I’m at the MOSES Organic Farming conference in downtown Lacrosse, Wisconsin. A wonderful small town in the “riftless” region on the state border with Minnesota and the beginning of the Mississippi river. This region is characterized by glorious limestone bedrock that has eroded into river valleys and lovely forested hills with dairy farms, orchards and family scale agriculture in the many valleys. Unlike much of the flatter midwest- this region was never scraped by the glaciers of the last ice age, and the nooks and crannies of the landscape remain and enforce a particular scale of farming.
No coincidence that this is the headquarters for ORGANIC VALLEY– a cooperative of family farms that produces milk, meat, cream, cheese, eggs and many other products which it distributes to shops across the country.
Organic Valley is doing an amazing job– not only in growing their business, but also in promoting the idea of family farming, the faces of its farmers, and the regionalization of its milk-pools. There are good folks out here in the midwest- dozens of local food co-ops, local fair trade initiatives, hazelnut-based permaculture projects, Land Stewardship project+ The Land Connection (leaders in Beginning farmer projects in Illinois) and cooperation with State and Federal agencies who are investing in sustainable agriculture.
The keynote came from Andrew Kimbrell– a real hero of the Organic movement, director of the Center for Food Safety. They have been leading the grassroots opposition to Genetic Engineering in the country. Most recently they were a part of the success story: Banning Round up Ready Alfalfa. He talked about how hard it is to inform such large-scale technological actions with any sense of humanism. He talked about the brutal ruthlessness of the World Bank and IMF as they impose the “cold evils’ of structural adjustment: economic totalitarianism, hunger, poverty, systemic evil. These systems destroy the livelihoods of so many around the world. He reminded us about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockerfeller Foundation’s work spreading genetic enginnering across Africa. These programs are following the prophesy of progress, profit, and the Jetsons. Spam and Tang for everyone. This contentious program bodes poorly for the future sustainability of rural Africa. Instead of a sensible program of rural development with low-energy use equipment, women’s empowerment, and micro irrigation technologies–they are promising Biofuels will pay off Africa’s great debt. By strip-mining the soil, evicting subsistence agriculturalists, and turning itself over to the rapacious biotech industry? Sounds like a horrible idea.
In Wisconsin, young farmers everywhere! Scrappy ones, Amish ones, real strong tall beautiful ones with little tiny babies in slings. Everyone is smiling and well fed– they are total dairy heads. Some such farmers saw my note on the message board and offered me a place to stay on a nearby Organic Apple orchard. I got to see the cider press. They are planning a bike trip to look at organic farms this spring. From North Carolina to Maine– we’ll be linking to their blog.
Meanwhile at the Successful Beginning Farmer session the coalition of Beginning Farmer Training Organizations gave The Greenhorns project a call out– and told everyone about our stickers, our project, and the conversations that we are having about the story of America’s young farming community. It’s wonderful to be thus embraced by the institutional leaders of the young farming sector.