Winter Conference Workshops for Growers
By Christine Manuck, NOFA/Mass Soil Health Projects Manager

Given the increased frequency of climate-related severe weather events and pandemic-related food chain and supply issues, we believe the need for resilient, sustainable farming and gardening practices has never been greater than it is now. NOFA/Mass’s 2022 online Winter Conference theme is Thriving in the Era of Climate Disruption: Resiliency Strategies for Land and Communities, and offers myriad opportunities for individuals to learn strategies for increasing production resiliency while understanding the interconnectedness between food production, climate, and the environment. 

We’ve grouped this year’s Winter Conference workshops into categories that may be of interest to farmers and gardeners, like you, to make it easy to find workshops that focus on a particular subject area. Lessons in Agroforestry, Seed Saving for Regional Resiliency, Working with Pollinators, and No-Till Transitions can be directly applied to your farm or garden management, helping you become a more sustainable and resilient grower. We hope you enjoy these workshops, and others, at the virtual Winter Conference on January 15th and 16th. As a reminder, if you miss a workshop, or are interested in overlapping workshops, all workshops will be recorded and available for registered participants to view after the conference. You can register here, if you haven’t yet.


Growing crops interspersed with trees, as is done through agroforestry, offers a range of benefits to crops, soils, and farm resilience. Agroforestry creates a high level of diversity, both in the types of crops as well as the way in which they grow: namely, sturdy trees versus young vegetable crops. Due to their size and deep root systems, trees are generally more tolerant of extreme weather events than annual vegetables. As a part of an agroforestry system, they can also improve the site conditions for vegetable crops to make them more likely to thrive. By increasing the resilience of the system, agroforestry can increase overall crop yield and quality while reducing soil degradation, weed and pest pressure, and production emissions. To learn more about aspects of agroforestry, check out the following workshops:

Defining and Creating a Regenerative Food System – Hannah McDonald

Saturday, January 15. Session 1: 9:00-10:30am

What do we mean when we say regenerative? What can our agricultural, social or economic practices say about the larger culture of our land use patterns? This dialogue-based workshop will get us thinking about a paradigm shift for how can we take “regenerative” beyond agriculture alone, and move into food and material systems, economic and social mobility, and practices that are adjusted for the impacts of climate change. Brainstorm steps we can take to redesign our consumption patterns, including collective organizing and organizational awareness.

A Local Indigenous Relationship with the Land – Andre Gaines

Saturday, January 15. Session 2: 11:00am-12:30pm

Andre StrongBearHeart and his younger kin will offer a welcome song and speak on the reciprocal relationship the Nipmuc people have with the land, so that all present can have the things they need. Nipmuc people still harvest and hunt much of what they have for the past 12,000+ years, but now face regulations, clear-cutting, pollution and other challenges. What has been harvested and what is its importance? How can we ally and move forward together? He will offer a snake dance to acknowledge medicinal plants and all things without legs, and will describe the crucial interconnectivity between bioregions of indigenous peoples and how this can shape our future.

Foraging for Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms in New England – Greg Marley

Saturday, January 15. Session 3: 2:00-3:30pm

Foraging for wild mushrooms can be intimidating for the beginner, but getting comfortable with fungi can offer a lifetime of learning opportunities and health benefits. This workshop will dive into the world of wild mushrooms, examining their role in ecology, the history and culture of their use, and their place in food and in apothecaries. Learn about a group of “foolproof” edible and medicinal species, as well as some that are responsible for the most common toxic reactions, and discuss the ethical and responsible use of this valuable sustainable resource in a crowded world.

Native Land Enhancement – Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson

Saturday, January 15. Session 3: 2:00-3:30pm

Chief Daryl Black Eagle will create an interactive space for the understanding of native lands in harmony with music and survival. This session will open with prayer and a welcome, then explore the history of Pocasset Pokanoket land, natural animal habitat restoration, how music is inspired through the land, how Europeans regard land, and how Native people have defined land and its role in survival. He will include songs and sounds of the woodlands, and will use and explain the place of the drum.

Chestnut Agroforestry – Update on Practices and Soil Health Changes – Jono Neiger

Saturday, January 15. Session 4: 4:00-5:30pm 

Hear about Big River Chestnuts’ fourth growing season, including successes and challenges with seven acres planted in chestnuts, small fruit (elderberry, aronia and currant) growing in the alleys and meat chickens ranging in some areas. Review and discuss the results from their soil health monitoring and regenerative farming practices.

