By Jason Valcourt, NOFA Summer Conference Coordinator

Climate solutions will be grown in the soil of the NOFA Summer Conference August 7-9, 2020 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Our keynote speaker, Tim LaSalle, was the first CEO of Rodale Institute and served as the Executive Director of the Allan Savory Center for Holistic Management. We are excited to hear his latest insights on carbon sequestration, no-to-low input systems and how biology is the foundation of our regenerative work. You can learn more about Tim through the links at the bottom of this article.

As we pine for the summer warmth and enjoy stealing moments outside to do occasional farm work as weather permits, now is the time for farmers and gardeners to put finishing touches on seed orders, get spreadsheets tuned up and build farm plans for the new season. It is also time to simultaneously build the 2020 Summer Conference workshop program in the hope to continue to fuel the growth of more farms and farmers throughout the Northeast to keep this movement thriving and capturing more and more carbon through food production.

As we improve our abilities as a collective to deepen our knowledge base and support farmers and aspiring farmers through their initial stages of apprenticeships and new business endeavors, the movement will continue to thrive. New farmers need real talk from experienced farmers about the long-range prospect of creating a thriving business and lifestyle in agriculture. Tenured farmers need efficiencies, problem solving and new market opportunities. I’m sure you know of more than a few farms that once were existing and are now gone because the realities of starting and maintaining a business in farming are challenging!

May 1st early birdIt is deeply encouraging to find data that reveals the trends are powerfully increasing in terms of small farms manifesting. Per the most recent Ag census data for Massachusetts there are 7200 farms in the state. Of the 6,761,600 acres in the entire state, farmers are employing 500,000 acres in agriculture. The average farm size is 69 acres which includes ranchland for grazing. Per this 2017 UMass census, the number of small farms (1 – 9 acres) increased by a tremendous 66%, far outpacing other trend shifts. That is an enormous increase, and although the trend has cooled since the 2007 census it is still the only trend increasing at this moment, revealing that we have more small-scale farms throughout the state of Mass each year. Our hope is that these new farms still exist long into the future and thrive economically and socially.  May new farms in 2020 and beyond find viable markets and resources to position themselves for success!

This mosaic of small-scale agriculturalists decorating the watershed of the Northeastern U.S. has powerful tools to mitigate the climate crisis directly in hand – in its soils, favorable growing seasons, deep knowledge and experience of growers and educators, and last, but not least, its customers. In the face of climate instability we need more and more of our food grown and purchased locally from regenerative practicing farms.

Naturally, we are all striving to deepen our knowledge and skill base to transform this mosaic into an even more effective regenerative movement and we hope this summer’s conference program brings life and support to this end. Along with a robust soil, seed and business savvy program, we are highlighting tools we, as a collective of small-scale agriculturalists, need to bring a broader impact to the climate crisis.  One such workshop is titled: Soil Carbon: Raising More, Better Food while Easing Climate Stress. Other workshops address how to cultivate and work with customers in the form of institutions (schools, hospitals and other facilities) such as: Farm to Institution. Storytelling workshops are planned to help inspire and inform new farmers in what it takes to stay in business for the long haul. Five Big Lessons from 30+ Years of Farming workshop will share the insights of lessons learned through a life of farming. We will also feature workshops that address livestock problems such as: From Barn Processed to USDA Plant: Issues with On-Farm Processing. Even more workshops will explore real life examples of thriving no-till farms creating immense biodiversity that are healthy and profitable, for example the session titled: Transitioning to a No-Till Farm.

Save the date for our Early Bird Registration opening on May 1st. Scholarships will be available.

Enjoy this video of our keynote speaker, Tim LaSalle, titled “Farmers Can Be Our Heroes” from 2017.  You can also read more about Tim in this article from The Natural Farmer’s December issue.