Fresh greens are sold by Grinnell Heritage Farm during the kick-off of the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, June 7, 2014. The farm is certified organic. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Fresh greens are sold by Grinnell Heritage Farm during the kick-off of the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday, June 7, 2014. The farm is certified organic. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

A well-respected fruit grower spoke to me at length during a recent farmers market. One of the points he noted was the challenge in raising food organically in Iowa.

“Too many critters,” he said, in reference to the insects and other pests that tend to attack produce crops.

Many of the growers I know are not certified organic – most cite the added expense that certification involves – but they do follow organic practices, which tends to satisfy their customers.

Farmers and others interested in transitioning to organic production can find plenty of arguments in favor of doing so at an upcoming conference at the University of Iowa. The Iowa Organic Conference, set for Nov. 16-17, 2014, will include a keynote speech from Mary Berry, daughter of author and environmentalist, Wendell Berry.

Read on for details about the conference, from the UI:

The 14h Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16-17 on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City, as a joint effort between Iowa State University and the UI Office of Sustainability. Producers and experts from across the country will share tips for transitioning into organic production and methods to enhance organic operations.

“The U.S. market for organic products reached $31.3 billion in 2012 and the demand for organic grains and produce continues to exceed supply,” said Kathleen Delate, ISU organic agriculture specialist. “Growers everywhere are encouraged to consider the potential for organic production.”

The conference keynote speaker is Mary Berry, daughter of Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer Ms. Berry speaks all over the country as a proponent of agriculture of the middle, in defense of small farmers, and in the hope of restoring a culture that has been lost in rural America. Her works promoting soil conservation and an ecological agriculture are echoed in one of her sayings: “A society that is satisfied with short term economics while destroying the source of its own survival [the soil] cannot last.”

A reception, featuring local and organic food and drinks will kick off the conference on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. in the UI Memorial Union, followed by the movie, “Fresh” at 7 p.m., which explores the growing influence of local and organic markets in the U.S. The conference lunch on Monday afternoon highlights local and organic produce, meats and dairy products assembled into a gourmet meal by UI award-winning Executive Chef, Barry Greenberg.

Sessions for those interested in learning about the latest techniques for transitioning into organic farming, or improving organic operation, will include lessons on weed management, nutrient management, pest management and livestock integration. The conference also includes information on how to begin farming, soil and water quality initiatives and government programs, crop insurance, compliance with food safety regulations, alternative energy projects, and markets for organic grain, vegetable and fruit crops. Organic farmers, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists, government agency staff and others with unique experience related to organic agriculture and sustainable living also will be speaking at the conference.

“The Iowa Organic Conference is the largest University-sponsored organic conference in the country,” said Delate. Last year’s conference brought 50 exhibitors, ranging from organic seed sales, to local food system nonprofits, to government offices working with transitioning and certified organic farmers. Despite the challenges of extreme weather this year, organic farmers are anticipating successful organic yields with organic soybean prices currently averaging $17 per bushel.

The cost of the conference is $95 on or before Nov. 7 and $115 after Nov. 7. Conference information is available online at with the link to registration at

For additional conference information and directions to the conference, visit the webpage or contact Delate at

Conference partners include Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, New Pioneer Co-op, Organic Valley and Practical Farmers of Iowa.