A product of the back-to-the-land movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Northeast Organic Farming Association began as the vision of a New York City plumbing supplies salesman. Now an increasingly influential non-profit organization with chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, NOFA has "nearly 4,000 farmers, gardeners and consumers working to promote healthy food, organic farming practices and a cleaner environment."
The NOFA Massachusetts collection of meeting minutes, financial records, correspondence, and publications from 1988 to 2003, documents maintenance and change in the structure of the organization, particularly concerning the Massachusetts chapter and the Interstate Council.
The collection is open for research.
Based in the most densely populated state in New England, the Massachusetts chapter of NOFA applies unique solutions to unique challenges. Working with "honorable and ethical" companies eager to buy local organic produce, NOFA/Mass has been able to help get healthy organic food to more people than ever before. Companies like Whole Foods (formerly Bread & Circus) have even participated in "percentage days" where a percentage of the total receipts on a particular day are donated to NOFA. A five percent donation in urban areas such as Cambridge might mean tens of thousands of dollars. While most NOFA chapters have participated in similar events, the Massachusetts branch has been particularly active in reaching out to consumers in urban areas, engaging them in the organic farming industry.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Samuel Kaymen -- the "NOFA prophet" -- was privy to all the movements and motivations of the 1960s. Like many others in his time, Kaymen felt that his life was spiritually undernourished, and in 1969, he moved from the city to rural Unity, New Hampshire, to start a self-sufficient garden with his wife, Louise.
With no previous experience in agriculture, Kaymen learned all he could from outdated library books, eventually stumbling across Edward Hyams' Soil and Civilization. Hyams argued that "the first thing a civilization loses is its topsoil," and that the fall of all the great civilizations of the past could be linked to agricultural collapse. Kaymen was shocked. "I didn't know that agriculture was important," he wrote, "I thought that food was assembled in the backs of grocery stores!" But with his surprise came inspiration. Kaymen would start an organization of like-minded growers who would farm in an organic, natural, and sustainable way. In 1971, now living in Westminster, New Hampshire, Kaymen founded the Natural Organic Farming Association.
The first meeting of NOFA (which would change the first part of its name to "Northeast" in 1993) took place on June 7, 1971. Kaymen had posted fliers and sent out mailers announcing that NOFA would teach and promote nine principles, including proper composting, seeding, weeding, and other skills necessary for farm production. Conspicuously missing from the list was marketing. "This shows how naive I really was," Kaymen said in 1998. Starting with a budget of $35, Kaymen and the farmers, gardeners, and hippies who attended that first meeting decided that NOFA would sponsor seminars, seed-exchanges, bulk shopping, and apprenticeships. They would also publish a quarterly newsletter named after what Kaymen hoped to be, The Natural Farmer.
Eventually, Kaymen "hooked up with people in New York City who were running daycare centers" and at least once a week, NOFA farmers would load up an old truck in the middle of the night and drive six hours to Manhattan and Harlem to deliver fresh produce to daycare centers and to people on street corners who "hadn't seen fresh collards since they were in the South."
In 1973, Kaymen was given a farm in Cornish, New Hampshire, by a group of people who thought he "was a good organizer... a good speaker and [who] wanted [him] to be a New Hampshire person." Robert Houriet, a farmer and writer living in Hardwick, Vermont, offered to take over The Natural Farmer, and according to Kaymen, "it immediately became a thousand percent better." With Kaymen in New Hampshire and The Natural Farmer reaching more people than it ever had before, NOFA became truly a multi-state organization.
The first NOFA conference, cosponsored by the Biodynamic Farming Association, was held in Wilton, New Hampshire, in 1975. Wendell Berry was the keynote speaker and around 350 people attended, which Kaymen thought was "quite a lot." Win Way, a member of the University of Vermont faculty ("the establishment" as Kaymen called it), brought air of the academy to the 1976 conference which helped transform NOFA from a group of former New York City hippies into an influential organization with scientific backing. The 1978 conference saw the "old timers... come out of the closet" to support NOFA.
Kaymen stepped down from NOFA's presidency in 1981. Since that time, NOFA has grown, now claiming "nearly 4,000 farmers, gardeners and consumers [from] ... chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont." NOFA started as a co-operative promoting and facilitating information sharing and other ways to help growers farm in a natural, organic, and sustainable way. While NOFA still promotes the nine principles Kaymen originally founded it to promote, that tenth item, marketing, now plays a larger role than ever before.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association was founded in an era of student protest and social activism. Beginning almost two decades into the history of NOFA, this collection documents the day-to-day work of a well established non-profit organization.
Meeting agendas and summaries as well as financial reports and correspondence are very comprehensive from 1989 to 2003. These decades saw the expansion of NOFA membership and the birth of new initiatives. Grants and business ventures are documented from pitch to proposal to payoff. The stories of projects such as Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) are relayed first-hand through official NOFA records as well as through personal emails.
Acquired from Jack and Julie Kittredge on behalf of the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association in 2006.
Collection was processed by Adam Novitt in 2006, revised by Alex Lent in 2007.
For additional material related to the Northeast Organic Farming Association, see:
Digitized issues of The Natural Farmer from 1999-2005 are available on the SCUA web site.
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:
NOFA Massachusetts (MS 461). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.