The 2012 Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farmer of the Year honorees are Francis and Susan Thicke, owners and operators of Radiance Dairy in Fairfield, Iowa.
Since 2003, the annual MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year Award has been presented to an outstanding organic farmer or farm family to recognize those who practice outstanding land stewardship, innovation and outreach. This honor is commemorated during the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, which is the largest organic farming conference in the country. Held February 23-25, 2012, the Organic Farming Conference is in its 23rd year.
Francis and Susan Thicke shared with conference attendees their successful philosophies and strategies on the evening of Thursday, February 23. The Organic Farmer of the Year award was presented to the Thickes at the conference.
Took on the challenge of healing a worn out, heavily eroded row crop farm
Francis and Susan purchased their land in 1996, taking on the challenge of healing a worn out and heavily eroded row crop farm. Intense management using sustainable methods by the Thickes over the years since they bought the place has resulted in restoring the productivity of the land and continually improving the soils.
Francis recommends that farmers "listen to your inner agronomist, not be so tied to pre-conceived notions, and be more fluid" in making management decisions. Using sound science and their intuition of what is right for both land and animals, the Thickes' farming style is fun and functional. The natural world and its numerous ecological systems are a continuous source of inspiration and learning for them.
Radiance Dairy is in a location well suited for growing grass and raising cattle. The Thickes maximize their grazing by stockpiling grass, with cows out on pasture April through December. A crop rotation including hay and small grains minimizes weed pressure, and the Thickes sometimes need only to cultivate once per season to keep their soybean crop clean. Diverse plantings in and near pastures are designed for conservation, including windbreaks of fruiting trees and shrubs for wildlife habitat.
They sell production from their dairy herd at retail, locally to area consumers
The Thickes serve as the "community dairy" of this Southeastern Iowa college town, marketing the production of their 80-cow organic Jersey herd within four miles of the farm. Value-added products are key to the farm's profitability. Radiance Dairy organic products include non-homogenized milk, yogurt, several cheeses, and soft-serve ice cream mix for restaurants.
By educating others through example, teaching at events and meetings and also by participating in political activities, Francis and Susan Thicke help to build regional and national public support of organic agriculture, according to MOSES spokesman Eric Hatling. MOSES is a non-profit organization working to promote sustainable and organic agriculture through trainings, workshops, educational initiatives, and by providing free resources to farmers striving to produce high-quality, healthful food using organic and sustainable techniques.