• 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
• Organic Farmer-of-the-Year Award.
New in 2003, the award celebrates a certified organic
farmer who has made a significant contribution to the
This year’s conference takes place Feb. 26-28
at the Lacrosse Center in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. For more
information, visit the MOSES website at www.mosesorganic.org.
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
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!