Keynote Speakers

Mas Masumoto

Certified organic farmer, and author of Changing Season, A Father, A Daughter, A Family Farm

Friday 1:30-3 p.m.

“Organic Farming: The Next Generation”

Third-generation farmer Mas Masumoto will explore the shifting generations of organic farming, sharing perspectives from his own family farm as his daughter takes over the operation. His lively and highly interactive presentation will examine our reasons for farming organically and how the rewards defy simple economics.

Mas is an award-winning author with 11 books to his credit, including Wisdom of the Last Farmer. He’s a columnist for the Fresno Bee and the Sacramento Bee, writing about community, family, and his personal beliefs while sharing wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of farming.

Read more about Mas in the Organic Broadcaster.

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Liz Carlisle

Stanford University lecturer on food, farming and sustainability, and author of Lentil Underground

Saturday 1:30-3 p.m.

“Lentil Underground”

Coming off the U.N.-declared International Year of Pulses, legumes have gained new respect in the global drive for food security. Pulse crops return nutrients to the soil, making them especially important in sustainable crop rotations.

Montana leads this country’s production of pulses, but it has taken four decades for this rise. Native Montanan Liz Carlisle will share the stories, struggles and successes of the Big Sky farmers who built a million-dollar pulse enterprise in a landscape dominated by large-scale wheat production. She’ll explain how these farmers banded together to do the science the universities wouldn’t; how old-fashioned “crowd funding” supported the state’s first organic lentil processing plant; and how one of the world’s oldest crops is helping Montana farmers regenerate their soils, fight climate change, and provide healthy food to local schools.

Read Liz’s essay in the Organic Broadcaster.

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From the Organic Broadcaster:

 

California farmer’s message will resonate with Midwest farmers

By Linda Halley

What does a California peach farmer and a Midwestern row crop farmer have in common? No, this is not the first line in a stand-up joke. It’s a real question you just may get the answer to when you come to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in February when peach farmer and author, Mas Masumoto, will be keynoting the 2017 not-to-be-missed gathering.

Mas will speak at the Friday General Session at 1:30 p.m. His topic is “Organic Farming: The Next Generation,” focusing on who will take over our farms, and the rewards of farming organically.

I first met Mas at his farm in California’s Central Valley in the late 1990s. After a walking tour of his orchard and ancient grapevines, he and his wife, Marcy, a Wisconsin native, invited me to stay for dinner. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I do recall I came away with the sense that farmers are just farmers everywhere. We share similar lives that revolve around the seasons. Our children, not so different in ages, are growing up on family farms, helping and grumbling and finding joy, too. Our days are filled with struggles, successes and decisions, big and small. And, of course, our underlying motivation of being good stewards of agricultural land is held in common.

In the 1990s, Mas was riding the wave of the nascent local foods movement. Heirloom fruit and vegetable varieties became cool and coveted, certainly, in part, because of books like Mas’s own first publication, Epitaph for a Peach. Farmers’ markets everywhere attracted the well-heeled. Chefs sought out “authentic” flavors and the farmers who peddled them at their back doors. But it wasn’t all easy money and glamour, and that was 20 years ago. The two decades since were mostly filled with long days, hard work and kids to put through school. Nowadays Mas is negotiating the delicate dance of bringing the next generation back into the operation.

So, Mas is not so different from you or me, except that he has chosen to document aspects of his farming life with the written word. Since his first book in 1996, he has penned nearly a dozen other books and many essays about farming, family, food and heritage. He has the gift of giving voice to what often goes unsaid about farming. He wields a pen for those of us who don’t. Its power should not be underestimated.

Some of the best farmers I know were inspired by the written works of Wendell Berry or J.I. Rodale. And some of the most influential, knowledgeable people driving the organic farming industry—not as farmers, but as cheesemakers or lenders, retailers or shoppers—have been inspired and informed by authors like Michael Pollan, Aldo Leopold, and Mas.

