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In Midwest, organic farming puts down deeper roots

An innovative farm in western Iowa could signal that producers have a real alternative to conventional farming.

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Ron and Maria Rosmann run the kind of farm one rarely sees in the Midwest anymore. He raises corn, soybeans, barley, oats, hogs, and chickens, among other things, all within walking distance. She sells the farm's meat products.

"We have 130 people who order from us," Mrs. Rosmann says, rummaging through one of the farm's freezers to show off organic hamburger and roasts packaged in old-fashioned white paper. "I've got bratwurst in here somewhere."

And unlike many farmers these days, they're making a go of it – mainly because they're almost completely organic.

The success of the Rosmanns here in the middle of the prairie stakes a new claim for the future of America's depressed agriculture. If they can make organic farming work out here in western Iowa – more than 1,000 miles from either coast and an hour from the nearest big city – then producers just about anywhere have a real alternative to conventional farming.

Low returns are motivating many to look at alternatives, including organic farming, that could begin to change the face of the rural Midwest. Although a rapid transition looks unlikely, this method of farming is putting down permanent roots in this region more accustomed to meat and potatoes than sprouts and soy milk.

"When the [organic] market has expanded 20 percent a year for the last 20 years, I think you can't call it a fad anymore," says Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames. "The organic market will be here to stay."


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