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Agriculturalists Who Influence: Carolyn Olson

Agriculturalists Who Influence: Carolyn Olson
Day 8 of 30: A farmer who raises both organic and conventional foods, and bridges the gap in competing ideologies? She's very influential, indeed.

What if your sphere of influence wasn't just the people in your physical proximity? Say, for example, you're both an organic and conventional farmer with a blog, an ability to communicate and a gift for bridging ideologies – and you're willing to put it all to work?

Because if you are, you'd be Carolyn Olson. Carolyn and her husband, Jonathon, farm near Cottonwood, Minnesota. They raise 1,100 acres of organic corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and peas, and they conventionally finish 7,000 hogs annually.

They first considered organic grain production in 1997, when they were raising food-grade soybeans. The buyers asked if they were organic. "We'd never really thought about it until then," Carolyn says.

They did some research and decided it could be a good fit. Jonathon's grandfather had raised seed for Minnesota Public Seed since the 1940s, so he was accustomed to segregation, clean fields and good records. They learned the techniques and transitioned over a 10-year period. They've settled on a weed control system where they harrow fields prior to emergence, rotary hoe after emergence, cultivate and flame weed the corn. They employ a crew of migrant workers to walk fields for weeds. The soybeans are double-certified as organic and for seed production. Fertilizer for corn and wheat comes from the pig barns, and they don't use any pesticides. They use cover crops like tillage radish and broadcast oats.

"The methods that work for us don't work in all areas, just as no-till farming doesn't work in all areas. That's part of the science of farming – figuring out how to coax the best out of your land while improving it at the same time," Carolyn says.

Yes. Exactly.

She has other good things to say about farming, and about working together: "The key is respecting each other's choices. It is impossible to listen to one another when we are busy shouting our positions from the rooftops. I believe we can find the middle ground, and I think it needs to start with those of us in agriculture."

Yes. Again. Absolutely.

The thing I have come to admire about Carolyn is that not only is she a woman of convictions, she can gently share them and she's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, nor to go on the record with what she believes. As a journalist, I appreciate that. As a human, I fiercely believe in it.

Time and again, I've seen Carolyn use social media to gently correct what people may believe about organic production, and to offer an olive branch to those who want to cast organic farming against conventional farming. Because her family raises both organic and conventional food, her voice carries even more influence, to both sides of the arguments.

And she's willing. She has been her county Farm Bureau president, and if I'm not mistaken, is currently running for the Minnesota Farm Bureau board of directors. She's served on panels and roundtable discussions, and blogs regularly.

"The biggest concerns people have shared with me have more to do with putting a face on farming than it does on GMO issues. They want to know that farmers care about what they are raising and that it isn't all managed by a guy in Chicago.

"When speaking to civic groups, I stress that consumers have choices in the grocery stores and we have choices as farmers. So far, that has been well received."

 Words of wisdom to the customer we all want to reach. It's exactly why she's an agriculturalist who influences.

Note: Carolyn is part of the 30 Days of Ag series this year! Check out her series, 30 Things I Love. It's fun and real, and straight from the farm.

Agriculturalists Who Influence: The Series

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