The annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held for the first time in Iowa City, with a new report providing the backdrop on the status of Iowa’s organic farms.
“Iowa City has a strong tradition of support for organic foods,” said Kathleen Delate, an Iowa State University agronomy and horticulture professor and a conference organizer.
The conference has been held in Des Moines and Ames since it began 12 years ago, Delate said, with 300 people expected to attend this year’s event Nov. 18 and 19 at the Iowa Memorial Union.
The conference includes an all-organic lunch made with products from area farmers and some of the produce grown by UI and ISU students.
Iowa’s organic farms are faring well, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The report shows the state had $60.7 million in organic sales in 2011, representing 2 percent of the nation’s total.
Iowa ranks fifth in the number of certified organic farms in the U.S., with 467 farms covering 81,634 total acres. California leads in both organic sales and numbers of farms.
The report is the first of its kind to focus solely on organic production, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey noted.
Other highlights from the report included:
That organic label is not as important as having local foods available, said Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power LLC, a not-for-profit center for urban agriculture training and community food systems.
Allen, who joined first lady Michelle Obama in the launch of her “Let’s Move” campaign and was one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010, will be the morning’s keynote speaker at the Iowa Organic Conference.
The afternoon keynote speaker, Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center Distinguished Fellow and an organic farmer, will discuss how organic principles can address a future with oil concerns, rising fuel prices and limits on fertilizer supplies.
Both Allen and Kirschenmann in 2011 received the Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation, which honors pioneers who have inspired positive action to improve the country’s food systems.
The son of a sharecropper and a former professional basketball player, Allen founded Growing Power in Milwaukee in 1993, with satellite locations now in Chicago and Madison, Wis.
Allen said urban agriculture offers solutions for the nation’s economy and work force, as well as the health of Americans.
Growing Power has grown to 140 employees since it began, he noted.
The majority of the farms are on 5-acre urban lots with 35 hoophouses that allow food to be grown year-round, Allen said.
Most important in that production is having healthy soil, he said, which is accomplished with an extensive composting program that also heats the hoophouses.
The produce is sold at inner-city vegetable stands to hospitals, schools, restaurants and many other venues.
“We’re able to get our food out to everybody,” Allen said.
The produce is grown organically, but doesn’t carry the certification label, which doesn’t exist for greenhouse production, he said.
Prices are the same as conventionally grown food.
“Organic prices are over-inflated,” Allen said of much of the organic food sold at grocery stores. “It doesn’t cost $4 to grow a tomato.”
Other conference speakers will address strategies for dealing with drought, local food systems, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, certification cost-share programs, alternative grain crops, cover crops, organic food research and more.
Farmers will offer tips for best practices during the transition to organic farming, and ISU’s Delate will discuss data from the 15-year-old Long Term Agroecological Research project, a comparison of organic and conventional crop rotations.
What: 12th Annual Iowa Organic Conference
When: Begins 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, with a reception and showing of the documentary “Symphony of the Soil.” A full-day program of speakers, workshops and exhibits continues at 8 a.m., Monday, Nov. 19.
Where: Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City.
Cost: $125 includes lunch and parking.
For more information: iowaorganicconference.eventbrite.com/#