A Letter From The Chair
The southern breezes are pushing the jet stream north and the yearly March promise of balmy warmer days is upon us. It is always a time of uplifted spirits realizing that we can shed more layers of clothes as each day passes but we do hope this Michigan spring commences at a measured and realistic pace!
The second edition of Michigan Organic Connections electronic newsletter has arrived, complete with the promised simple, yet poignant questionnaires seeking input from our organic community. Please take just a few minutes to answer the few questions that are presented here so that your volunteer MOFFA board may have some insight into the issues, interests, and conversations that you feel would best serve both the agricultural and consumer sector these coming months. Our attempt to pose relevant queries included submittals from the entire board, with Melissa Hornaday and Carolyn Lowery honing the material to a relevant form. Your input is very much appreciated!
MOFFA has been extremely active these last few weeks: participating in the Everybody Eats Conference, the first Michigan Farm Market Association Conference (congratulations MIFMA!) and the Young Farmers of Michigan Conference. Below Vicki Morrone has a summation of the annual Organic Reporting Session, which was well attended and wonderfully informative. MOFFA provided financial support for the graduate student poster awards presented at the Session. We have also entered into preliminary discussions with the Student Organic Farm to assist with their development of a low-interest loan program. This concept fits perfectly into one of MOFFA’s key objectives – providing support and assistance to Michigan’s beginning farmers. As we continue to embellish and upgrade our website, new tabs for employment, equipment, and accessible land have been added. These new features though valuable to all, especially are relevant for our burgeoning young farmer population.
Now a brief word on the 2012 MOC Conference. Although we realize selecting a date that works for all is a challenge, for conflicts will always arise, circle Saturday Nov. 10th on your calendar and the re-imagined re-emerging city of Flint as the host. Venue selection is currently being determined as you read this, with special emphasis on partnering with community owned infrastructure. The board is seriously contemplating hiring an individual to serve as conference coordinator. The decision will of course be contingent on a number of factors, sponsorship being a major one. If such a position is created our membership will receive first notification of the fact.
The Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance is a non-profit entity that exists solely through the generous spirit of our members. The mission statement prominently displayed to the right of these paragraphs states who we are and what we do. Simple words yet enormous in scope of implementation. To exist in a world where solicitation of funds was irrelevant would be idyllic, reality though speaks otherwise. We are dependent on you to carry on the mission we all believe in. We volunteer our time and energy because in our heart of hearts we believe that by raising this banner high we can assist in some small part in creating a healthier planet and thus a more vibrant people. There is not a specific timeframe for membership, each year we seek dues for that calendar year. We would certainly appreciate membership “dues” for 2012 now for it would enable us to continue sponsoring conferences, educational programs, policy work (i.e. 2012 farm bill, cost share program), and the continual promotion of organics in all sectors or our communities. Visit the www.moffa.org for more information and access to either a downloadable application or the on-line membership option.
I personally would like to thank you for your support. The incredible importance of providing a voice to speak to the need for a socially just, local, organic food system with knowledge and access for all has never been more critical. Please become a vital partner with a membership - we all, together, will passionately continue the work!
Education Strategies for the Future: Adjusting the Sails
I have a small wall hanging at home that a friend gifted me years ago when I spent time learning to sail competitively. The advice reads: “We cannot change the wind but we can adjust our sails.” It reminds me of one of the important lessons I learned about sailing which was that no matter how well you make adjustments in the boat, success also depends on how well you look out beyond the boat to see the wind. Seeing the invisible wind means watching other boats in the distance, watching the trees around the lake and watching the movement of the water surface in all directions around the boat, including back where you were previously.
As the Board reflects on the past 20 years of MOFFA activities and tries to project off into the next five to ten years, one focus area is determining how to provide educational opportunities for MOFFA members and the citizens of Michigan. The purpose here is to share some perceptions and possibilities in the hope of cultivating future discussion.
My perception is that MOFFA has traditionally provided educational programs in a few key topic areas. I remember being a participant in MOFFA workshops when first learning about organic farming in the mid 1990’s.
· Organic Certification (record keeping, inspections, etc)
· Organic Soil Management Strategies
· Organic Ground Cover / Weed Management
· Organic Insect and Disease Management
· Markets for Organic Products
· Crop/commodity related organic management (veggies, fruit, grains, livestock, etc)
At the time the organic farmers had the expertise and in the spirit of the organic ethic they willingly shared their knowledge and experience to the best of their ability. Over time the university and Cooperative Extension educators and researchers learned enough about organic and ecological farming and marketing to assist in educational programs in traditional ways common for non-organic producers. We also experience the introduction of the USDA-NOP. My perception is that there has been a fairly important shift in the winds that require an evaluation of and possibly changes in tactics.
The MOFFA Board members have been discussing some education goals:
Identify and focus on priority organic topic areas not addressed by other farming and food related organizations.
Use strategies that provide the most impact and visibility given the limited resources and personnel.
One of the questions we have is whether we need to prioritize possible audiences such as:
Current MOFFA members and Michigan Organic farmers,
New and beginning farmers,
Established farmers that want to transition to organic.
