The annual Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New Jersey conference – a joy-filled gathering of organic farmers and backyard fruit and vegetable growers from the tristate region — will be held Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020 at the Douglass College Student Center at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. NOFA-NJ’s winter conference always boasts a bevy of interesting guest speakers, thought-provoking panelists and instructional seminars. Here is a short profile of one of our speakers this year:
Dr. Bob Quinn
A native of Big Sandy, Montana, Dr. Bob Quinn was raised on a conventional family farm started by his grandfather in 1920. Quinn got his BS in Botany and Masters’ in Plant Pathology from Montana State University and his Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from the University of California. Interestingly, in his 10 years in two different colleges, he never once heard tell of organic agriculture methods. He learned the basics from a friendly fellow farmer after he’d moved his family back to the family farm in Montana in 1978. While his fellow farmer lit the initial spark of interest in growing food organically, Dr. Quinn credits pioneers like Tom Harding from Pennsylvania, Fred Kirschenmann from North Dakota, Neal Strayer of Saskatchewan and David Vetter of Nebraska with expanding his knowledge base and showing him the fundamentals of organic agriculture. Quinn was intrigued with the idea of using crop rotations to avoid the use of chemical pesticides, and green manures which relied on legumes to build soils, instead of chemical fertilizers. Over time he and his family focused in on growing nothing but organic crops.
Quinn started with an experimental area that consisted of only 1% of his cropland. It had immediate success. By 1989, Quinn and his family had ceased using all chemicals at the family farm and all 2,400 acres was fully organic.
Quinn is the 2007 recipient of the Montana Organic Association Lifetime of Service Award. The Organic Trade Association awarded Bob the 2010 Organic Leadership Award for his contributions in the “Growing Organic Agriculture” category. In 2013, he received the Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Award.
In 1986, Bob’s company, Montana Flour & Grains, introduced the natural foods industry to an ancient Egyptian wheat, called Khorasan (similar to durum wheat). This grain was marketed under his own brand name, KAMUT®, (the ancient Egyptian word for wheat). Through the trademark, Bob has been able to preserve an ancient grain and guarantee it is not genetically modified or altered. KAMUT® Brand Khorasan wheat is grown under strict production guidelines and is only grown organically.
These days, Bob Quinn continues to work closely with Montana State University personnel on testing crops, including dryland vegetables for local markets, as well as new methods of organic farming. Some of the systems Dr. Quinn and others have developed may well be the next wave adapted to the northern plains, providing a substitute for the use of conventional fertilizer, pesticides, summer fallow and even diesel fuel!
On a mission to educate and farm eco-consciously, Dr. Quinn is currently studying dryland vegetable production. He also has a project designed to grow and process enough straight vegetable oil (SVO) on his farm to run all the tractors and combines on the farm.
Bob is a member of the Montana Grain Growers’ Association and the Montana Farm Bureau. He served on the first U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board and has also served on a USDA agriculture research advisory committee and on Montana’s first organic certification advisory board.
He argues: “There is no such thing as a perfect organic system. Organic farms are dynamic living organisms that are constantly changing. They should never be treated or thought of as an enclosed factory where all the conditions are controlled. The joy and the learning comes from pursuing the ideal of a perfect system, rather than the expectation of ever developing a system that is perfect.”
Dr. Quinn is the author of “Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs and Healthy Food,” with Liz Carlisle, published by Island Press in March, 2019.