Organic Pioneer: Carmen Fernholz

Carmen Fernholz beside a field of Kernza at A-Frame Farm in Madison, Minnesota. July 2022.

Carmen Fernholz, a pillar of Minnesota’s farming community, was recently honored with the Rodale Institute’s 2022 Organic Pioneer Award. Recognized for his leadership in “changing the landscape of regenerative organic agriculture for the better,” he is one of four recipients this year.

Fernholz has long been a member of SFA, and even laid groundwork for the organization during his service on our original board of directors. You can read his bio and about the other winners here.

Fernholz also spoke at Cornell University on September 22. His presentation, “Living the Tuition of Organic Agriculture,” was recorded is available to watch on YouTube. The abstract is below.

Congratulations, Carmen!

Abstract: Organic agriculture has been a part of my life even before I realized it. It started when I was a young boy growing up on a farm in western Minnesota and hearing my parents and other adults discuss and comment about articles they were reading in a monthly publication Organic Gardening and Farming, a magazine published by the Rodale Institute and often found lying on the kitchen table in our farmhouse in the 1950’s From then until the early 1970’s the ideas and thoughts generated by those conversations lay dormant in my mind. It was in 1972 when I bought a farm and began farming that these memories began to surface once more because now I was making the decisions that directly impacted me and my family and the land I was farming. The thoughts and ideas became the principles on which I was going to operate the newly purchase land. These early influences continued to impact my farming career more and more with each passing season. Major milestones started with the farm being first certified organic in 1975 to serving as board chair for Organic Growers and Buyers Association (OGBA) an early certification agency centered in Minnesota. From there it was on to serving as board chair for The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and a one-year Endowed Chair position in Sustainable Ag Systems at the University of Minnesota. This experience lead to a part time staff position at the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton, MN focused on defining organic research agendas across the University. This position also introduced me to the Forever Green Initiative (FGI) coming together at the University and the opportunity to collaborate both on farm and at the University on crops being developed based on the concept of a continuous living cover across the landscape. New crops, in order to be successful need markets and so my next endeavor was to organize and establish a farmer marketing coop; Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative (PPGC) which is now operating to help farmers seek out markets for the perennial wheat Kernza as well as other crops being researched and developed across the FGI platform. To complete the circle, I was just recently honored with the Organic Pioneer Award for 2022 by the Rodale Institute. This seminar will be a sharing of the journey that has brought me here to Cornell. The knowledge gained and the consequences of the decisions made from this knowledge and experience are what I wish to share with you today.