Organic Broadcaster

Dancers learn the steps at the Friday night square dance. Photo by Laurie Schneider

Collaboration, connections key to successful 2019 MOSES Conference

By Audrey Alwell

Sandwiched between snowstorms, the 30th Annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference brought over 2,800 people to La Crosse, Wis., to share ideas, discover new resources, and make connections to improve the success of their farms or businesses.

“MOSES lights a spark in me every year that reinforces I am on the right career path,” said Hana Tanberg of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota. “I believe in organic and farms that value our earth, and realize that we need to do a heck of a lot collaborating if we are ever going to compete with the machine.”

Collaboration was evident not only in the workshop presentations, but also in the conversations throughout the dining and exhibit halls. It also showed in the list of sponsors of the conference.

Patagonia brought its new line of hemp workwear for people to try on. Photo by Laurie Schneider

“We have an outstanding group of longtime sponsors who are the backbone of this conference,” said Tom Manley, MOSES Account Services Coordinator. “The financial and food support we receive from Organic Valley is crucial. Sitka Salmon returned to help us with an awesome dinner on Friday, and Blue River Organic Seed continued their consistent support. We also had several new companies—Patagonia, Kubota, and Valent, to name a few—join us to showcase their shared values. We couldn’t put on an event of this size without that kind of support, and I want to thank all of our sponsors for all that they do to help us host this community. We can all thank them by looking to them first for the products and services we all need to grow successfully.” Links to all the sponsors are online at

At the Conference Kick-Off, David Perkins, MOSES board president, presented the Organic Farmer of the Year Award to Jim Riddle and Joyce Ford of Blue Fruit Farm in Winona, Minn. These pioneering farmers have had a “profound impact on organic agriculture, not just as farmers, but also as educators, policy advocates, and advisers,” Perkins said. “They have worked at local, state, and national levels to promote organic agriculture, and helped shape the country’s founding organic standards in the 1990s. In essence, they’ve been front and center in nearly every aspect of the organic world.”

Riddle and Ford shared their farm story and highlights from their years of travel and work to promote organic farming, interspersed with wise advice to the next generation of organic farmers.

“Be empowered to experiment on your own farms,” Ford said. “Be involved in organic organizations­—we really need you.”

Riddle offered similar advice when he spoke as part of the Friday keynote panel, “Upholding the Legacy.” He encouraged young farmers to be engaged in policy as well as farming and to pay attention to what the organic label means.

“There aren’t a lot of industries that go to D.C. and say, ‘please regulate us,’ but we did,” he said as he explained how the growing organic community in the 1980s sought uniform national standards and a unified organic label. “Stay true to our roots, and continue to own this word!”

Elders in the organic movement talk about the early years in organics and the start of the MOSES Conference. Photo by Laurie Schneider

The keynote panel, moderated by MOSES board member Sylvia Burgos Toftness, featured five people, in addition to Riddle, who have had major roles in the organic movement: George Siemon, Audrey Arner, Francis Thicke, Faye Jones, and Atina Diffley. They shared insights from the years they worked to expand organics and helped a new generation of farmers understand what went into creating the organic label and the MOSES Conference.

When Atina Diffley explained how she and her husband, Martin, started Gardens of Eagan in Minnesota, she emphasized how much they learned by sharing information with other farmers, adding, “that’s why we’re all here today [at the MOSES Conference]. We don’t see this in other parts of agriculture; we don’t see this in other parts of our American culture, this concept of sharing knowledge and that we’re all in this together.”

Audrey Arner picked up on that theme, saying the MOSES Conference was first organized because organic farmers were “so yearning for the sharing of information that was not available in the conventional farm information networks.”

The panelists shared personal stories of how they created change through their farms and in their communities. They encouraged the audience to carry the movement forward.

“Step out of your comfort zone,” Faye Jones said. “Make phone calls. Develop a relationship with your representatives… Because we aren’t going to really effect the kind of change we all want, we all believe in, unless more people step up.”

The speakers for the Saturday keynote each have stepped up in their own way to encourage organic farming. Dayna Burtness Nguyen shared how she and her husband, Nick, are paying it forward by launching an incubator farm on their property to help two beginning farmers get started. Dairy farmer Danny Borgerding put a drop of food coloring in a MOSES Conference mug to illustrate how one person can have an impact, especially when “we shake things up a bit.” Micro-farmer Alicia Razvi explained how her husband’s battle with cancer launched her into organic gardening and then into sharing what she grew through CSA, and also into a community through participation in Wisconsin Farmers Union, where she’s now her district director.

The Organic Farmer of the Year presentation and conference keynotes are on the MOSES YouTube channel at

Hannah Phillips from the University of Minnesota shows off her first place research poster. Photo by Laurie Schneider

The MOSES Conference includes the Organic Research Forum and a juried poster session. This year’s winner is Hannah Philips from the University of Minnesota with her research on using chickens to reduce flies in organic dairy pastures. Claire Flavin Hodge, also from the University of Minnesota, took second place, and Dylan Bruce from the University of Wisconsin took third place.

The conference provided the chance to remember long-time conference planner and presenter Chris Blanchard, who passed away late last year. His memorial scholarship has collected over $10,000 to send farmers to the annual MOSES Conference. Additional donations can be made at

Audio recordings of conference workshops are available at—the MOSES online store. The MP3 downloads are $5 each. The complete set of workshop recordings comes on a USB drive for $75. This year, many presenters also shared their PowerPoints, making the audio recordings even more informative. The PowerPoints are posted online at

The MOSES Organic Farming Conference will return to La Crosse Feb. 27-29, 2020. If you have suggestions for workshops or presenters, submit those online at


Audrey Alwell is the Communications Director for MOSES.


From the March | April 2019 Issue

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