Saturday, February 21, 2009

Missouri Organic Association 2009 Conference

The conference is today, and turnout is great! The conference has two tracks: "Experienced and Veteran Farmers," and "Prospective and Beginning Farmers." There were so many participants in the "Prospective" track that they had to switch rooms to accommodate everyone, and the organizers were worried they would run out of food at lunchtime (but there's plenty!).

The MOA Conference is an information-sharing opportunity that is all about the business of organic farming. Regardless of the experience level of the grower, he or she is bound to find priceless contacts, both for mentoring and for buying/selling. The information is useful and informative even for those of us who don't grow commercially.

The programs I've attended so far have all been first class: I'm always impressed by how many high-quality speakers MOA can pull in for their conference. Here's who I heard today:

Lane McConnell, Marketing Specialist for MO Dept. of Agriculture speaking on "Programs for Prospective and Beginning Farmers". Many people are probably not aware of all the help available for people who want to get started in farming: marketing and promotional materials, business counseling, grants, and more. Also mentioned were the Agrotourism program and the Grow Native! program.

Stan Cook joined Lane to talk about the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority (MASBDA), and the different loans and grants that are available.

Dean Wilson from the MU Extension talked about the "Grow your farm" program, a course in Jefferson County that teaches prospective farmers how to write a Farm Plan (a/k/a a "business plan" for your farm).

Dr. Kamalendu Paul from Lincoln University told us about the history of the agricultural extension in Missouri, and touched on the history of land grant colleges in general. He then shared future plans for the Innovative Small Farmers’ Outreach Program, which kicks off this spring.

Linda Hezel, from Growing Growers in Kansas City, talked about this innovative program that teams up prospective growers with host farmers in the region.

Molly Rockamann gave an overview of EarthDance FARMS, an organization she founded with Colleen Wilson to to grow and inspire local FARMS – Food, Art, Relationships, & Music, Sustainably.

Sue Baird, MOA's incoming president, gave an overview of organic certification for crops. She delineated the different types of organic products, different certification categories, steps to certification, what's included in an organic system plan, and common errors made during the certification process.

The first session this afternoon had different speakers give a very brief talk about marketing organic goods:
  • Nancy Birch from All Star Trading talking about grains and feed ingredients
  • Randy Wood, Missouri Farmers Union on farm-to-school and farm-to-childcare programs
  • Walt Gregory, Midwest Organic Farmers Coop talking about coops (interesting story about the "Seasonal Salad" product)
  • Lane McConnell talking about farmers' markets
  • Krista Durlas from Whole Foods in Town & Country (Krista is also the co-leader of our Organic Garden Club), and Brendon Kline & Jason from the Whole Foods in Kansas City about opportunities for farmers to produce for Whole Foods
  • Michael Milster from St. Louis University: latest ACF survey says fastest growing trend among chefs is local and organic; if you're growing for restaurants, there is definitely a healthy market; also they need local organic produce for the Fresh Gatherings Cafe at SLU
  • Ed Pilla at Spudmaster: they have a lot of dehydration space if anyone has a need to rent space; they use GMO-free potatoes with high specific gravity and decent fry color

Our last session of the day was Improving Compacted and Waterlogged Soils, by Dr. Bob Kremer, a Microbiologist from the USDA Agricultural Research Services. He started with some definitions (bulk density, compaction, waterlogged, infiltration, and surface runoff). Bottom line to manage soil in anticipation of heavy rainfall:

  • Anticipate based on weather; don’t incorporate organic residue immediately before predicted major rainfall events
  • Maintain cover crops when field is out of production crop
  • Use grass waterways or buffer strips
  • Minimum tillage techniques to prevent surface sealing, encourage aggregation, microbial activity
  • Build up and maintain soil organic matter
    • Grow it in place (cover crops)
    • Add compost or manure
    • Integrate livestock