Forest Kitchen – Kyra Kristof

Saturday, January 15. Session 4: 4:00-5:30pm 

What does a forest taste like? Much of our bioregion is forested, and yet most of us are only familiar with foods that come from open-field agriculture. Can we fall in love with a forest cuisine and become people who are nourished by vibrant, forested places? Discover some of the flavors and possibilities of a forest-based kitchen in this taste-and-talk session where we’ll explore a flavorscape honoring the long history and bright future of a lushly forested Northeast.

Seed Saving for Regional Resiliency

Seeds play an invaluable role in each of our farms and gardens: despite the amount of time we spend considering soil amendments, cover cropping practices, tilling, and other management techniques, we would not be able to grow crops without seeds. Seeds can develop different features that make them more likely to grow, and grow well, in some areas versus others. Because of this, seeds that grow well in Massachusetts are those that are adapted to our climate and pests. Growers can develop seed savings strategies to help preserve seeds that grow well in Massachusetts, making your farm and garden more resilient in the face of climate change and seed shortages while reducing annual seed expenses. To learn more about seed saving, visit the following workshops:

On-farm Seed Saving – Bill Braun

Saturday, January 15. Session 1: 9:00-10:30am (Available in Spanish)

Seed saving and growing can complement and enhance your farm or garden and deepen your relationship with the plants you grow. This workshop will cover a handful of basic and effective seed-saving and breeding techniques, as well as the harvesting and processing of annual and biennial seed crops that fit within farms and gardens of all scales.

Vegetable Variety Trialing on Your Farm, Homestead or Garden – Hannah Traggis

Saturday, January 15. Session 4: 4:00-5:30pm

Seed shortages, dropped varieties and a changing climate increase the risk of crop failure. Developing regionally adapted varieties that perform well in New England is more important than ever. In this workshop, we will discuss the pros, cons, and ‘how-to’s’ involved in trialing new vegetable varieties within your current growing system. Whether you are looking for a replacement variety for a crop that isn’t doing well on your farm, or you want to participate in some of the new and exciting participatory plant breeding efforts taking root in our region, understanding variety trials is essential for success.

Seed Sovereignty for Climate Change Resiliency – Bill Braun

Sunday, January 16. 4:00-5:30pm

What do we mean when we use the term “seed sovereignty?” How does regional seed-saving help us adapt to the unpredictability of a modern climate and foster solidarity within and throughout communities? In a facilitated roundtable discussion we will map out the cultural, political and economic factors around seed-saving as a tool for food sovereignty and resilience against the climate crisis. Explore how growers, eaters and advocates at all scales can participate as producers, distributors, researchers, stewards and storytellers to develop a vision of a cooperative future that benefits all people, their communities and the land.

Working with Pollinators

Insects, birds, and small animals pollinate roughly 80% of all flowering plant species. These pollinators are crucial to crop production and sustainability, yet habitat loss and pesticide use are making it harder for them to survive. A study of New Jersey farms found that farms with pollinator habitats integrated within the farm had greater total incomes on a per acre basis than those that did not, even if the pollinator habitat took acreage out of crop production. Learning ways to support pollinators on your farm or garden can help improve production sustainability while potentially increasing yields. Supporting wild pollinator populations can support crop diversity, soil health, and reduced use of pesticides, ultimately improving your production. The following workshops offer discussions and learning opportunities about how growers can work with pollinators:

Climate change: Impact on bees & other pollinators, agriculture & its impact on humanity – Mel Gadd

Saturday, January 15. Session 1: 9:00-10:30am

Global climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing ecosystems and societies. These have serious impacts on bees and other pollinators, which in turn impacts agriculture. Mel will present on how growers can organic growers can introduce beekeeping to their operations to increase output of crops, add other goods into their production and what effects we should expect to see from climate change. He will walk us through findings from his case study working with bees at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm. 

Solar Arrays for Pollinators and Farmers: Opportunities and Constraints – Evan Abramson

Saturday, January 15. Session 1: 9:00-10:30am

As we transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy, demand for renewable energy is creating pressures and opportunities for energy production on farmland and natural spaces. Some see this as an occasion to plug into the green economy, maximize land use, expand regional biodiversity and sustain agricultural operations financially, while others view the widespread conversion of prime farmland, field and forest as a threat to regional food security and landscape connectivity, and even possibly a loss of carbon. In this session, panelists will introduce their work with solar panels in agriculture and pollinator habitat restoration, then engage in a NOFA-moderated discussion on opportunities, concerns and visions for a sustainable future.

