Recently, I had the privilege of attending the NOFA-NY conference with Erika. From NOFA: “The theme of this year’s conference, The Cooperative Economy, gives us an opportunity to explore the current of cooperation that runs deep in our organization and movement and the hopes that we have for a more sustainable future“. The 3+ day weekend was kicked off Thursday evening with a mixer hosted by the NOFA Beginning Farmer Program and followed by a weekend packed with intensive workshops and talks. Thursday night was a ton of fun and I got to hang with some awesome farmers including Luke & Cara from Quincy Farm, Missy of Fortsville Creek Farm, Michael & Keith from KFF, Elizabeth Haggerty of 3 Dogs Barking Farm, some of the folks from Hearty Roots, and a really neat couple from Brooklyn hoping to start a small educational farm in Orange County this year (can’t remember their names… boohoo!). Both Quincy Farm (Ballston Spa pickup) and Fortsville Creek Farm(on-farm pickup, northway exit 17) are starting CSA programs for the first time in the 2012 season if you live in the capital region, are looking for a CSA and want to support a new farmer!
I began planning for the conference weeks in advance with a few hours spent perusing the schedule and planning what I wanted to attend. It was actually pretty tough; everything sounded really interesting and valuable and I had a hard time choosing between sessions that overlapped on the schedule. In my selections, I also tried to balance my own interests with things that I thought would be valuable for FSC and interesting to our readers (you!). What I found as I made my way through the weekend was that while the themes varied, for the most part the heart and soul of the messages delivered transcended the subject matter; the farmers and food activists delivering classes and talks are deeply passionate about what they live for – producing or promoting food in one way or another – and it oozes from them in a wonderful way. I think that experiencing that passion was one of the most powerful parts of the weekend for me. After Thursday night’s kickoff party, I began the learning part of the weekend in a half-day session with “The Grass Whisperer“, Troy Bishopp. As an experienced and knowledgeable grazier, Troy’s talk was centered around using an appropriate grazing rotation to best serve the needs of the farmer, the animals and the earth beneath the grass. Before he got into the details, however, Troy spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the importance of developing goals as a family; whether that family was a seasoned, large multi-generational farming family, or a young couple just starting out. He stressed the importance of identifying goals and writing a statement that outlined the whyin a family’s journey toward those goals, and that goals should probably include more than just the bottom line (money) if happiness and joy along that journey was desired.
At first, I was impatient as Troy shared these thoughts, and wondered when he would get into the “real” tips I could implement – how big to make grazing pastures, when to move animals, how to fence for frequent rotations, etc (he did eventually get to some of these) but eventually the impatience subsided and I began to really listen. Much like getting into a really moving song or a good piece of art gives me a little chill, the thought of family farming got to me. So far, farming for us has meant me leaving early in to morning to go to someone else’s farm to care for my animals, or care for my chickens while my kids play in the yard. Sometimes, more and more lately, my four year old joins me but usually my “farming” is a solitary endeavor. Listening to Troy, I realized that if I want to make our farm part of our home and our family life, it has to be the result of a collective vision and shared goals – not my “hobby” imposed on the rest of my family (while they willingly and generously support me, for this to work they need to share the passion). I’m still not sure how to put this into action in my own situation, but I have certainly been thinking a lot about it and think it is an idea that may be applied to a lot more than farming. Unification, or at least better communication sometimes seems like a lofty idea, but if it leads to more peace, happiness and goal achievement, I’m beginning to think that Troy is right and it is worth the work it might take to get there. In the afternoon of that first day, I squeezed into a packed room of folks eager to hear from Jim & Adele Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm. They too, were very entertaining and endearing; a couple that are adorably sweet in their witty banter, clearly the result of decades of marriage raising a family and farming together. Their talk on natural meat production and processing was more detail-oriented and focused on numbers and policy, but also had strong undercurrents on that same theme of family.
Jim & Adele built their farm when their children were young and now farm with their daughter, Shannon, and her young family. Adele’s pride for her daughter’s achievements was more than obvious. As she spoke about their farming operation it was clear that her daughter is an integral part of their business, from processing to marketing and PR. Shannon seems like a generational farmer’s dream come true – not only does she share her parent’s passion for farming, she has also taken the family farm in new directions that benefit both the family and the business. I hope that someday my own children (or at least one of them) share my excitement for farming and join us in a lifelong partnership.
I leave you with a bit of Troy Bishopp’s reflection poem:
My roots are entrenched on this precious piece of earth
This little farm has been a source of great worth
Not in terms of money you see
But as a family’s need for spirituality
And since I’ve been so occupied reflecting on everything I learned at the NOFA Winter Conference and in the lambing barn, I haven’t had a chance to prepare a recipe or DIY to share so if you’re looking for something scrumptious to make this weekend check out Shannon Hayes’ take on stew.