Jenny Moffitt, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, came to Montana this week. She wanted to celebrate how well organic farming is doing in the state and tell people about the help the federal government gives to organic farmers.
Moffitt and more than 60 other people visited Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade on Tuesday. They did a tour of the farm and talked about organic farming with farmers and leaders from all over Montana.
The talk was set up by Nate Powell-Palm, who speaks for the Montana Organic Association. He’s also an organic farmer. They talked about how a program called the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), run by the USDA, can help farmers who want to switch to organic farming. This national program is planning to give about $100 million over five years to groups like MOA that help farmers make the switch to organic farming.
Moffitt, the person from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said at the beginning of the discussion that they hope people will see organic farming as a very important part of American farming. They want people to know that choosing organic is a way to keep up with the times.
In the past, farmers believed they had to get very big or give up farming. But now, farmers have a different choice. They can make their products more valuable and create local markets for them.
The event on Tuesday was a way to show how much organic farming has grown over the years. It started as a small protest against using chemicals in farming and has become a successful and respected way of farming. Montana is the second-largest state in terms of organic farming, just behind California.
Nate Powell-Palm, who spoke for the Montana Organic Association, said he is happy and thankful for all the hard work that has been done to promote organic farming. He feels energized to keep working in the future.
During the panel discussions, they talked about how having experienced people help and teach new organic farmers is very important. They also talked about how to make sure farmers who switch to organic farming stay organic.
One big problem for organic farmers now is dealing with weeds that come back every year. Bindweed and thistle are two common weeds that make it hard for organic farms to grow crops. They also discussed how it’s even tougher for organic farms that don’t plow the soil.
They mentioned the idea of using natural methods to control weeds instead of chemicals, like the work being done by Kuvu Biosolutions in Bozeman and researchers from Montana State. They think this could be a big improvement.
Making sure that you grow different crops can also help you deal with weeds. Schmidt suggested that farmers should plan ahead and not grow the same crop in the same fields year after year.
New organic farmers can find it difficult to sell their products directly to customers and have local markets in a big state like Montana, Schmidt explained. The panelists agreed that having a variety of products, like Amaltheia raising goats and making cheese, along with growing vegetables, can help farmers sell to more people.
MOA vice chair Ty O’Connor, who is also an organic farmer, said it plainly: “Be diverse so that you can keep going.”
O’Connor also said that while it’s important to talk about the challenges that farmers face today, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to switching to organic farming. He mentioned that every farmer is different, and that’s what makes the transition harder. There’s no step-by-step guide for organic farming.
Under Secretary Moffitt said that’s why it’s so valuable to have local mentorship programs. It’s important to have someone in your community who grows the same crops and can help you when you have a problem. They can share their experiences and advice with you, which is really helpful.
Many of the stories shared on Friday had a common theme for why people switch to organic farming – for these farmers, it’s the only choice.
Tracey Dion, who is a farmer and the MOA chair, explained that her family’s regular sugar beet farm in Terry had made the soil very poor, almost like just plain dirt. The best way to make the soil healthy again was to switch to organic farming.
Bob Quinn, who is also an organic farmer in Big Sandy and wrote a book called “Grain by Grain,” agreed with that idea. He said, “I think organic farming is the only way that makes sense for the future.”
However, Moffitt, the person from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that both organic and regular farming should exist together. Instead of making one seem bad and the other good, what’s really important is that farmers have the freedom to choose how they want to grow food.
Nate Powell-Palm, who organized the event, said that it went even better than he expected. Some farmers traveled more than six hours just to attend. He mentioned how connected the organic farming community is in the state. When they need to gather for a cause, many farmers can come together quickly, showing that to make a change, everyone needs to work together.News