NOFA spreads change

2011 presented Vermont farmers with a challenge. The toll of spring flooding paired with the unforeseen impacts of Tropical Storm Irene created widespread ecological and economic devastation.  These events and the underlying presence of climate change were central to the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont at their 2012 winter conference. The theme of the conference was Ecology and Community Resilience: Building an Enduring and Adaptable Food System.  The NOFA Vermont winter conference was held at the Davis Center on Feb. 11, and drew New Englanders interested in agriculture from all over to learn, reflect and converse with like-minded individuals.  Keynote speakers spoke of Vermont’s ability to absorb change, self-organize and reconstruct in the aftermath of disaster. Participants were reminded by the speakers how deeply their lives are interwoven with the natural world, and the importance of being an actively engaged, progressive farmer.   Speaker Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design, LLC acknowledged the ramifications of a warming planet by demonstrating the possibilities of growing rice on terraced hillsides.  “Water is an advantage when we get above the water table and manipulate the system,” he said. “Farming needs to be more complex and three dimensional.” Fred Kirschenmann of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York examined the ways in which the current food system could use a complete makeover.  “Processes of growth and processes of decay should be equal and simultaneous; let’s redefine the system,” Kirschenmann said. “The only way to have healthy humans is to have healthy soil. Let’s make healthy soil the best healthcare system out there.”  Aside from the educational lectures, there were seed swaps, yoga classes and locally sourced happy hours.  Workshops, speakers and activities hinted that a food revolution is underway. By completely altering the way food is grown, eaten and thought about, the source of America’s nutritious fuel and cultural identity is shifting. Many attendees at the conference left feeling renewed and excited about taking an active role in the agricultural movement.   “Come down to earth and work for the benefit of all beings. Share the seeds. Remember the vigorous language of the soil,” keynote speaker Wendy Johnson said. “Let us come together and recognize the grounded, bedrock truth of who we truly are.”