There’s change afoot in rural America. From the west coast’s drought, to the east coast’s development pressure and the heartland’s depressed commodity prices, farmers everywhere are facing life-changing decisions. Will we borrow our way forward, change what we grow or how we grow it? Who will be the next farmer to farm this land? Which lawmaker will set policy that helps rural America and all scales of agriculture? The written word, from a farmer’s own hand can play an influential role.

This winter consider picking up a book written by a farmer. Let it inspire and encourage you. Share it with a neighbor, your pastor or your doctor. Then come to the conference in February and hear what farmer-author Mas Masumoto has to say in person. Hope to see you there.

Linda Halley is a longtime Midwest organic farmer.

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From the Organic Broadcaster:

 

Agriculture needs sustainable ‘belowground ecology’

By Liz Carlisle

As evidenced by the recent presidential election, the economy is on everyone’s mind. Old binaries pitting environment against economy (a battle the environment will always lose) are back in vogue. It’s up to the sustainable agriculture community to spread the good news that there is a hopeful third way: we can create green jobs with “triple bottom line” businesses that prioritize people and the planet as well as profits.

Triple bottom line businesses focused on sustainable agriculture are a hot topic in Silicon Valley, where I moved a year ago to take up a teaching position at Stanford University. For entrepreneurial types, it’s hard not to get excited by the steady growth of the organic sector and seemingly insatiable public hunger for its products. But what is often underappreciated is the underlying framework needed for truly sustainable agriculture. Just as a successful crop relies on the health of what’s underground, a successful business relies on a similar “belowground ecology” of supportive policies, infrastructure, and social movements.

As an example, a Montana business I’ve written about, Timeless Natural Food, strives to build a stable, premium market for ecologically appropriate rotation crops (mostly pulses like lentils and chickpeas), so that farmers can afford to grow them. They’ve been pretty successful, and I think they were critical catalysts in the move toward pulse crop rotation in Montana, which has created dramatic changes on the landscape. There happened to be a USDA Agricultural Census the year that Timeless was founded, 1987, so we know that Montana lentil acreage at that time was 1,979. By the 2012 census it was up to 198,741—a hundred-fold increase! That’s a lot of farmers who have added a nitrogen-fixing crop into a rotation that was likely just wheat/fallow or wheat/barley/fallow a couple decades ago.

But Timeless Natural Food didn’t do it alone. To imagine that the costs of transitioning to sustainable agriculture across the American Heartland can be borne by individual small businesses is asking too much, and it’s a setup for well-meaning businesses to fail as they try to support environmental and social goods on their own. Farming is a hybrid public/private activity—the public needs to participate in incentivizing agriculture’s potential for public benefits, like healthy rural economies, healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, and access to healthy food.

That’s why underneath any solid triple bottom line, there must be an underground teeming with activity by social movements like that spurred by Montana’s Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO). This nonprofit citizens’ organization, with funding from foundations like Kellogg, incubated 120 Farm Improvement Clubs that trialed and refined the sustainable farming practices that Timeless Natural Food now recommends to its growers. AERO also lobbied for a bill that would create a formal definition of “organic” in Montana, so they could market their products to consumers looking for this designation—and then lobbied for the state to create a certification program. AERO was among the groups that pushed for crop insurance to stop incentivizing monocultures and start covering “alternative” crops that were key to sustainable rotations. And, they’ve helped organize eaters and parents into a force for change in the Montana food system, which now has a strong farm-to-school movement.

If you’re reading the Organic Broadcaster, you no doubt know about the importance of this kind of patient change work, and you’ve likely been doing it longer than I’ve even been aware of it! Our challenge now is to define this work as the very essence of creating a “good business climate,” especially in the next four years.

I hope to see you next month at the MOSES Conference where we’ll explore ways to grow the belowground ecology of the organic and sustainable
farming movement.

Liz Carlisle is a teacher at Stanford University, and author of Lentil Underground. She will be the keynote speaker Saturday, Feb. 25 at the MOSES Conference.

 

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