The chatting never stops. For people who have chosen to spend their day, on the whole, working by themselves or with a few others the farmers at the NOFA-NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York) winter conference are gregarious. Great tips are passed on and useful contacts made, but it can be overwhelming at times.
A very early drive from the Adirondacks got us to Saratoga on Friday in time for the “intensive” workshops. The conference was preceded on Thursday by the first Northeast Organic Research Symposium (more on that in a later post), and the weekend days were given over to shorter sessions, with several keynote speakers. Conference veterans filled the neophytes in on the real highlights: extraordinary meals made from food donated by farmer participants, and the high-energy contradance on Saturday night.
I spent Friday learning about covered growing systems – high tunnels, low tunnels, caterpillar tunnels, mobile hoophouses 90 feet long that roll on rails and can be moved by two determined 10-year-olds. As consumers are clamoring for year-round access to local produce, farmers are coming up with creative low-cost ways to extend the growing season at both ends, without burning fossil fuels. On Saturday and Sunday, the challenge was to choose between sessions on beekeeping, garlic, farm planning, renewable energy – in the end, I soaked up all I could about ways to manage vegetable production on a small farm.
In fact, one of the most profound takeaways was the idea that “small farms are real farms,” as keynote speaker John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri, asserts. They strengthen rural communities and keep farmland available for future generations. We keep small farms viable when connections are made between players in the “food chain,” as, for example, in community supported agriculture (CSA) which brings together farmers and their customers to plan the farming year. The bonds that come from these partnerships, like the food that is produced, has value beyond dollars and cents.