Hundreds of new and seasoned farmers, organic food producers, and sustainable agriculture activists from all over the Commonwealth convened in Worcester over the weekend for the 28th annual NOFA Winter Conference.
As a longtime sponsor of NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association), Boston Organics had the privilege of participating in a few of the 70 workshops and lectures.
Topics included everything from breeding honeybees and butchering pigs to edible permaculture and legislation of genetically modified organisms.
Here are some of the highlights from the conference:
Massachusetts Agriculture Legislation Update
Brad Mitchell, Director of Policy at the MA Farm Bureau, spent nearly two hours discussing the status of contentious state legislation. Topics included the legalization of raw milk, the licensing of slaughter facilities in MA, and the passage of a statewide GMO labeling bill.
Energy Intensity of Local Agriculture
A professor from the University of Vermont, Eric Garza, presented his research on the energy intensity of local agriculture. Contrary to popular perception, local food production (particularly if it’s not organic) is often much more energy intensive than large-scale organic food production in areas with ideal growing conditions, like California.
His research shows that most of the energy used in food production is associated with the use of chemical fertilizers and mechanical equipment on farms. Comparatively, shipping large quantities of food across the country is more energy efficient than small-scale operations growing produce or raising livestock out of season and on infertile land.
He concluded that there are many reasons to eat locally-grown food, but when it comes to maximizing energy efficiency it is generally more effective to seek out responsibly grown, organic food sources.
Increasing Low Income Food Access
Two coordinators of the Community Harvest Project led a fabulous workshop on increasing access to healthy food in low income communities. A nonprofit farm in Grafton, Community Harvest Project uses volunteers to grow and harvest 16 acres of fresh produce for people experiencing hunger in Worcester County.
The workshop brought together individuals from influential food organizations across New England to share ideas and discuss potential partnerships.
Raising Livestock Without Chemical Inputs Or Machinery
Keynote speaker Greg Judy inspired the NOFA community with lessons from his years as an organic cattle farmer in Missouri. Facing bankruptcy, Greg Judy stopped paying for fertilizer, patented seeds, and modern farm equipment and instead developed a method of intensive grazing and soil management that has allowed him to restore his farm’s land while raising some of the highest quality beef in the country.
“We are all stewards of the land,” Greg emphasized, “It’s a wonderful job we’ve been handed.”
While some New England farmers are still harvesting through the winter, the NOFA Winter Conference is a terrific opportunity for organic farmers to learn new skills in preparation for the spring thaw.
We enjoy going each year to catch up with some of our current farm partners and to meet potential new partners.
We leave each year feeling inspired and reinvigorated with a desire to continue to provide access to fresh, organic produce in a mindful and sustainable way.