NOFA Organic Land Care Program – Jeremy Pelletier

Saturday, January 15. Session 2: 11:00am-12:30pm

What does ‘organic’ mean in the context of landscaping? Prior to the NOFA Organic Land Care Program’s development, the ‘organic’ term was only regulated within agriculture and did not define parameters for land care professionals. NOFA now oversees an accreditation program that offers professional credentials to landscapers who want to show professional competency in organic and sustainable landscaping, based on the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care. Learn about the NOFA Accreditation Program, how you can earn credentials in Organic Land Care, and what the future holds for Organic Landscapers across the country.

No-till Transitions

Farms that utilize reduced or no-till practices can have a major impact on soil health, ultimately increasing the resilience of their production system. Eliminating regular tillage allows soil structure to become well-established, leading to improvements in soil organic matter and soil biology (earthworms and microbes), and ultimately improving overall crop resilience and productivity. Over time, reduced or no-till farms are able to better withstand periods of drought or heavy rain inundations due to deeper-rooted plants and reduced soil compaction, have fewer weeds due to natural weed seed control, and support a well-balanced and diverse soil ecosystem. Despite these known benefits, transitioning to reduced or no-till can seem like a huge step to take with a lot of unknowns. Learning how to apply reduced or no-till practices in your farm or garden is the first step towards transitioning away from tillage and toward a more sustainable, resilient production system. Check out these workshops to learn more from growers who are utilizing reduced or no-till practices on their farm or garden:

Organic machinery for no-till and weed control – Ana Pelgröm

Saturday, January 15. Session 1: 9:00-10:30am (Available in Spanish)

Farmers are ever more aware that growing begins with good soil, but efficient, effective weed management is still an essential challenge for organic growers. Over 35 years in biodynamic farming, Ana and Jos used plant husbandry, animal rotation, composting and shallow cultivation to succeed. Over time they developed their use of shallow tillage tools to build up organic matter, reduce weeds and labor and lead to happier, healthier soils and people. In this workshop they will compare critical difference in early mechanization with innovations over the last 15 years, helping you find and use the right tools for agriculture that respects the earth.

Planning to adapt to climate change – Jeff Cole

Saturday, January 15. Session 2: 11:00-12:30pm

How will you adjust your farming practices to weather the climate crisis? Discuss some of the commonly recommended adaptations for farmers looking to be profitable while facing extreme weather shifts and estimate the financial impact of those changes on your farm profits. Learn from The Carrot Project’s business advisors and get resources for additional one-on-one support for developing your farm business plan.

No-Till Gardening for Home or Market – Richard Robinson

Saturday, January 15. Session 3: 2:00-3:30pm

Virtually eliminate weeding in your garden and substantially increase yield by converting to a no-till approach. We’ll discuss how to use leaves and compost to reduce the overall amount of labor needed to manage your garden and spread out the time dedicated to gardening over the course of the year. This system is appropriate for all scales, from the home gardener to the serious market gardener.

No-till Transition Year 2: Lessons Learned – Jeremy Barker Plotkin

Saturday, January 15. Session 3: 2:00-3:30pm (Available in Spanish)

Virtually eliminate weeding in your garden and substantially increase yield by converting to a no-till approach. We’ll discuss how to use leaves and compost to reduce the overall amount of labor needed to manage your garden and spread out the time dedicated to gardening over the course of the year. This system is appropriate for all scales, from the home gardener to the serious market gardener.

When and How to Kill Cover Crops – Arthur Siller

Saturday, January 15. Session 4: 4:00-5:30pm

Knowing when and how to kill your cover crops is just as important as deciding which cover crop to plant. Cover crop termination techniques can impact nutrient availability, weed pressure, and animal pests in subsequent cash crops. This workshop will teach you various techniques to kill winter cover crops like rye, vetch, oats, brassicas and peas, including a wide range of organic-friendly methods including tilling, mowing, roller-crimping, winterkilling, and tarping. Determining the method that you plan to use for terminating your cover crop can help you decide both what cover crop is planted and what cash crop should follow it.

Maximizing Biological Diversity for Ultimate Crop Health – Julie Rawson

Saturday, January 15. Session 4: 4:00-5:30pm

How can small farms sequester carbon and rainwater while flavorful, nutrient-density food? Julie Rawson will present on the successes and challenges of Many Hands, a 39 year old no-till farm raising 4 acres of vegetables, 100 fruit trees, pigs and poultry. 2021 was a banner year for diverse cover crop and poultry post-harvest integration. It was also one of the wettest years they’ve experienced in decades. We’ll walk through the ins and outs of no-till, foliar mineral and biological sprays and making peace (and tinctures and teas) with the perennials that thrive in their system.