The MOSES 2022 Organic Farming Conference planning process that engaged production-based Grower/Affinity Groups of farmers to identify content and potential speakers (43 of the 60 sessions and roundtables were created through this process), we see more deeply engaging these groups on site in a day-long convergence that relies on Open Space Technology as a way of organizing farmers while also providing content that is most relevant and current. To effectively achieve this with close to 14 farmer groups, funding will provide training to both Agricultural Professionals and farmer leaders that covers both popular education pedagogy and Open Space Technology meeting facilitation. Utilization of this training and pedagogical philosophy would extend beyond the convergence day (which would be a day of praxis and reflection for the trained Agricultural professionals) and into ongoing work with farmer groups in communities across the North Central Region.
Current Grower/Affinity groups will be invited to attend and expand their numbers with minimal registration fees to cover the cost of food only and ensure attendees have a perception of value while keeping the cost low and affordable. We are estimating that each of the 10-14 groups will have 40-60 farmers for an anticipated total attendance of 600 farmers. A recent gathering of poultry producers where MOSES supported event registration and logistics, had 80 attendees. These producers form a pastured poultry Affinity group and are planning to join the convergence day in 2023 and beyond.
Project objectives from proposal:
Training for Agriculture Professionals and farmer leaders: A training will be developed that addresses both the key principles of Popular Education, drawing from the work of Paolo Friere and Jane Vella as well as Open Space Technology Facilitator training and the link between the philosophy and practice of both. We estimate training at least 60 Ag professionals and 20 farmer leaders. Farmer leaders will be recruited from the MOSES Farmer Advancement Project that serves beginning farmers with an additional focus on socially disadvantaged farmers. Each year we pair an average of 24 farmers with mentors and the project also employs five organic farmer specialists from historically underserved communities. Farmer leaders will also be recruited from the Ag Solidarity Network Affinity Group moderators.
Ongoing Support for self-governance and coordination of effort through self-governance, self-directed learning models: The Ag Solidarity Network and the Convergence Day will strengthen current communities of practice while cultivating new ones. An anticipated conversation at the Convergence Day will be ongoing efforts to build a more just food and farming system. Each Grower Affinity Group might approach this differently or have different needs. Each of these approaches will be documented with lessons learned. Currently the Grower Affinity Groups are centered in the North Central Region, but the Ag Solidarity Network Platform and App enables farmers to connect across the country and across regions. Moderated groups on the Ag Solidarity Network will increase in membership and number by 50% during the project time period.
Increased farmer engagement in cross-cutting farm enterprise issues that include policy, infrastructure, and market solutions: The Convergence Day and the Ag Solidarity Network both create structures for farmer engagement in issues beyond production. Organizationally we are attempting to address issues around land access, farmer equity and credit, climate smart farming and organic integrity. These issues go beyond production type and on-farm organic systems. Gathering in community, whether in person or online, with moderation and facilitation, will build energy for addressing these larger systemic issues related to farm viability and healthy communities. At least 9 farmer leaders will moderate groups on the Ag Solidarity Network. In addition, the farmer facing organizations that came together to design the platform will also continue to engage their farmer memberships. These include Fairshare, Organic Farmers Association, Artisan Grain Collaborative, and OGRAIN at University of Wisconsin.
Convergence Days for Grower Affinity groups: This project will create a model for hosting Farmer Led Convergence Days. Hosting the Convergence Day within the popular, annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference will ensure participation while creating a more affordable access as well. We anticipate close to 800 farmers by the second year of the convergence.