The Minnesota Organic Conference will look a lot different this year.

The 18th annual conference, hosted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is the only statewide conference on organic agriculture. There are around 1,000 organic farms in Minnesota, serving both domestic and international consumers.

Cassie Dahl, organic agriculture specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said the registration process for the conference just got underway, but the department is already starting to see registration forms roll in.

"Typically we have this conference in person and usually have over 500 attendees," Dahl said.

On a normal year, the MDA would offer 36 different sessions, an 80-vendor trade show and two keynote addresses.

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This year's conference will have a different format, with virtual sessions happening each Thursday in January. Interested individuals can either pay $10 for a session or $30 for all four sessions. All virtual sessions will begin at 3 p.m., and provide farmers and others interested in organic agriculture the opportunity to learn more about the organic farming industry.

"We decided this year to do an event that had four keynote presentations, on more big, overarching topics," Dahl said.

The first session on Jan. 7 titled "Back to the Future: Regenerative-Organic Food Production for Good Health," will be hosted by Bob Quinn, an organic farmer and author.

Dahl described Quinn as a "passionate organic farmer" from Montana who served on the original National Organic Standards Board. Quinn co-authored the book Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food with Liz Carlisle, which was published in 2019.

"(The book) summarizes Quinn's philosophy of the tie between agriculture, food and health," Dahl said.

According to Quinn's website, he founded the company Montana Flour & Grains, which reintroduced an ancient Egyptian wheat called khorasan in 1986. The grain was marketed under his own brand name, KAMUT®, and through the trademark Quinn has been able to preserve the ancient grain and guarantee that it's not genetically modified or altered.

On Jan. 14, Silvia Abel-Caines will present the session "Connecting Soil, Animal, and Human Health." Abel-Caines is a ruminant nutritionist for Organic Valley.

"She has collaborated on dairy calf management and milk fatty acid profile research, and is a certified grazing planner," Dahl said of Abel-Caines. "She uses her experience and education to demonstrate the link between soil health, plant biodiversity, animal health and nutrient dense food."

The session "Challenges of Our Times: Climate Change, COVID, and Organic Farm Viability" will be held on Jan. 21, and feature a panel of three distinguished individuals in the organic industry.

Carolyn Dimitri, applied economist at New York University is "widely recognized as the leading U.S. expert in the procurement and marketing of organic food", said Dahl. Cristel Zoebisch is a climate policy associate with the Organic Farming Research Foundation, focused on the role of organic agriculture addressing climate change. And Andy Pressman, an organic farmer in New Hampshire, works with farmers on farm planning, small-scale farming systems, organic crop certification, urban agriculture and community food systems with the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

The final session of the Minnesota Organic Conference, "Soil Health on Organic Farms," will be held on Jan. 28. The presenter of that session will be Amber Sciligo, associate director and science program manager of The Organic Center.

"Sciligo works closely with researchers, industry, farmers and policy makers to identify organic research needs," Dahl said.

To register and for more information, including the conference schedule and updates, visit Minnesota Organic Conference or call Dahl at 651-201-6134.