Paul, Minnesota suburbs,
as soon as she set foot on the rural farm “I knew I
was home,” she recalls. “It was a wonderful, magical
experience—with cows, pastures, barns.” That first
morning on the farm, she rose early and went down to the barn,
where her boyfriend’s father was milking cows, and tentatively
asked if she could “just watch.” Permission was
granted, but she was soon enlisted as a gofer.
Inspired by the experience, Faye enrolled in agriculture
courses at school but quickly became disappointed in their
focus on heavy input, high-impact conventional agriculture.
In fact, there was no information covering what she wanted
to focus on—organic vegetable farming. Dropping out
of college, Faye decided to “learn by doing” instead,
undertaking two apprenticeships, one with Martin Diffley of
Gardens of Eagan, originally located in Eagan, Minn., and
another with Richard DeWilde of Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua,
Wis. She also attended a conference in Germany sponsored by
the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements
(IFOAM) and spent three months touring and working on farms
in Germany and Switzerland. After this “formal”
education, she rented five acres of land from Martin Diffley
and got busy growing vegetables, which she sold to farmers
markets and co-ops in the Twin Cities area.
At the same time, Faye began to get more involved with conferences.
She attended the 1983 Organic Growers and Buyers Association
(OGBA) conference and was shocked to learn they did not incorporate
any organic foods into conference meals. True to her nature,
she spoke right up about it. “I have this wonderfully
non-shy personality,” says Faye. The response was typical—she
was invited to put her energy where her mouth was and get
on the committee for organizing conference meals. She did
just that, and with characteristic gusto. The next year, she
worked on food and planning, successfully sourcing organic
food for the conference. This early advocacy for organic conference
meals has carried over to the present. Almost all the foods
served at the UMOFC today are organic, mostly donated from
such organizations as Organic Valley Family of Farms and Peace
Coffee. As anyone who has ever attended and sampled the cuisine
can attest, the food is one of the high points of the conference.
The meals are simple but tasty and healthy, and there are
delicious snacks at every turn.
After a couple of years, Wisconsin started its own conference,
which eventually became the UMOFC. The conference was originally
funded and organized by the Organic Crop Improvement Association
(OCIA) Chapter #1, which later became the Midwest Organic
and Services Association (MOSA). During the first year, 90
people attended. Growing by 100-200 each year, the conference
is now up to an attendance of 1400. For the first several
years, Faye served on the food and planning committee for
the conference. Then, eight years ago, she transitioned into
planning the workshops and presentations.
Meanwhile, Faye’s personal life was moving right along.
She got married, had a daughter (Nina) and got divorced. In
1989, she moved to Wisconsin and purchased a farm in Spring
Valley. Along with motherhood came a decision to scale back
to flower production. Faye marketed her flowers to grocery
stores in the Twin Cities area, creating mixed bouquets to
effectively use everything she produced. She became certified
organic through MOSA and maintained her business for many
years. Two years ago, she eliminated the flower business since
the conference was taking more and more of her time. Faye
still maintains a huge flower and vegetable garden at home
and especially enjoys giving away flowers to family and friends.
In 1999, MOSA decided to form a separate nonprofit to handle
the conference and other educational programs. The new organization
was named MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education
Services) and Faye became its executive director. In addition
to the conference, MOSES is involved in other educational
activities, such as publishing the Upper Midwest Organic Resource
Directory and the Organic Broadcaster. The Organic Broadcaster
is a bimonthly newspaper serving organic farmers, highlighting
news, information and innovations in organic agriculture.
The recently revised Organic Resource Directory has listings
of educational programs, businesses, and organizations involved
in organic farming. It is so popular that the most recent
reprinting is almost sold out. The online, most up-to-date
version can be viewed on MOSES’ website at www.mosesorganic.org/directory.htm.
A year-and-a-half ago, Jody Padgham was hired to be the MOSES
education director. Jody has developed some new educational
programs, including classes about organic agriculture designed
for education professionals, fact sheets, and expansion of
the Organic University classes (see box for details). She’s
also helped develop a series of classes entitled “Organic
Basic”. Sponsored by the USDA Risk Management Agency,
this series of 6 to 8 one-day classes provides Wisconsin farmers
with detailed instruction about various organic production
methods. MOSES is partnering with several other organizations
to provide input and promote these classes. The series will
start in late March and continue through summer. Contact MOSES
after March 1 for more information. Another exciting project
is a revision and reprinting of the book Organic Dairy
Production. Because the book had become quite out of date,
Jody has been coordinating substantial revisions, with 15
to 20 writers from around the country contributing new sections.
The finished book will be about 150 pages long and available
for purchase in early summer.
As the conference has grown over the years, the business
of running it has understandably become more complex. The
MOSES office started out as a hallway in a mobile home, was
moved to Faye’s new house when she completed it, and
finally settled in a newer mobile home. The staff has grown
to include eight employees working a combination of full-
and part-time. Faye is enthusiastic about how the organization
has developed. “I have a wonderful, wonderful staff
and great equipment.” The staff members provide support
to farmers calling for information. “You can call and
a real live person answers,” says Faye. Indeed, it’s
a refreshing change in a world of voicemails and computerized
phone systems with endless options to nowhere. Amazingly,
Faye even takes time to talk to farmers during the busy pre-conference
weeks. (Of course, callers get much better service after the
conference, when the office has calmed down a bit.)
Faye has watched the organic community in the Upper Midwest
flourish over the past 25 years. “If you’d asked
me back then, I never would have imagined that the organic
movement would come so far so fast. Twenty-five years ago,
the organic movement was viewed as a joke—something
only ‘hippies’ were interested in.” Now
there are university programs that focus on organic agriculture,
and extension agents distribute information about farming
organically. “I’m excited about what I see,”
says Faye. “We are just as hot an area for organic farming
as the east and west coasts. It used to be that people thought
of the east and west coasts as the places where things happened,
and the Midwest as a great inland desert. Now we are just
as cutting-edge as the rest of the country.”
Although Wisconsin doesn’t have the university infrastructure
and state governmental support for organics more prevalent
in Minnesota and Iowa, says Faye, the state does have more
farmers who are interested in organic agriculture. “We’ve
got CROPP (Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools—the
farmers of Organic Valley), MOSES, the UMOFC and tons of farmers.
Visitors to the conference are frequently amazed at the number
of participants and their enthusiasm.”
The theme for this year’s conference is “Growing
Our Roots”, celebrating 15 years of UMOFC and the strong
foundation of the organic community in the Midwest. For Faye,
the conference is a busy time of shifting into high gear.
Working with staff members, hundreds of volunteers and 1400
conference attendees, she is in her element. During 12- to
16-hour days, she zips from place to place giving instructions,
troubleshooting, and putting people to work, all in a whirlwind
of energy and enthusiasm. After 15 years, the conference has
become not only a place to learn about organic agriculture,
but also a place to celebrate community. See you there!