By Laurel Blomquist, Head Gardener | Last October, many CSA members lamented the end of the growing season and the long pause before we start selling vegetables again, which is usually around mid-June. They were genuinely sad that they had to go back to the grocery store for produce once again. I, on the other hand, was breathing a sigh of relief. Farming is hard work, and the winter break is a great time to reflect on the previous season, learn new techniques, forge new relationships with customers, and make plans for the next season. Some farmers refer to winter as “Conference Season.”
MOSES Organic Conference
Recently, Linda, Lloyd, and I attended the 30th Annual MOSES Organic Conference in LaCrosse. If you are not familiar with the conference, over 3,000 people from all over the world attend six sessions over two days, learning about every aspect of organic farming: market gardening, pastured animals, transitioning farms to organic, soil health, public policy, and academic research. This conference has it all, and brings together a very diverse group of people to experience it.
The MOSES Conference is more than just classes, however. As farmers, we know that an hour and a half isn’t really enough time to learn everything you need to know about beneficial insects, for example. We’re well aware that we will need to do more research and reading when we get home. The classes are just an introduction to a topic.
But for me the MOSES Conference is much more than that. It’s always held the last full weekend in February, so it comes at that time during the winter when I am starting to question why my ancestors moved here, and why I have decided to stay. This winter seemed particularly miserable, with freezing rain one week and the Polar Vortex the next. Just as I’m about to wonder why I got into organic farming in the first place, along comes the MOSES Conference to lift my spirits and renew my passion.
One of the reasons I look forward to this conference is to meet up with my farmer friends. Farmers are so busy during the growing season that they rarely, if ever, get in so much as a phone call, let alone an in-person meeting. Of course, meeting up with other organic farmers isn’t so much a party (though there is time set aside for that, too) as it is a lively discussion. We talk shop, swap stories, ask questions, and give and take advice.
Another resourceful part of the conference is the Expo floor. Over one hundred vendors, selling everything you need to run an organic farm business, come ready to demonstrate models, answer questions, and help you find what you need. I always make a point to visit Purple Cow Organics (who provide us with potting soil), and seed companies Johnny’s and High Mowing.
Then there are the keynote speeches, which were especially inspiring this year. On the first day, there was a panel of six “elders” of the organic movement–people who founded MOSES (the organization and the Conference), and people who were on the Organic Standards Board (the folks that shaped the original laws governing the standards that organic upholds). Their stories reflect why the MOSES Conference still maintains such a strong sense of community, even with 3,000 people in attendance. They fostered the sharing of knowledge from the very beginning of their roots in this community.
The day-two keynote was a series of three talks given by young organic farmers, the rising stars of this century. Each one had a stirring story to tell of their organic roots and their vision for the future. All three speakers received standing ovations, and I’m certain that the elders were pleased to see that the future of organic is in such passionate hands.
Those keynotes will be available for viewing in the near future. For now, you can get a sense of what the conference is like by watching Eric Lee-Mader’s keynote from 2016: “Organic Farms: Last Best Hope to Save Earth’s Wildlife.”
It’s moments like these when you realize that you are not alone, that the challenges you face are faced by many, and that little by little, we are, in fact, changing the planet for the better. I can’t wait to attend my next MOSES Conference. I’m sure it will come exactly when I need it.
Laurel Blomquist, Head Gardener at Gwenyn Hill Farm, has attended the MOSES Conference for the past six years.