Meet My Organic Farmer

By Joseph Heckman, Ph.D.

Mark McAfee and Joseph Heckman

Mark McAfee and Joseph Heckman

Soil scientists, crop scientists, and agronomists from around the world gathered at the Long Beach in California last week to share research findings and discuss emerging issues in agriculture. This meeting of agronomists was attended by over 3000 researchers, educators, administrators, and extension professionals in agronomy and environmental sciences.

Organic agriculture now has real presence at these professional meetings where an organic management systems division was created. Over 50 presentations were delivered in this new organic division.

Among the numerous events taking place at these meetings was a symposium on Local and Regional Food Systems and a round table discussion on the USDA initiative KNOW YOUR FARMER KNOW YOUR FOOD. Some of the events were organized by a group called the Committee on Organic and Sustainable Agriculture (COSA).

At the symposium on local food systems, I presented a paper entitled Anonymous Commodity Farmer or Artisan Farmer with a Face, Who Is Your Farmer and Why? The main message in my presentation was: “Got raw milk is the magnet for viable local food systems.” I also described how families in New Jersey and around the nation are seeking out and finding the right kind of farmer; a local farmer where a trusting relationship can be built between food producer and consumer. An abstract of my presentation can be found online at this link: Joseph Heckman presentation to COSA.

As the chair of COSA I asked Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy if he might be willing to donate any food to serve at the COSA business meeting and other events mentioned above. I also invited Mark McAfee to speak at the COSA meeting and to serve as a local farmer representative for the special event on KNOW YOUR FARMER KNOW YOUR FOOD, where Mark Lipson from the USDA would be giving the keynote address.


Raw Dairy Discussed at COSA Meeting

Knowing Mark McAfee and having visited his farm I was confident that he could deliver excellent food and a good educational presentation for COSA. All seemed to be going well as planned until the convention center said that raw dairy foods were not allowed in the convention center. This was an odd surprise given that raw milk is legal in the state of California and is available for sale in about 400 retail stores. Ironically, here we were at a conference highlighting local foods and a local legal food was being prohibited from the convention center for reasons that seemed arbitrary.

Not to allow food discrimination to block our plans, we moved the COSA business meeting across the street to the Renaissance Hotel where farm fresh raw food was allowed. For this event, Mark McAfee donated fresh from his organic farm raw milk, raw cheese, and truly raw almonds. Also Mark donated a case a biodynamic wines and organic apples, and grapes that were purchased at other local farms.

At the gathering, I introduced Mark McAfee as my local organic farmer. He is regarded by many as an expert in raw milk safety and raw dairy product markets and technology. As expected, he delivered an excellent educational program based on how he founded Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) in 2000, the first organic dairy in Fresno, CA. He explained that his cows graze on a pasture in a well integrated organic farm with clean and green pastures.

The COSA business meeting was well attended by mix of 30 scientists plus some government officials. After the events, I heard comments from colleagues such as “thanks for getting Mark M. And his delicious cheese!” and “I enjoyed your raw milk education effort.” Yet another said, “Thanks for a good meeting and sharing your passion for consumers being wise enough to make their own food choices.”  Some colleagues also offered to raise funds to pay for the extra reception room we had to rent at the Renaissance Hotel. Clearly, this group of agricultural scientists appreciated the farm fresh foods and Mark McAfee’s presentation on raw milk.

The need to overcome obstacles to serving good, local foods near to where they are produced set the stage for much discussion that took place the following day in the KNOW YOUR FARMER KNOW YOUR FOOD roundtable where Mark McAfee served as a farmer representative.


Weston Price Foundation was a Sponsor of Last Years' COSA Meeting

But 2010 was not the first year in which raw milk or Weston A. Price was discussed at these meetings.  Back in 2009, I worked with COSA to organize a symposium on organic farming history. The Weston A. Price Foundation and several other organizations were program sponsors (see photo from 2009).  At that symposium among the list of speakers was Gary Cox, from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Martin Renner, a graduate student in history, and Joseph Heckman.  Each of us presented some material on raw milk or the work of Weston A. Price in relation to organic farming.  Perhaps these teaching efforts are beginning to have some influence.

Looking ahead towards 2014 when this same group of scientist are once again scheduled to meet in Long Beach, its is hoped that by then the Convention Center will have revised it food policy. Under current policy, I cannot imagine that a Wise Traditions Conference, like the one set for King of Prussia next week, will ever take place at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Dr. Joseph Heckman is a soil scientist with the Rutgers New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station. He grew up on an organic dairy farm, and has helped to organize the Rutgers Raw Milk Seminars. Heckman has written a number of articles on organic farming for Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal published by the Weston A. Price Foundation.