Women. Young. Older. Farmers. Everywhere.

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February 23: A sea of sustainability, a pool of poets

The poetry slam session was well underway when I gathered up my coat and quietly made my way out of the ballroom. It had been a long day and I was bushed. Too bad, cause I really like this form of combative poetry. When my daughter was heavily into it a few years back, I spent many an evening in Twin Cities’ book stores and small bars cheering on 20-somethings duking it out in 3-minute spurts of passion in rhyme.

But not tonight. My head was buzzing. I’d driven three hours from Clear Lake, Wisconsin south to La Crosse for the MOSES Annual Conference. I hit the city and immediately participated in four-hour meeting with women farmers from all across the Midwest. It was a terrific session and I feel like I’ve knocked back five cups of double-espresso.

It feels wonderful – but startling – when you find yourself in a place where you are no longer “the other.” It takes a bit of time to acclimate myself to a room filled with people who don’t ask you to justify my passion for farming and food and family and the smell of warm earth and the jostle of healthy livestock. I find that I have to make myself relax from my usual stance of defense or self-promotion. I have to reset my perspective and responses.

Today, I was able to sit in the company of 50 or 60 women gathered because we love what we do and we want to be better at it. Some raise and market cut flowers, many operate organic dairies, others have flocks of chickens or herds of goats. Some ride tractors in fields of grain, or harvest thousands of pounds of veggies. Some specialize in winter – yes winter – CSAs. Many of us are very interested in agritourism. We want people to come and visit!

We sat together and drank up lessons from New Mexico and Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We asked questions and shared worries. A baby gurgled happily at the back of the room.

Lots of us are 50+, others are in their 20s and 30s. Thank goodness. Several in the room said they farm on their own. More of us farm with family.

And, I’ve got to admit that I love the fashion spectrum. Colorful scarves paired with fleece vests and worn jeans. Dangly earrings, pixie haircuts, long curlly masses and high-fashion eye shadow, fresh faces, short nails and strong hands. High-heeled boots, running shoes, Crocs, pull-on suede short boots.

I’m tired. Time to take off my sparkly bracelet and pearl earrings. (I worked my Minnneapolis organic garden for 20+ yrs while wearing pearls. I’m not about to stop now that I’m raising grass-fed beef in Wisconsin.)

Time to get some rest. Time to let my sleeping brain deal with all the sounds and ideas and energy of the afternoon. Two more days of the MOSES Annual Conference to go!

February 24: And the winner is…

You – because of organic farmers

A seasoned extension agent is on my left. Th young woman on my right is attending the MOSES conference for the first time. Flurries drift sideways outside the wall of windows at the back of this large ballroom. Every seat is filled, dozens more sit along the walls. At the front, on stage, Susan and Francis Thicke, organic dairy farmers in Fairfield, Iowa are being recognized for the contributions they’ve made over the years. They market the milk and cheese from 90 Jersey cows at their Radiance Dairy. More than that, they contribute their time to and lessons with the larger sustainable grower community, their business community and food lovers at large.

Congrats to these MOSES 2012 Organic Farmers of the Year.

The morning’s keynoter, Margaret Krome, has begun her presentation. Policy Program Dir for Michael Fields Ag Institute, East Troy, WI, she says she’s going to talk about the “farmers’ stories.”

More to come.

80 farmers who want to bring you the best organic meats

“Parasite-resistant sheep,” called out a woman farmer. “How to boost CLA and Omega-3 levels,” said the fellow to my right. “Preventing bloat,” came the suggestion from the front of the room.

Doug Gunnink, soil and forage specialist from MN had asked the 80 farmers in the room what they want him to focus on for the next hour. We’re in the first workshop on the first day of the MOSES conf. 3,000 farmers from across the Midwest and country have registered for this annual meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin. MOSES is the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services, headquartered in Wisconsin. Over the last 20+ years, this meeting has grown to be the larges of its kind in the country.

“Rumen development,” said someone behind me. “Grazing management for diff types of beef.” “Liver fluke,” said the young farmer from northern MN.”

I just got a handout of the slide presentation. Ah, a picture of the cow’s four-chambered stomach. The largest lobe is called the rumen, a place that stores huge amounts of coarse storage for one to two days. Microbes work on it, and when digested enough, the food moves to the other, smaller chambers for complete digestion.

The challenge: how to get the right stuff to happen in the rumen – because when the cow’s stomach works well, it’s healthy, happy, and gains weight well. And that means great beef. Works the same for other ruminants: sheep, goats, deer, buffalo.

It’s a bit like magic: the grasses feed the microbes in the rumen which break down the fibers into fatty acids: proteins. It is these proteins that feed my grass-fed cattle. So what I want to do is feed the microbes well. What matters is the quality of my grasses. Microbes need structural carbohydrates – high quality grasses, legumes and herbs.

That means I need to be a better grass farmer so that I can be a better sustainable cattle farmer, so that you can get the very best meats possible.

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