On the one hand we have dues paying MOFFA members asking, “What am I receiving for my membership?” On another we have either beginning farmers or non-organic farmers that are looking for information about how to participate in the organic movement. There is also the slippery slope of appropriately growing organic markets and production so that existing organic farms can be economically sustainable as well as environmentally and socially conscious.
The MOFFA Board is currently focusing on three main education priorities:
Partner/collaborate with existing farming and food related conferences/organizations to provide organic farming (production and marketing) related support;
Provide information at the MOFFA website;
Organize a statewide Michigan Organic Conference.
Priority 1: Partnerships. Michigan currently has multiple organizations seeking to support farmers of all types and scales (See Figure 1). The benefit is more opportunities across the state, but at some point there can be competition that impacts attendance and sustainability. Since MOFFA has limited resources, partnering with organizations already hosting and organizing conferences makes sense. It also allows us to reach more diverse audiences and geographic regions. We have requested “Organic Tracks” at several conferences in return for help identifying presenters and experts. What we need is to develop a list of effective presenters on organic topics of interest.
Priority 2. MOFFA Website: The amount of printed and video information about organic farming has grown dramatically the last 10 years. There is so much that searchers can benefit from some focus and recommendations. We would like to provide:
· PDF files of pertinent documents
· Links to pertinent documents or other web sites
· Contact information for certifiers and other organizations
· Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What we need is to identify MOFFA members that would like to contribute ideas, information and recommendations for making the website an important point of connection to existing information.
Priority 3. Michigan Organic Conference (MOC)
The reality is that we do not currently have the human capacity and economic resources to continue to organize an outstanding statewide conference. On the one hand MSU faculty and MOFFA Board members have contributed to the best of their ability over the last seven years to organize a conference program and handle registration. On the other hand the nature of that support has not provided for the larger scale grass roots input into the program and timely development of a program. Perhaps the number one reason the MOC has declined in participation the last few years is because of insufficient advance advertising of otherwise excellent programs. The financial sustainability of the MOC was also hampered by the extremely high cost of providing lunch and food related services at an otherwise no-cost facility at MSU.
There is a vision for a MOC for 2012 that would include a change in season (November) and a change in venue (Flint). The season and venue are based on an evaluation of the multiple other conferences and activities in the state (as presented in Figure 1) What we need is help providing a) the opportunity for a larger grass roots effort to be involved in planning and timely implementation and b) deciding on the intended audience(s). The Board has discussed the following goals for the MOC:
To be successful in any or all of the three priorities there must be effective communication with:
Food system related information with emphasis on the intersection of organic farming and food/public health.
Traditional organic production and marketing topics presented by experts and panels.
Opportunity for allied industries and educational organizations to meet and spend time with conference participants (trade show).
Opportunities for discussion forums – at least equal to and possibly greater than the time spent on expert presentations. Emphasis on connecting experienced farmers and educators with new and beginning farmers seeking advice.
The opportunities are great. Success requires a few more people in the boat making adjustments and others watching and reacting to the wind. Sailing experience not required.
Organic farmers and marketers experienced in making educational presentations.
Allied industry suppliers and educational organizations.
Michigan State University personnel- research, extension and teaching.
National, regional and statewide organic farming related policy or educational organizations such as Rodale Institute, OFRF, MOSES, etc
Michigan Organic Reporting Session Supports Organic Research and Innovation in Michigan
Seventy plus farmers, students, educators and researchers gathered for a day to engage in the Michigan Organic Reporting Session in East Lansing, Michigan at Michigan State University to exchange research results and experiences on a wide range of production topics in organic systems. The event is held each year on the first day of MSU ANR week. It offers farmers, educators, students and researchers with the change to hear about new research on organic agriculture and for graduate students to share their research too.
Sponsorship by MOFFA provided MSU’s graduate students an added incentive to present their research in the format of posters for all to visit and discuss during a social reception. All fourteen posters that were displayed were phenomenal, sharing practical aspects of research and showing us results in smartly presented formats. The presentations ranged in scope from building the soil and managing weeds with cover crops and reduce pests in organic cropping systems. The top three posters were awarded to Zachary D. Hayden, Brad Baughman and Dan Kane. Zachary D. Hayden, Mathieu Ngouajio, and Daniel C. Brainard presented “Rye-vetch Proportion and Plastic Mulch Affect Cover Crop Biomass Production, Soil Nitrate, and Bell Pepper Yield” taking first place. Brad Baughman, Ron Perry, Matt Grieshop presented “Implementation of Strip Cultivation in Michigan Apple Orchards: An Organic Alternative to Herbicide Strips” and was awarded second place. Daniel Kane and Sieg Snapp presented “Managing Nitrogen in Organic Systems with Zonal Tillage: Proposed Research taking third place”. “All posters are winners!” exclaimed Morrone, the coordinator of the event. She noted how much the posters have improved over the years, as they learn from each other’s experiences as well as guidance from the judges. Over lunch farmers shared their topic-of-choice at a round-table discussion, which they received a scholarship for the day, supported by MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. MSUE and AgBioResearch and C.S. Mott Group at MSU.
