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Farming at the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference
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The long awaited season of spring is here at last. The days are longer;
the birds are happily singing, and I have whole shelf of seedlings thriving
beautifully in my house waiting for those warm temperatures to arrive.
Every year I look forward to the growing season. I greatly enjoy the meditative
nature of gardening: growing seedlings, tending to the garden, harvesting,
and of course eating the rewards.
The Local Season is Here
The local season here at the Willy Street Co-op is also just around the
corner. The local farmers that grow food for all of us at the Co-op are
busily tending their seedlings and preparing for the long days of planting
ahead. Just a few weeks before the pace began to pick up for our local
farmers, the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference (UMOFC) took place
in La Crosse Wisconsin on February 26-28. This conference celebrated its
15th anniversary with attendance by over 1500 people (approximately 50
people attended 15 years ago) and 45 different workshops.
The Co-op was a sponsor of the UMOFC again this year, and sent six Co-op
staffers to the conference. I was one of the lucky ones who got to go.
The conference is a wonderful forum for sharing ideas, making new acquaintances
and fostering old relationships. One reason it’s important for us
to attend the conference is to become reacquainted with the issues that
face our farmers.
Many of the workshops focus on the very practical steps of farming: which
perennial crops to use, soil health, composting. Other workshops are geared
towards the larger issues like the Organic Food Production Act, or how
farmers can educate the public. The diversity of the classes helped me
to realize just how complex life is as a farmer. A farmer needs to know
crop rotation, soil health, how to market their produce, and still has
to work exhausting, long days in the sun tending crops. But on top of
all this, organic farmers also need to keep a finger on the pulse of the
politics surrounding organic movement. It’s a wonder that a farmer
has time for anything other than farming and I bet they begin to wonder
that very thing as the growing season picks up pace.
Yearly Farmer Meetings
Just before attending the UMOFC conference, I concluded the very last
of our farmer meetings for the winter. These meetings are held each winter
after the growing season with the goal to give some structure to next
year's growing season. Loretta conducted most of the meetings, and I conducted
the last few. Each farmer meeting takes an hour or two to complete and
in that space we decide which crops they will be growing for us, how much
we can sell and last we agree upon a price for their crops.
This year I am starting a new purchasing program with a few of our local
growers to streamline our promotion planning process and feature local
produce as sale items. I am beginning this program with just a few farmers
this year and hope to expand to as many farmers that are interested next
year. So, keep and eye out for specials starting as early as May from
Harmony Valley, Tipi Produce and Avalanche Organics.
While we’re talking specials I would like to rave about our April
specials. Yes, it’s still a bit too early to have anything local
on special but our wholesaler Roots and Fruits from Minneapolis is filling
in the void. This month we are featuring bulk California organic spring
mix for $3.99/lb, that’s a whole dollar off, folks! Organic kiwi
4 for $1.00 and 8.8 ounce organic strawberries are $2.49/ea. All are excellent
quality and very tasty!
We’re Here to Help!
Before I leave you to dash home and water my seedlings, I want to remind
all of our member owners that we have an excellent staff in the produce
department and to please ask questions of any one of us concerning your
produce purchases. If you’re interested in how the Valencia oranges
or the strawberries taste, just ask and you’ll get yourself a sample,
no problem. We have many reference books at our fingertips and they are
always a valuable resource we would love to share.
Well, I’m off to take care of some plants. I’ll see you all
around the produce department and HAPPY SPRING!!
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