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Published March 10, 2014, 09:43 AM

Fraternity of farming

The four Podolls were named 2014 Organic Farmers of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, or MOSES, a prominent nonprofit organization based in Spring Valley, Wis. Nearly 3,400 people attended the organization’s recent annual convention.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

When Theresa Podoll began in organic farming 30 years ago, its practitioners were few and far between. Its ranks have grown since then, but the sense of purpose and community remains strong, she says.

“The success our farm has had wouldn’t be possible without the community of sharing and learning and knowledge,” she says.

Theresa and her husband Dan, along with David Podoll and his wife Ginger Podoll (Dan and David are brothers), operate Prairie Road Organic Farm and Seed in Fullerton, N.D. Their business raises small grains and 27 varieties of vegetable and herb seeds, all designed to thrive in the Upper Midwest. The varieties include “Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert” winter squash, which was bred by David Podoll.

The four Podolls were named 2014 Organic Farmers of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, or MOSES, a prominent nonprofit organization based in Spring Valley, Wis. Nearly 3,400 people attended the organization’s recent annual convention.

MOSES received 13 nominations for the award. The Podolls were selected because of their innovation and openness to working with other organic producers, Faye Jones, executive director of MOSES, tells Agweek.

For instance, the Podolls are founding members of the Northern Plains Farm Breeding Club. The organization brings farmers together to share knowledge and seed stock for seed saving, crop breeding and fellowship.

Interest in organic agriculture continues to grow, and the MOSES convention received nationwide attention, Jones says.

Interest in the “good-food movement,” which is broader than organic agriculture, is growing, too, she says.

Sharing knowledge

Theresa Podoll talked with Agweek after returning home from the MOSES convention, where family members received their award Feb. 28. She has attended the annual convention many times, and says its growing popularity is another sign of greater interest in organic agriculture.

The Podoll farm was certified organic in 1977. Theresa Podoll married into the operation in 1984.

Since then, as interest in organic farming has grown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant universities have provided a growing amount of research and support geared for organic producers, she says.

Thirty years ago, however, when “organic producers were much fewer and farther between, there was a lot of trial and error,” as producers searched for answers on their own.

That encouraged producers to share what they learned, a practice that has continued, she says.

Organic agriculture has always stressed crop diversity, in part, as a way to control weeds.

Increasing herbicide resistance also has conventional agricultural experts stressing the need for crop diversity.

Organic agriculture “really does provide an alternative to high-input weed control systems,” Podoll says.

Making the switch

Becoming a USDA certified organic farm is a lengthy process, one that that can discourage some would-be organic farmers.

Podoll says certification “makes you think through your farm plan in a way that you otherwise might not do.”

Organic agriculture involves “substituting creative management energy for a lot of inputs you might otherwise purchase,” she says. “It’s proactive in terms of preventing problems, rather than addressing them after the fact.”

Making the switch is rewarding, she says.

“I’ve heard organic farmers say that farming is fun again. They also say there’s a real sense of community and support,” she says.

Perhaps the gratifying aspect of organic ag is its connection to nature. “We want to part of nature, not apart from her,” Podoll says.

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