Editor’s Note: Weaved throughout the next couple of weeks there will be recaps & interviews from Erika & Liz from their amazing weekend at NOFA-NY’s (Northeast Organic Farming Association New York) Winter Conference held in our hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY. It was a 3 1/2 day conference filled with ‘new farmer’ mixers, half/whole day sessions, full-day workshops, trade shows and demonstrations on everything organic farming has to offer for the home gardener homesteader to the profession farmer to the food justice advocate. Lea Kone & her staff graciously provided two press passes to From Scratch Club. (!!!!!) I immediately gave the tickets to the two of our contributors that are currently active farmers (and had been relentlessly been stalking me for the possible tickets for weeks): Liz, owner of Brown Betty Farm, a working sheep farm and Erika who works at Kilpatrick Family Farm and runs a small homestead at her urban Ballston Spa home and a sprouting charcuterie business with her husband, Chris. These two ladies rocked it by attending the entire conference, participating in many sessions and grabbing everyone they could get their hands on to interview, share stories and general meet & greet. They have so much audio, I haven’t even delved into it yet! I am thankful to Erika & Liz for wearing their FSC Press Badges with pride, excitement and genuine passion for farming, food justice and the environment. First up, Erika has an overview of her exciting weekend. -Christina
I had the immense pleasure of attending NOFA-NY’s Winter Conference this year. I went to the Young Farmer Mixer on Thursday night and attended sessions all day on Friday-Sunday. I am incredibly grateful to the NOFA staff for all their hard work in putting together the conference and to Christina for sending Liz and I to report on it. – Erika
As I sit to write this I feel like I have a farming education hangover of sorts. I’m so physically exhausted from attending workshop after workshop where I was stuffing my brain with the most incredible knowledge. I know saying you are “tired from thinking” sounds like it would come from the mouth of someone from the Jersey Shore cast, but the NOFA-NY Winter Conference was just so good that now I need my brain to simmer all of this knowledge for a bit.
Even crazier, as tired as I was I would’ve loved for the conference to go on all week. There were so many good sessions, it was really hard to narrow it down and I wasn’t able to attend even half the ones that I would’ve liked to. I can only hope they have similar sessions at next year’s conference because I’m definitely attending!
In a future post I’m going to break down some of the real nitty-gritty of what went on but for now I mostly want to talk about the experience.
Although I consider myself privileged to have many friends who are farmers or work for farms, sometimes I feel very alone in my desire to be a future farmer. As a consumer and an advocate for fair and sustainable food systems, sometimes I feel like I really want to just curl up and cry. Sometimes it’s so hard to be patient waiting for the chance to farm and also watching as things like GMOs and monocropping continue to degrade our food and soils.
Being with so many other people who share your concerns and passions is empowering and important. It makes you feel like, “Hey I might be crazy but at least I’m in the company of all these other crazy people too!” It’s not simply farmers or future farmers there either. There are many food advocates, market managers, bloggers, homesteaders, canners, craftspeople, etc. who come to learn everything from Farm Bill policy to how to build community through food.
I also got to see, and even speak with, some people I would consider to be my “farming idols.” I heard Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt from Roxbury Farm speak about cover cropping, and Kristin and Mark Kimball did a hilarious workshop on how to have a better market stand. I should note that during that workshop Kristin was dressed as a mustachioed man while Mark looked stunning in a low-cut, pink spandex dress and neon yellow leggings (see above for proof!).
I asked Jody her opinion about why so many younger people are looking for a career in farming and she said she feels that younger people seem to be looking for a career that has meaning. I honestly couldn’t agree more with that statement.
Mark Kimball told me that he and Kristin make time for conferences and speaking engagements (although a bit fewer than they used to) like NOFA-NY’s because it gives them the opportunity to connect with other people in the farming community they don’t often get to see. I was amazed that just with my limited experience I was bumping into people I knew during the course of the weekend.
In fact, one of the greatest things about the weekend was running into old friends (like Bill and Tamara of Sow Loud Farm), and bumping into a few people from the world of roller derby! I actually got to hear a presentation on planning out growing cycles by Organic Panic of Suburbia Roller Derby (aka Maryellen Sheehan who is days away from moving with her husband to their own farm) and got to see Farmer’s Slaughter of CNY Roller Derby who was at a trade show booth for her work.
Other highlights included listening to the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm Crew singing work songs, the huge amount of free literature and great handouts I received (that I will now be pouring over for the next few weeks), getting to draw out my “dream farm,” meeting new people who I plan to keep in touch with, and a general sense of support from an inspiring community.
In closing I will say this: if each person who was there gets to achieve want they want to in relation to food and farming, I can absolutely promise this world would be filled with more sustainably grown/raised/sourced food than you could ever imagine. So to all those people who say organic can’t feed the world, I say, “Get thee to a NOFA conference!”