Last month, I attended the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the largest such gathering in the U.S., with thousands of people in attendance. I was very thankful to have a media press pass compliments of their organization to explore the ins and outs of all the 3 day conference had to offer.
My overall experience was quite a good one! I was really impressed, and my first impression was that the crowd was generally younger, very kind and passionate, and full of people who care. There was a lot of information catered to small, beginning farmers. I found a majority of the info presented at the trade show was based in science, with a lot of great facts on farm production or poster boards featuring studies.
I must admit: It’s not really what I was expecting, and I was a little nervous to attend. I’ve been saying for years that I have absolutely nothing against organic farming but that I do have something against the misleading claims behind activist-funded falsified information of organic food corporations and many organic nonprofits. Since I’ve been fighting against this misinformation for years, I was expecting the conference to take an overall undertone of anti-GMO or anti-conventional farming methods, but found that misinformation and negativity toward that was only a very small fraction of the conference and that a majority of people were not paying any attention to what the activist groups were saying.
I learned that a lot of organic farmers have the same frustrations as us non-organic farmers. In a food labeling discussion breakout led by Organic Valley, I heard several folks voice their frustrations with the fact that they think we are labeling consumers to death; that a lot of food labels are meaningless; that there was concern if people even trust the organic label anymore. Some farmers explained that they don’t even feel that the cost and paperwork associated with organic certification is even worth it anymore since consumers are losing faith in the label. Is organic “organic enough?” Or do they need more labels like regenerative?
“Labels are meaningless! Consumers are confused! What’s next … made with LOVE?!,” said one organic farmer.
I don’t disagree with them. Could the labeling movement be killing their labeling movements?
It’s no secret I’m not a fan or Organic Valley’s marketing tactics of using fear and misinformation to try and sell their products. They’ve been heavily ridiculed and called out for misleading people. Are they listening to their customers? Or doubling down and hurting their own cause? I did meet several Organic Valley employees and thought they were very nice. Hopefully they can listen to people like me who explain that there are better ways to market their products. (Their “Save the Bros” campaign was hilarious!)
I did have to call out Organic Valley and one other organization for saying organic meant pesticide-free. It certainly does not, so how can they expect to build consumer trust when Statement No. 1 about organic is a point blank lie? There were several booths selling organic-approved pesticides and livestock medicines right there at the trade show. I mean, c’mon! Organic pesticides are right there in front of you!
There were a lot of people proud of the fact they farm without pesticides, but they were all very small-scale farmers. It is much easier to farm without the use of pesticides when you can walk a couple acres and pull weeds and pick bugs off by hand. Non-organic farmers can also farm without pesticides, just like larger scale needs to manage problems with chemicals regardless of being organic or not. Economies of scale make a big impact on farm management no doubt.
Two other points worthy of mention:
1. I attended an AGvocate women’s circle to talk about agricultural advocacy, which really is my forté. I felt it was a great, uplifting discussion where the ladies truly listened to one another, and we further bridged the “us vs. them” divide. Yes, sometimes we as GMO farmers feel attacked. Yes, we are people, too. Yes, any farmer can be great regardless of farm size or label. This was a great, successful discussion.
2. Have you heard of the pesticide study by “Friends of the Earth?” They try to say that switching to an organic food diet reduces pesticide exposures, yet they didn’t study for any pesticides used in organic farming. Residues measured were in parts per billion or smaller, so the fearmongering behind the study really isn’t warranted. Several people spoke out about intellectual honesty, where consumers don’t deserve to fear their food if the extremely minuscule amounts detected pose no harm to human health. Although their study was one of the first things you saw when entering the conference, no one was manning the booth and only about 20 people showed up to their breakout session about it. It seems as though they weren’t garnering much attention with it and that a majority of people I spoke to at the conference had never even heard of activist groups such as Friends of the Earth International, Moms Across America, US Right to Know, etc.
Aside from the small activist groups, one of my favorite parts of the conference was the conversation I had with a third-party organic certifying agency called MOSA, with a woman named Kristen. She led a great breakout session all about what it takes to get certified, and it was such an eye opener. The amount of money, time, record keeping, etc. that goes into getting certified is crazy! It makes me have a much better appreciation for the farmers who head the organic route; it is a lot of extra work, especially with regards to the administrative side of farming.
While my overall impression of the conference was a good one, there were parts that made me sad. It’s sad that organic farmers put so much time and effort into their farming methods to try and do the right thing, while organic food corporations such as Organic Valley, Stonyfield, and Whole Foods continue to use misinformation to sell, which ultimately undermines the whole movement. It’s kinda like the PETA of the vegan movement, IMO. A lot of vegans are well-intentioned but dislike the extremists that do more harm than good to their messaging. Overall, I have a much greater appreciation of organic but feel the information that major stakeholders present should be based on truth in advertising, where they don’t falsely demonize non-organic farming practices. We all need to work together toward real solutions, while bridging the “us vs. them” divide.
Any farmer, regardless of size and label, can do a great job, and it takes all kinds. Let all move forward together, learn from one another, and celebrate our uplifting agricultural victories. Together.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.