Tuesday October 12, 2010

BENNINGTON -- A group of young organic farmers stopped at Bennington College Tuesday to talk with students about the importance of understanding where the food they eat comes from and the benefits of eating organic.

The event, which included one-on-one discussions, games, information about organic farming and a presentation, was part of Organic Valley's Generation Organic 2010 "Who's Your Farmer?" tour that's hitting campuses across the Northeast on its way to the nation's capital.

"What we want to do first and foremost is educate our eaters on the benefit of organic food and organic farming and getting them to become conscious about the decisions they're making," said Casey Knapp, a 21-year-old Cornell University student who is also a fifth-generation farmer at his family's diversified organic dairy farm, Cobblestone Valley, in Preble, N.Y.

Traveling in a bus powered by sustainably produced biofuels and covered with a painted farm scene, Knapp is one of a handful of farmers on the tour -- all of whom are part of America's largest cooperative of organic farmers, Organic Valley, based in La Farge, Wisc.

At the conclusion of the tour, which includes 14 stops, the bus will roll into the Washington, D.C., to stop at the White House, where they hope to visit the First Lady's organic garden and meet with key decision-makers on sustainable agriculture and other related issues.

Knapp said they will also drop off a box of signatures the group gathers on the tour in support of a 2012 Farm Bill that supports a diversity of farmers and crops, invests in soil and the environment instead of the largest corporations, supports research of long-term sustainability and values health and nutrition for everybody.

Knapp, who led the presentation on the science behind organic farming and how students can get involved in the organic movement, said there are a number of benefits to buying local, organic products.

"It really comes down to your health and the health of our country and our ecosystem. When we're buying organic we are supporting a common sense approach to food and farming, and we're also supporting the farmers who are behind the movement to bring us more organic food," he said.

Knapp said the group had talked with students with an array of knowledge about organic farming thus far on the trip, and said the support has been encouraging.

"When I come to a place like Bennington, and I get these guys who are right in the middle of it, and these are the people who will be leading, essentially, a lot of the different parts of the organic movement, it's real encouraging for me," he said.

While America has lost approximately two-thirds of its farms since 1935, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the organic farming business is growing.

"The organic industry is one of the fastest growing, most dynamic sectors in U.S. Agriculture," said Ken Cook, president of the Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "So much so that, even in these stark economic times, young Americans are finding organic farming the ultimate green job. They are forging careers by growing healthy food for millions of families and serving as the next generation of environmental stewards."