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Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) 2015

By: Lori & Kevin Martin Lori is a Leadership for Local Foods Participant. She and her husband Kevin attended the 2015 MOSES conference. Together they own and operate Roving Donkey Farm, a family owned vegetable farm located north of Bismarck.

Walking tractors, time management, vermicomposting, and productive packing houses - oh my!  Attending the MOSES Organic Farming Conference is a must for anyone involved in producing or consuming local food, interest in local food policy, or just a general interest in the health of the planet.  Located in La Crosse, WI every February, this is the largest organic farming conference of its kind in the United States.  There are tracks to educate attendees on field and specialty crops, soil and farming systems, livestock, marketing and education, and environmental issues.

What I really enjoy about this conference is commiserating with like-minded folks for several days and getting charged up for the season ahead.  The communal meal environment is a great way to meet people from all over the Midwest, sometimes the world, and hear about what they are doing and how they are succeeding, as well as the challenges they face.

Attending with my husband allowed us to take in many more workshops and share what we learned.  We attended classes on walking tractors, time and productivity management, identifying and controlling vegetable diseases organically, making and selling items from your home kitchen, having a productive packing house, vermicomposting, solar power on your farm and how to maximize profit in a high tunnel.  Several key takeaways from these workshops were:

  • Walking tractors are not for everyone, and the need to accommodate smaller statured folks in terms of power and size has not yet been addressed.  We would love to have one on our farm, as we are 100% human powered, but it may be overkill.
  • A great idea for managing regular tasks on the farm is to create checklists (with pictures when applicable).  This will allow employees and interns to fill in or pick up new tasks with little to no training.  Documentation is king!
  • Downy mildew in basil is becoming a real problem in the US.  In our northern climate it is not able to overwinter, but seed sources are still important to consider.
  • One would think vermicomposting and organic disease management would be boring workshops to attend, but it’s all in the presentation folks.  I have heard both presenters at previous conferences and they are amazing!  If you ever see Erin Silva or John Biernbaum on an agenda, go see them!
  • Navigating your state’s cottage food law (or local health district regulations in the case of ND) is vital when planning to produce items for sale from your home kitchen.  Presentation is just as important as quality of the product.
  • There were so many gleanings from the productive packing shed workshop, an entire post could be written on that.  Even for the small producer, there are some great DIY options for having a great packing shed.  These include:
    • Color coding tools and containers
    • Mini pallet jack using a hand truck
    • Rain gear for cleaning root vegetables
    • Posted schedules for cleaning tasks – daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally
    • During design phase, plan for all utilities to be installed outside the walls so any changes are easy to make and have all water drain outside
    • Vermicomposting on a large scale is being studied in several locations across the country and some successes are being reported.  It is a labor-intensive process in that the best results come from raw materials being pre-composted before adding worms.
    • While there is still a lot of room to grow in the field of solar energy, it can be a viable option for powering all, or at least a portion, of your operation.  Additionally, several grant and/or tax credit options exist to help get you started.  A proper evaluation of your usage is key, and finding local installers can be difficult in some areas, but who wouldn’t want to use free, continuous energy?
    • Adam Montri is clearly a ‘numbers’ guy.  When laying out his planting plan for the year, especially in the high tunnel, he breaks his earning potential down to $ / square foot / day, even if that number is $0.002.  By letting his dollar per square foot goal be a main driving force behind his year-round planting plan, he has laid out a sound financial plan that will increase the chance of success year after year.

Given that MOSES is at the end of February, most changes or new processes we plan to implement on our farm are already decided. However, the one item we are using is a system of binder clipped index cards to keep notes and scheduling items in the field.  Previously a large metal clipboard was carried around and ended up being ignored by mid-season.  Hopefully this system will not meet the same fate!

We have touched briefly on the topics we found interesting and useful at the MOSES conference this year.  If anyone would be interested in more detailed information on any of the items, we would gladly answer any questions.  Make plans to attend MOSES next February and we will see you there!

To learn more about Roving Donkey Farm check out their Facebook page.

Demand for local food in rural communities is growing. Sustainable local food systems need to have strong community support to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to bring food from farm to fork. This website provides resources to support rural communities just beginning to build their community food systems as well as those whose local food systems are already strong. Resources are intended for farmers and producers, community organizations, and Extension Educators but may interest anyone in community and local foods. While this website was a partnership between Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, most resources are applicable for any rural community.

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