By Jason Valcourt and Ashley Kenney, NOFA/Mass Conference Coordinators

In this era of a global pandemic, the strength of our local food system has become glaringly apparent and the opportunities for further solutions have been illuminated by the crisis. Our farmers have had a hard season with climate disruptions from Spring to Fall in the form of massively fluctuating temperatures, drought, and unseasonal weather events. Yet, many farmers have sold every last stitch of product that they can produce, thanks to a huge increase in local demand.

At this year’s 34th NOFA/Mass Winter Conference, happening virtually January 8-10, 2021, we will address the theme Feeding the Commonwealth and inspire you to create, discover and rely upon your local community’s food producers and build the vision of a Massachusetts that collectively becomes more resilient and secure in its local capacity to feed everyone. Registration opens October 15th.

With nearly seven million people in Massachusetts, we have a lot of mouths to feed. While we may not be able to supply 100% of Massachusetts’ dietary needs from within our state, we can drastically increase our food network’s capacity to do so. We have the resources in our people and in our soils, and we can all do our part as producers as well as consumers to create a more resilient network that will stand in the face of climate disruption and crisis.

Across the state, Massachusetts residents source their food from just over 600 “Supermarkets” in the state as per this supermarket page. Each market serves roughly 12,000 MA residents. Looking beyond the facade of large-scale grocery stores, Massachusetts has a powerful mosaic of small farms serving thousands of residents, offsetting the large-scale stores in a big way. The most recent USDA census counts 198 certified organic farms in Massachusetts, and there are even more non-certified small-scale farms across the state, each with its own distribution channels to local residents. This work is explained by the MA Food System Collaborative’s research and recommendations, and also ties into Food Solutions New England‘s 50 by 60 vision. Their articulation of a vision of equitable local food networks is very clear and provides a roadmap that this year’s NOFA/Mass Winter Conference is based upon.

Friday’s keynote speaker: Greg Watson, Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics

To that end, we are happy to introduce many of you to Massachusetts’ own Greg Watson, Director of Policy and Systems Design at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and the former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (2012-2015). Greg’s understanding of the economic and agricultural landscape of Massachusetts inspired us to invite him as keynote speaker, to address the theme Feeding the Commonwealth. He was more than happy to accept and thrilled at the theme, which he said was close to his heart. Greg will kick-off our conference weekend on Friday, January 8, 2021 via live conference call.

We have also enlisted local Massachusetts carbon farmer, Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops. Eric was the spark of NOFA’s carbon sequestration work from his keynote of the NOFA Summer Conference in 2011 and we are elated to have him address our present situation through the lens of perennial vegetable production on Saturday evening, January 9, 2021.

Saturday’s keynote speaker: Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops

We are planning another rich conference workshop program with over 25 presentations and intensives held by expert presenters from Massachusetts and the region. Our program is shaping up to support our conference theme, with programs that tackle topics including resiliency skills: building a root cellar and learning to preserve the harvest, emergency preparedness on the farm, and exploring tillage reduction.  As always, we will have new takes on introductory topics like maple syruping, farming without farmland, and growing your own herbal apothecary.

Sunday January 10 will showcase a Farmer to Farmer Intensive featuring respected growers, with decades of combined knowledge, sharing on topics like crop intensification and nutrient management.

Naturally, we have full scholarships available and applications will go live with registration on October 15, 2020.

Given the circumstances and restrictions for in-person gatherings per the State’s guidelines, this year’s Winter Conference will happen virtually, via Zoom. You are welcome to attend virtual live sessions and interact with presenters and other conference goers, or purchase the video recordings of all workshop sessions and keynotes for viewing on demand.

More details and a complete workshop schedule will be available soon. Visit our website later this month for more information and to register.