A Conference in The Center of the Organic Universe

Reader Contribution by Toby Grotz
article image

MOSES, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, holds its annual conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin every year in February on the banks of the Mississippi River at the La Crosse Center.  Put this event on your calendar and your bucket list now.  Save the date for MOSES 2019, Feb, 21-23 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The conference has an array of speakers and subject matter that unequalled in my experience attending conferences from the straight world of industry to the reincarnated new age conferences featuring what they now call the “thought leaders”.  This is all done in the most unpretentious and down home manner that is an ingrained attribute of the Midwestern and great plains heritage so well described by Garrison Keillor in his Lake Wobegon stories that were part of his Prairie Home Companion.  Conference audio recordings can be seen here.  Keynote videos can be seen here.

The exhibit floor was in the arena at Lacrosse Center with more vendors and information than can possibly be absorbed in three days. 

 Conference Presentations 

The first lecture I attended was probably one of the most important for the future of farming in this country.  The Farmer’s Guide To Winning The Farm Bill, presented by the National Young Farmers Coalition was an overview of the Farm Bill, the programs that will impact young, small-scale, and organic producers, and how young farmers can have a voice shaping agricultural policy.  

The 2018 bill maintains important provisions for beginning farmers, such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, but it would phase out programs that are critical to young farmers, compromise farmland conservation, and hurt the consumer safety net. The next step in the farm bill process is the agriculture committee markup.  The National Young Farmers Coalition is urging farmers to raise their voices and tell Republicans and Democrats what amendments and fixes are needed to get this bill into shape. More information can be found here.  The future of American agriculture depends on young farmers because the average age of a farmer is 58 and by 2030 one-quarter of the nation’s farmers will retire.

Revitalization of Indigenous Food Systems

The Intertribal Agriculture Councilconducts a wide range of programs designed to further the goal of improving Indian Agriculture. The IAC promotes the Indian use of Indian resources and contracts with federal agencies to maximize resources for tribal members.  A fascinating aspect of this presentation was the history of the use of corn in the upper Midwest.  The corn varieties used by the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) are shown below as used today by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and many other tribes.  Native American seed varieties are discussed in Mother Earth News here and here.

Purple Pitchfork

Purple Pitchfork Consulting with Chris Blanchard produces Farmer to Farmer Podcasts.  In his keynote speech analyzing the consciousness of organic farmers Chris discussed how to get balance and quality of life while farming. The bottom line is to design your farm so that it serves your life, rather than you becoming a servant to the farm, a quote from David Hambleton.  Create a schedule that limits your time to a set number of hours per day.  Knock off at five and go do something else.  You will find that you become more productive.  It deepens your commitment to planning and not wasting time.

Changing Climate 

The climate has been changing as the plant hardiness zones move north.  I put in my two cents in a previous blog explaining the change in terms a middle school student could understand:

Why Life Exists on Earth: A New Perspective on Carbon Emissions.     Kenny Blumenfeld is the senior climatologist at the Minnesota State Climatology Office.  His talk, Coping with a Changing Climate, presented the data that shows that climate change has already impacted the Upper Midwest’s weather and climate.  The largest effect is that extreme cold events are becoming less severe leading to extended pest ranges and plant disease pressures.  Rainfall extremes are larger and more frequent.  The only good news in his presentation was that heat and drought in the summer is not increasing at this time, but he did say that with continued CO2 emissions from fossil fuels he expected that heat and drought would eventually become an issue for farmers. 

Conference Vendors

I spoke with a number of vendors about their products.  Here is a brief summary of some of the many vendors.

Rodale Institute

It was good to catch up with the activities of the Rodale Institute.  J.I. Rodale and his wife Anna were the forerunners of organic gardening and the back to the land movement.  The institute published Organic Gardening magazine until recently.  The magazine and books were owned by Rodale Inc. which is a separate company and not part of Rodale Institute.   Organic Gardening magazine changed to Organic Life magazine and has moved online. Here is website: http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/.

Dianna Martin and Rick Carr brought the latest research and updates from Rodale Institute to MOSES.  Rodale’s Pastured Pork Production and on-site water purification are two of the newest initiatives undertaken by the Institute.  A thirty page introduction to onsite water purification is available here.<–


This comes under the header of I Want One.  Too bad I don’t have an acre to use it on.  The Jang Seeder, manufactured in Korea by theJang Automation Company, can be seen in operation here:  https://youtu.be/K59h04IS3Fo.  The North American Distributor is the American Transplanter Company which has one, three, or six row versions.

GMO Detection.

We’re playing whack a mole with GMO’s. They pop up everywhere.  I recently spoke to an inspector working for an organic certification service who told be the story of non-certified organic grain crops being shipped from Turkey to the United States through Canada and somehow along the way the grain mysteriously receives a USDA organic certification.  Inspectors were on their way to North Dakota to test for herbicides and pesticides and hopefully GMO status.  If you want to test for GMO crops, this his is the equipment required for testing corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, and rice.  The system can also test for mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are natural substances produced by molds and fungi, which are common in the farm environment.  Mycotoxins can affect the bottom line of any livestock operation causing reduced feed intake, digestive disturbances which results in loss of income dues to a decline in production of milk, meat and eggs.

Meals at Moses

Topping of the MOSES conference was the best food you will ever get at a conference.  Local and organic.  How can you beat a lunch like this? BBQ sliced pork shoulder, spring greens, steamed green beans and mixed peppers, brown rice and kale salad, olive-oil-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, strawberry sweet bread with vanilla glaze or for Vegans: Grilled tofu and vegetable skewers, brown rice, kale salad, and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes.

And when dinner comes around, how about: Caraway-dusted chicken breast, spring greens, German-style potato salad, sweet-and-sour red cabbage, maple-roasted root vegetables, lemon pound cake and for the Vegans: Caraway-dusted seared tofu, sweet-and-sour braised red cabbage and maple roasted root vegetables.

The Staff at MOSES

The Moses staff put together and excellent conference from start to finish.  The conference program can be downloaded here. 

The organized and helpful staff running the conference. Back left-right: Stephanie Coffman, Bailey Webster, Cathy Olyphant, Matt Leavitt, Tom Manley.  Front left-right: Audrey Alwell, Sarah Broadfoot, Lauren Langworthy.  Not pictured: John Mesko (at an annual board meeting)

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.