Iowa Organic Conference combines farming, good food and environmentalism

2017 Iowa Organic Conference

University of Iowa Memorial Union — Sunday and Monday, Nov. 19-20

Photo by Zak Neumann

Organic farmers, experts and those interested in getting into organic production will gather on the University of Iowa campus this Sunday and Monday, Nov. 19-20, for the 17th annual Iowa Organic Conference.

The conference, hosted by the Iowa State University Organic Agriculture Program and the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, starts on Sunday night at 6 p.m. with a reception featuring local, organic food and drinks. The conference continues Monday with keynote speakers, lunch and breakout sessions throughout the day.

“One thing everyone always looks forward to is the lunch,” said George McCrory, UI Office of Sustainability communications specialist. “[UI executive] chef Barry Greenberg and his staff always prepare just a wonderful meal of organic food. We’ve locally sourced as much as we can.”

The office has been partnering with the ISU organic agriculture program since 2012 for the conference, McCrory said, calling it a great partnership and an opportunity to highlight local organic farmers and produce.

Organic farming has been increasing over the years, with an 11 percent increase in certified organic farms between 2015 and 2016, and a 23 percent increase in sales, from $6.2 billion to $7.6 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2016 certified organic survey.

Nationwide, there were over 14,000 certified organic farms in 2016. California led the pack with 2,713, but Iowa came in fifth with 732 farms.

Kathleen Delate, a professor and extension organic specialist in horticulture and agronomy at Iowa State, said many farmers first become interested in organic farming because of the higher prices paid for organic produce and livestock and then start to appreciate the environmental benefits. Organic corn prices were between $5 to $10 higher per bushel than conventional corn from 2011 through 2014, and prices for organic soybeans were $10 to $15 higher.

Delate said awareness of organic farming and products has grown in Iowa over the past few years.

“When I came here I was shocked at how little organic farming there was,” she said. “But now we’re the fifth largest in the country for the number of organic farms.”

Keynote speakers for the conference are Jeff Moyer, the executive director of the Rodale Institute, the first U.S. organic institute, and Nate Palm, a Grinnell College graduate and organic farmer in Montana. Delate said Palm, a “fireball of information and enthusiasm for organic farming,” will share tips for transitioning to or starting up an organic farm.

Some of the breakout sessions will feature local farmers, activists and legislators. Scott Koepke and John Boller of Grow Johnson County Farm, and Nathan Spalding of Food Corps will talk about community gardens. Local authors Brandi Janssen and Susan Futrell will lead a Local Foods Go Literary discussion. Iowa State Sens. Rob Hogg and Joe Bolkcom will lead a session about communicating the value of organic farming to legislators.

Tickets are $120, or $35 for students. Registration is still open and tickets can be purchased at the door.

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