Michigan State University professors and staff presented on their research conducting in Michigan on certified organic field research stations and on farms. To kick off the day Roger Blobaum, from Ceres Trust, shared how the grant awarding program is working to engage more research by professors and graduate students in organic production research. MSU received 33% of their funding in the past year and is doing great work with the support. The practical side of the research was the focus the reports, giving farmers tested ideas to take home to their farms. Practical knowledge included topics ranging from soil health, pest management, and a marketing prospective of organic crops in the U.S.. Some highlight topics of the day included promising research results using compost tea to mange powdery mildew and biofumigant cover crops to reduce soil-borne pathogens. We also learned how beneficial insects can be used to reduce insects in our fields and how soil health impacts organic crops. To cap off the research discussions, a farmers panel shared their experiences and observations of how they “Manage Mother Natures curve balls”, which was supported by NC SARE-Michigan program. Farmers shared their approaches how they try to mange in a changing climate, given that the Great Lakes already create unusual weather patterns and now combined with the impact of Global Climate Change. All farmers on the panel concurred that you just have to keep managing and adjusting to meet the crops needs and try to reduce the negative impacts caused by unpredicted weather. There is not specific solution as things keep changing! In a conclusive remark, Rod Kieger, organic field crop farmer in Elsie and St. Johns, noted that on-farm research such as what MSU is doing is particularly helpful to identify potential solutions.
To see the posters and presentations visit www.MichiganOrganic.msu.edu after March 14.
March 2012 Farm Bill Update
The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2012 and more than 30 programs that are currently authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill have no baseline funding going forward, including all of the organic programs and provisions. This means those programs depend on annual appropriations so we have to fight extra hard to hold onto these programs in this year of budget crisis.
Those of us in Michigan are in a unique and powerful position to influence the Farm Bill debate this year, as our own Senator Debbie Stabenow is leading the show as the Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Her office in DC needs to hear our voices load and clear about the kind of Farm Bill we need.
May 31st 2011, in East Lansing, MI the first Senate Ag Committee field hearing was held. There was one other in Kansas and a few hearings in Washington, DC, in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill. However, hearings were put on hold last fall while the chairs and ranking members of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees drafted a Farm Bill proposal for the “Super Committee.” With the crash of the Super Committee process, the Senate has resumed hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill. Therefore, there is a lot going on in DC right now pertaining to Farm Bill matters, including briefings and hearings on various topics. Now is a good time to call Senator Stabenow’s office and weigh in. What follows is a brief run down on those happenings in DC :
February 15: Energy and economic growth for Rural America
February 28: Strengthening conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill
March 1: Senate Briefing on Local Food and Nutrition
March 5: House and a Senate
March 7: Health food initiatives, Local production, and Nutrition
March 14: Risk Management and Commodities in the 2012 Farm Bill
March 21: Risk management and commodities in the 2012 Farm Bill
Just a few brief comments follow on the February 2: Strengthening conservation through the 2012 Farm Bill. This hearingbrought together three farmers, representatives from three national non-profit organizations, and the heads of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) to testify to the value of the Farm Bill conservation programs.
That current draft of the Farm Bill would retain the purpose and functionality of each conservation program while making innovative and substantial changes to the Conservation Title. In the fall of 2011, Senator Stabenow developed plan to consolidate 23 conservation programs into just 13. This plan cuts roughly $6.3 billion from the Title over 10 years, on top of the over $4 billion Congress has already cut from the title in annual USDA funding bills. Most of the new proposed cuts (roughly 60 percent) would come from the Conservation Reserve Program which has more than 6 million acres set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.
At the end of February over 600 farm and conservation groups wrote to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees urging support for a strong conservation title in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the March 1st Senate Briefing on Local Food and Nutritionhelped educate Senate offices in advance of action on the 2012 Farm Bill. Entitled “Spurring Economic Growth and Expanding Access through Food and Farms: A Briefing on Local Food and Nutrition,” the briefing heard from hour organizations that are currently creating jobs in their perspective communities, improving access to healthy foods, and leveraging nutrition programs to increase food security. One organization represented was Michigan’s Eastern Market, emphasizing the need for food hubs to connect the gaps in our local and regional food systems. The briefing was organized by NSAC, the Michigan based Fair Food Network, Community Food Security Coalition, and Feeding America.
In Addition to what’s been happening in DC, there will be a few field hearings held by the House Ag Committee between March 9th and April 20th:
Friday, March 9, 9 AM
Saranac Lake, NY, with Representative Bill Owens (D-NY-23)
Friday, March 23, 9 AM CDT
Galesburg, IL, with Representative Robert Schilling (R-IL-17)
Friday, March 30, 9 AM CDT
State University, AR, with Representative Rick Crawford ((R-AR-1)
Friday, April 20, 9 AM CDT
Dodge City, KS, with Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS-1)
For more information on how to get involved with the 2012 Farm Bill debate please contact Melissa Hornaday, Great Lakes Organizer for Organic Farming Research Foundation at Melissa@ofrf.org