NEW GLARUS, Wis. – Lori Stern walks the talk so she’s well-suited to serve as the new executive director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, says David Perkins, president of the organization’s board.

Stern built close connections with farmers when she owned and operated Cow & Quince, a locally sourced and community-supported restaurant in New Glarus, he said. She also has a professional background in adult education and professional development.

“That’s what we’re about; we provide education to professional farmers,” Perkins said. “Lori’s philosophy is in line with MOSES.”

In addition to serving as president of the organization’s board Perkins raises seed potatoes near Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. He established in 1994 the Vermont Valley Community Farm, which was a community-supported-agriculture farm prior to its closing in 2018. Perkins has served on the FairShare CSA Coalition Board, the Organic Farmers Association board, and on the council of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Lori has a natural teaching ability,” Danielle Dockery said. “She cares about the environment and Wisconsin’s rural economy. When MOSES posted the opening for the executive-director position, I thought Lori was perfect for it.”

Dockery has known Stern for about five years. She’s known her through Soil Sisters, an official program of Renewing the Countryside. The community of women farmers advocate for family farming and locally produced food. Dockery was a customer of Stern’s at Cow & Quince before she later began working at the restaurant, eventually becoming Stern’s assistant. Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stern recently needed to close the business.

In addition to her business background in organic and sustainable-food systems, Stern has experience in public policy related to community and environmental health, social justice and food access. She lives on a small diversified farm.

When she opened the restaurant in 2014, Stern applied for and earned an economic-development award from Green County, Wisconsin. Her objective was to keep money in the local community by sourcing food from local farmers. That included women and underrepresented farmers. She paid her sources fair amounts, taking into account the resources they needed to farm organically and sustainably, she said. To make that approach sustainable there must be consumer demand; restaurant chefs can help drive that.

In her new position at the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service, Stern will lead its education program. Among her responsibilities she will work with experienced organic farmers to help attract and mentor new farmers as well as farmers who are transitioning from conventional to organic production.

“Farmer education is critical so that people have the resources and tools they need,” she said. “We’ll also focus on how to leverage our longevity and remain on the cutting edge.”

She’s done a lot of policy and advocacy work in health and education, particularly in schools. She’s worked for healthy-meal options for schools and farm-to-school programs.

Stern earned in 1999 a master’s in education with an emphasis in adult learning and organizational development from Antioch University in Seattle. She worked in the Washington Department of Public Health where she coordinated school-health policy development, managed contracts and wrote grants.

She later worked as a policy-implementation adviser for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The national organization works with schools, youth organizations, businesses and communities to help children develop healthy habits. Stern provided training and technical assistance to school districts and also monitored state policies. Prior to opening Cow & Quince, she worked with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction where she provided training and technical assistance to Safe and Supportive Schools grantees.

In her new job Stern will be working with the board and staff of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service to plan its 2021 Organic Farming Conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the February event will be held online. Cancelation of the in-person event is a disappointment to many who have attended it for years. The conference provides numerous workshops; in February 2020 it featured 60 workshops in 10 categories.

The upside to a virtual conference is that many farmers and others who haven’t been able to leave their businesses to attend the three-day event will be able to watch workshops online.

“We could have a broader reach but we also must recognize broadband issues,” Stern said.

To handle the large number of workshops the organization is contacting partners to coordinate different workshop tracks.

“It could be a collaborative event,” she said. “We’ll focus on the potential of meaningful new partnerships.”

Perkins said the annual conference generates income that MOSES uses for programming throughout the year.

Stern said she’s looking forward to working with the board to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to underserved farmers and to attracting new farmers. They’ll work together to use new tools and strategies to fulfill the organization’s mission – to educate, inspire and empower farmers to thrive in a sustainable organic system of agriculture.

“We’ll stay true to who we are and start on course for who we hope to be,” she said.

Visit mosesorganic.org for more information. 

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.