Reflections from the MOSES Organic Farm Conference 2016

“Welcome Organic Farmers” to LaCrosse, WI (Photo by: Whitney Richardson)

Last week, I had the immense pleasure of learning from a few thousand organic farmers at the Annual MOSES Organic Farm Conference in LaCrosse, WI. While I came home with an arsenal of technical information and new connections, there were a few key lessons I took back with me:

(1) The USDA predicts that in the next ten years, half of all farmers will retire. While it’s true that the average age of the American farmer is 55+, there is a substantial movement of young farmers amassing that show up for the real food movement, united by a shared vision and personal investment. Approximately half of all attendees were between 20–35. I asked a number of farmers why they farm. The most common response was “to grow food I wanted to eat.” This juncture poses a major opportunity.

(2) Second, I kept walking into this fixed perception of urban centers as a hub of food consumers (not producers). This collective assumption, by those living outside major cities, came up in conversation again and again. Through telling the story of the Kitchen Community alongside the stories of many urban farmers and growers, I began to see perspectives shifting into a new realm of possibility. Bridging the rural-urban divide is so important today, as we collectively face different sides of the same coin (climate change, industrial food, supply challenges). The conference provided this rare opportunity to engage directly with each other in the context of food production, share resources and learn from one another.

(3) The Experience Economy emerged as a major theme of the weekend. The real food movement offers multiple forms of nourishment, the less obvious being the experiential-emotional nourishment offered by direct relationships with growers. Videos of the moving speeches by keynote presenters have not yet been uploaded to the MOSES Youtube Channel, but I pulled a video from the daughter of keynote speaker, Mas Mosumoto, that imbues some of what they left us with.