Going Organic

Cindy Conway on Wellness Wednesday today on WNRB was talking about organic dairy farming, among other things. It seems to me, as I have stated before, that organic and sustainable farming practices are pretty much the only thing that can save local, small scale agriculture.

Organics are a value added product and although it might be possible to "factory farm" in some kind of sustainable way, organic production methods lend themselves to smaller scale operations and the higher income from organics can support smaller operations. There are several tremendous hurdles for farmers who want to go organic though.

The biggest hurdle and one we as a community need to work on is the waiting period. For a dairy operation, the farm must be operated organically for 3 years before it can be certified organic. What this means is that the farmer is operating organically, and probably sustaining lower yields — but cannot yet charge the higher organic price. Ouch. This is a bit like hand making furniture but only being able to sell it at the X-Mart "furniture in a box" price.

The chamber of commerce types, extension types, farm bureau types and we the consumers and community need to find a way to support farmers that are making the transition to organic farming techniques.

One way would be to create a middle level of certification for farmers who are using organic practices, but have not yet completed their waiting period. Perhaps "Certified Sustainable" or "Organic Pending" could alert consumers that the farm products justify a higher price than "ordinary" produce. This would help level out the farmers income and encourage more farmers to go organic. Two other possibilities are strong support for farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture. Moonshadow Farm is already certified organic, but it is easy to imagine a CSA offering "sustainable" produce, herbs and such while they were in the process of getting certified.

There is quite a bit of good help for farmers wanting to go organic on the web. Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service is located in Lacrosse and their page is chockful of publications, links and ideas for farmers and consumers. If you are farming or know someone who is and is looking for new ideas, you might want to pass along the "Help Wanted: Organic Farmers" packet that MOSES has put together.

Remember to be sure to support local agriculture at the Farmers Market in Wausau on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Or when the season finally rolls around, head Downtown.

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One response to “Going Organic

  1. It seems to me that we need to push initiates like the Dairyland State Academy (http://marathon.uwex.edu/ag/index.html) as a local resource for helping small farmers go organic or some form of sustainable (e.g. grass-fed, humaine, etc.). A living, breathing farm that teaches profitable small-scale farming to the current and next generation would be a valuable asset to the biggest dairy county in the country (Marathon). It would be especially valuable if it focused on value-added enterprises that took an amazing local commodity and created farmstead butter, small-batch cheese or something along those lines.

    I read an article about this proposed program a while back, but haven’t heard anything since. It seems that teaching the ‘old’ conventional model will lead future farmers down the same path of difficulty and ultimately despair as previous generations, and who wants to see more small farms disappear?

    I know that the folks at GrassWorks (www.grassworks.org) are blazing a similar trail for the grazers out there and it would be great to get more funding behind similar and complimentary movements in the area. It can be done. These are four of the leaders of the proposed Dairyland State Accademy – does anyone out there know these folks and can pass on the idea as an insider/friend/peer?

    Robert Prahl, Granite Vu Farm
    Chair, Dairyland State Academy Task Force

    Tim Buttke, M&I Bank
    Chair, Partnership for Progressive Ag

    Jackie Matthiae, Agribusiness Director
    Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce

    Eric G. Hurley, Agriculture Instructor
    Northcentral Technical College

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