The O'Brien Retort: "The Real Green Building Is Building The Soil!"

Women farmers are leading the way in the sustainable ag revolution, as the CS Monitor noted last week. I first wrote about this movement back in 2005, and met one of its leaders when we traveled to Iowa in 2007: Denise O'Brien (pictured right, with me), founder of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network. Denise is just back from the Midwest Organic Farming Conference, where the mother of all treehuggers, Vandana Shiva, was one of the keynote speakers. We're pleased to share this dispatch from Eating Liberally's favorite farminist:

Not many would understand that a weekend in Paradise could happen in La Crosse, Wisconsin. But what a weekend it was! I arrived in this northern Mississippi community on Thursday morning just before a bout of nasty weather hindered many on their trek to the Midwest Organic Farming Conference. This year was a celebration of twenty years, and what a wonderful celebration it was.

I went to my first conference in the mid 90s when it was held at Sinsinawa Mound Center, a former convent in the hills near Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. The convent and the people were magical then as now. Starting with ninety folks in 1990, this conference has grown to over 2600 participants. An incredible increase during those twenty years!

During the 90s I facilitated a couple of workshops on women in sustainable farming. I was very happy with an attendance of twenty five to thirty. This year there was a workshop, "See Jane Grow: A Celebration of Women Leading the Organic Agriculture Revolution" that I did not conduct but attended as a participant. What a shock when I walked in the room and there were over 150 women and men present! These folks were there to learn about policy, entrepreneurship, advocacy and to network.

My days spent at the conference helped renew and reenergize my mind, body and soul that were growing weary of the cold winter months. The highlights of the event were seeing old friends and meeting new ones, walking through the trade show to see the latest tools, seeds and resources and of course, the workshops and keynote speakers.

People were so alive and positive about the future. Folks were celebrating the appointment and were hopeful of the confirmation of Kathleen Merrigan as the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Many of us have worked with Kathleen over the years and know that she will bring wisdom and balance to the USDA.

Celebration was a key theme to this gathering. People have worked hard throughout the year and now take time to enjoy a few brews, listen and dance to fantastic music and discuss everything from growing and preparing food to nourishment for the earth – the medium in which we as farmers perform our work. Questions and answers abound in this convention center. How do we nurture those little creatures in the soil to help us grow crops that will feed and nourish people? How do we build a hoophouse to extend our ability to eat fresh, local food for a few months more of the year? How do we get the USDA to support us in our work as small, medium and large scale organic farmers?

I would be amiss if I did not mention that two keynote speakers blew us away. We started with Vandana Shiva , the goddess of organics. The words that I brought home with me were “the real green building is building the soil!”. Yes!

Dr. Shiva was followed by Dr. Alan Green. A couple of years ago I heard Dr. Green, a pediatrician, and was just as impressed by his presentation as I was this time. The title of his keynote of course endeared him to me – “Why Farmers Are My Heroes.”

I came away from this conference renewed and reenergized as I had hoped. I also came away with a new tool for weeding, a Cobrahead Weeding Tool, now I just need the ground to thaw to begin my spring work!