Apr 24, 2020
Editor’s letter: Organic growers celebrate their common ground
Stephen Kloosterman

Organic growers do a good job of welcoming growers of diverse backgrounds, regions and size of their growing operations.

I believe that in part because of the diversity of events I’ve attended this year alongside growers.

The Organic Grower Summit (OGS) in Monterey, California, was quite different from the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) annual Organic Farming Conference, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. MOSES lays claim to the title of “the country’s largest event on organic agriculture,” and after sitting down to delicious meals with what had to be several thousand attendees, I’m inclined to believe that claim. While OGS didn’t have quite as many attendees, they certainly have some of the county’s biggest growers and Monterey County is one of the most productive areas in the country for specialty crop production. Also, with their proximity to Silicon Valley, they have an insight into some cutting-edge technology.

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Stephen Kloosterman

At the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia we listened to the Southeast’s difficulties with growing berries organically (there are many problems). At the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market Expo, apple growers thought about their research priorities (there’s a lot they’d like to explore, as Michigan State University’s Matt Grieshop reported last issue).

There are many other events I was not able to attend in 2020, but that doesn’t mean they’re less deserving.

All of these trade shows and conferences seem to keep some distinct regional flavors while each managing to draw attendees from around the country and globe. But what’s more interesting is what they have in common.

First, there seems to be a universal interest in research and the know-how of organic farming. Before I even went out on the road last winter, I made a point of asking someone working for a larger grower what she had in common with the smaller growers. I don’t recall her exact words, but she basically said it’s the basic agronomy or science of growing. Bugs, diseases and weeds vary by region but they sure don’t care about the size of your farm. She was of course, right – all around the county, growers are self-educating themselves, pestering their Extension agents, traveling to shows and farm tours, and studying up.

Second, there’s a general desire to reform or improve the very nature of modern agriculture – I saw this especially in the keynote speeches at OGS and MOSES, where industry thought-leaders spun plans for what agriculture could be and its role not only in supplying better food, but in reversing climate change.

“Anybody who eats food, and anybody who lives on land has an obligation, a duty, a sacred charge to work on healing the food system,” Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm said in a keynote speech at MOSES.

Third, there’s a desire to welcome growers of different backgrounds. Organic growers are sympathetic to new growers, as well as experienced growers who are switching over from conventional agriculture. The shows I attended welcomed those newbies as one of their own.

In a time when COVID-19 is disrupting such meetings and events, let us never forget that the organic industry includes growers of many different backgrounds, regions and types of farms.

Unified, the industry is stronger to meet the challenges that all growers are facing.

Stephen Kloosterman is the managing editor of Organic Grower.

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