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
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 einspired 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
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
C1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing