Organic Broadcaster

MOSES leader shares organic message in China

By John Mesko, MOSES

MOSES Executive Director John Mesko participates on a panel at the World Conference on Science Literacy in Beijing.

Relationships. If you think about it, not much happens in life outside of important relationships. Recently, I had a chance to travel to Beijing, China, to speak to several audiences about the work we are doing at MOSES to help farmers start and grow organic farm businesses. The opportunity came my way mainly due to my relationship to MOSES as its executive director but also the relationships I’ve had with several other organizations that share our good work.

The China invitation came via Tianle Chang, who visited our family’s farm in 2015 to see what we were doing to build soil health through high density livestock grazing. Tianle had learned of our farm from Jim Harkness, who I knew through his work with the Institute for Ag and Trade Policy. I met Tianle again in 2017 when she and Jim orchestrated a Chinese delegation to attend the 2017 MOSES Organic Farming Conference. Then, earlier this year, when one of her colleagues asked for a recommendation for a speaker to address sustainable agriculture issues, she recommended me. Life is tied together with relationships.

Through this experience, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the past 30 years of successful education, advocacy, and networking at MOSES. Given the high visibility in China of efforts like this to bring people together from around the world, it’s clear that our work is meaningful and applicable way beyond the Upper Midwest.

Conference Message
New leadership in China is seeking to establish that country as a global thought leader in many areas. Beijing has been host to several large conferences designed to pull the global community together around a central issue to learn, network, and advance new initiatives both in China and around the world. The conference at which I was invited to speak was the “World Conference on Science Literacy,” with over 1500 attendees.

The conference format was similar to those in the U.S., with keynote presentations covering broad topics and calling for sweeping changes, and breakout discussions on subtopics. In the keynote messages, a common theme was expanding science literacy to all human beings regardless of where they live, including women and girls especially. In an extension of that theme, multiple keynote speakers addressed the importance of the “average” person engaging in science education, both as a learner and as an educator.

Sir Martyn Poliakoff from the UK specifically addressed this as he challenged the audience to engage all levels of interest, the true experts, the “rock star” scientists (those who are known for being famous rather than their scientific accomplishments), formal science teachers, and the layperson who has an interest in and is affected by science and its application. He highlighted that we all can be scientists and educators, but the extent to which most people can make an impact is related to how they view themselves and their belief they can have an impact. He called for the world to value its teachers more.

This is where MOSES, and the discussion of our work with farmers comes into the global conversation. The types of education we offer to our community span all of those levels of interest. At the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, we host experts in the fields of soil science, horticulture, agronomy, animal science, and agricultural economics, who can share with us the latest developments in those areas relative to our goal of advancing organic farming practices. We also host well-known speakers who can inspire us with the understanding of how our brand of agriculture can change the world. We engage young people and their teachers, as dozens of high school FFA programs and college and university student farm groups attend our event every year.

At the core of our work is the farmer-to-farmer interaction where farmers not only share knowledge of specific solutions in organic agriculture, but also build community for networking and collaboration. I agree with Sir Martyn that we need to value our teachers more, and I’d say that includes farmers, the original scientists of the soil. Individual farmers are the most creative minds I know. At MOSES, we need to continue to elevate the voices and wisdom of farmers.

I was struck by many similarities between the U.S. and China regarding organic and sustainable agriculture. I met several small- and mid-sized farmers who are struggling to establish markets, and maintain economic viability at a modest scale. Although land ownership structure is different in China, access to farmland for beginning farmers is as much an issue there as it is here, as there are many in China who are turning to local food production as a second or side career.

I found the farmers I met with eager to learn, but especially eager to make connections. Preconceived notions of the relative freedom in a Communist country led to my shocked surprise when I learned about the growing agritourism industry in China. One farmer I met lost access to the land she was using for hog production due to her father’s death. A fantastic entrepreneur, she quickly focused her operation on agritourism, leveraging her proximity to Beijing. She also leveraged the CSA model she was using for marketing her pork and other crops to make major renovations to her small village home, adding 10 bed/bathrooms, and creating a beautiful space for weekend guests looking to get out of the crowded city for a respite.

Global Impact
For 30 years, MOSES has been creating a network of over 20,000 organic farmers, experts, consumers and advocates who have attended at least one MOSES Organic Farming Conference. This community has been at the forefront of the massive growth of organics in the U.S.

As the global farming community moves organic forward, we need to export and adapt the models we’ve developed at MOSES and within our extended community. If Communist China sees the need for reaching out for help in this, think of the needs of the developing world.

The MOSES Conference draws people from around the world, including China, and will continue to do so. But, our community also needs to send people and content in the other direction.

I’ve been in conversation with several other individuals and organizations on how we can take organic farming experts to places like China that are hungry for models and assistance in moving their organic visions forward. There’s no lack of willingness, for sure, but there is a need for resources and plans for bringing this about. If you would like to be involved in making this cultural exchange possible, contact me at

John Mesko is the executive director of MOSES.



From the November | December 2018 Issue

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