ST. CLOUD -- Some Minnesota farmers have the opportunity to learn and network in St. Cloud this week.

The Department of Agriculture is holding its annual Minnesota Organic Conference at the River’s Edge Convention Center on Thursday and Friday.

One of the event’s keynote speakers, Sean Sherman, is the founder of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems. He says his focus is on utilizing the plants and animals around us.

So we look at Native American varieties of corns, beans, squash, sunflower seeds, you know in other areas you have amaranth and chili peppers and things like that too. But we also look at all the wild foods around us and how people utilized that no matter where they were ‘cause we just look at that commonality of indigenous peoples being able to live sustainably utilizing just plants and animals around them.

The shift from traditional to organic farming includes a 36 month transitional period following any use of non-organic pesticides or fertilizers. For these farmers, the process is truly a labor of love.

Anne Schwagerl has been an organic grain farmer in western Minnesota for the last six years. She says all of the hard work is worth it.

What I love about farming is that it’s a really tangible outcome of your efforts. You see the investment of time and energy in the end in your harvest and I really like how tangible that is. The hard work that I’m putting in will have a payoff. I can see it.

The conference continues Friday with keynote speaker Mary Jo Forbord. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. at the convention center, and breakout sessions begin at 8:00 a.m.