Suzanne, Dan and I just got back from the 22nd Annual NOFA Summer Conference, held at Hampshire College in Amherst. What a great time we had! The conference was put on by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, NOFA, for short, one of the oldest organic farming and gardening organizations in the United States.
Over a thousand people (most from New England, New York and New Jersey) attended the conference. It featured more than 100 workshops during the three day event, as well as demonstrations, exhibits, tours, discussions, dancing and great organic meals.
Although we love the local organic food, the main course at the conference is the workshops. Suzanne went to "Cut Flowers for Home and Market," "Improved Immune Systems Via Food," "Overview of Food Preservation," and "Herbal Medicine-Chest Weeds." Dan studied "Voluntary Simplicity," "Small Fruits" and "Traditional Barnraising." I learned about "Forest Gardening," "Ecological Agriculture in Cuba," and "1996 Potato Research." Together, Suzanne and I presented a workshop entitled "School Farms and Gardens." She also taught "Real Food, Real Cooking" and I talked about "Food and Ecosystems."
This year's NOFA conference was dedicated to Helen and Scott Nearing. Their lives and their writings have inspired many people to live a more simple and self-reliant life style as they work for peace.
NOFA was started 25 years ago on a Vermont hillside by a group of young people, many of whom, not too long before, had moved out of a big city to more rural areas, full of idealism and a desire to grow organic food.
Back then, organic agriculture was ridiculed by government agencies and other agriculture organizations. They didn't understand its potential to solve the problems caused by conventional agriculture: air, water, soil and food pollution as well as eroding soil, dwindling biological resources and disintegrating communities. NOFA members' work was marginalized by the mainstream of American society and well-funded government agricultural agencies knew little about organic agriculture. As a result, the Summer Conference was started in 1975 to provide opportunities to study and share information about organic farming and gardening as well as other aspects of rural life. Every summer since then, a diverse group of farmers and gardeners, activists and eaters, healers and educators has gathered to share what they've learned and to be inspired and energized by the strength and diversity of this organic community.
Over the decades, NOFA members have become more rooted in their local communities, also. They have come to understand eating as a political act and gardening and farming as expressions of love, nurturing and stewardship important to the health of the growers, their families, their communities and the Earth.
Many of the original members are still around. We caught up with old friends and made some new ones. We heard about programs in Harlem, Hartford and rural Vermont which connect public school students with nutritious local food, about a project which provides heifers and education to poor third-world farmers so they can feed their families, and about the amazing growth of organic dairy farms in Vermont. We heard about the threat of sludge spreading in New Hampshire, the organic tomato marketing coop in New Jersey, and innovative connections between people and their food all over the region.
My son Dan, in utero at the first conference, volunteered this year at the Childrens' Conference to help teach camping skills and about the "Wild World of Red Wigglers." He was one of many college-aged youth there whose enthusiasm and energy give us hope. Talk about hope, you should have seen all the healthy, happy babies who attended this year.
The steady growth of small, part-time and organic family farms is one of the few bright spots in the overall decline of human-scale agriculture in our communities. For more than two decades, the NOFA Summer Conference and Celebration of Rural Life has been encouraging, informing and supporting this growth in the northeast.
Now the USDA comes to NOFA for organic expertise, but there is still lots of work to do and many challanges along the way to realizing, sustainable local food systems. If you'd like to get involved in Connecticut or on Long Island, write to NOFA, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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