Innovation and Inspiration at the 2017 NOFA Summer Conference

By Marty Dagoberto, Jason Valcourt and Nicole Belanger

Innovation and Inspiration at the 2017 NOFA Summer Conference

By Marty Dagoberto, Jason Valcourt and Nicole Belanger

The organic movement has been a constant force for innovation and progress in food production models that are environmentally and biologically friendly. Advances in methods of cover-cropping, composting, crop rotation, reduced tillage, biodiversity and soil carbon restoration are just a few examples of the techniques preserved and refined by the organic movement and disseminated at gatherings like the annual NOFA conferences. While many of these techniques continue to be “adopted” by mega-scale commercial agriculture, the grassroots organic movement maintains the true essence of conscientious food production and land care. It is within this innovative spirit and in celebration of the web of life that this year’s NOFA Summer Conference calls together allies across the region.

Keynote speaker Michael Phillips, a master organic orchardist and author of the new book Mycorrhizal Planet, reminds us that great advances can come from our conscious collaboration with the unseen world of soil ecosystems. “Mycorrhizal fungi have been waiting a long time for people to catch on,” his book opens. Phillips helps us understand that if we take the time to understand the symbiotic relationships of fungi and plants, we can work together to build soil fertility, grow healthier more productive crops and combat climate change in the process.

Carbon farming enthusiast Connor Stedman proclaims, “Farmers are on the front lines of climate change impacts around the world, and they are also in one of the best positions to do practical, on-the-ground climate mitigation and adaptation work”.  Connor will present an intensive workshop on Friday and will dive into ways to apply cutting-edge agroforestry systems such as silvopasture, alley cropping, multifunctional buffers, and multi-layer food forestry on farms of all sizes in the Northeast. Other Friday all-day intensives are being offered by both of our keynote speakers, Dr. Huber (The Impact of GMOs & Glyphosate on Soil, Crop, Animal and Human Health) and Michael Phillips (Holistic Orchard Management), as well as by Hannah Traggis and Bill Braun (On-Farm Seed Production).

At this summer’s Saturday’s keynote session, Dr. Don Huber will help us understand the most recent advances of scientific research into the previously unexamined impacts of pesticide-intensive GMO agriculture. After a 41-year military career evaluating natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks, Dr. Huber has become one of the nation’s leading researchers into the herbicide glyphosate, and a major thorn in Monsanto’s side. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the most commonly used GMO-related herbicide, created by Monsanto. He will help us understand the impacts that glyphosate has on biological systems at all levels – soil, animals and humans alike.

In order to complement our big move back to Hampshire, we are changing the time of the Saturday keynote address, usually slated for 7:30pm, to 3-4pm in the afternoon. From there you can roll out into the conference’s annual Country Fair, followed by dinner, conversation, drumming and a live band.

An addition to Saturday’s Country Fair this year will be maker demos. Fair goers will stroll around the tents watching wool spinning, fiber soap making, “farm hacks,” and more. With the abundance of shade trees at Hampshire the alpacas, sheep, goats, and horses will be well cared for and available for people to meet. Water games are returning to the Fair this year as well, which will be a wonderful way to cool off during a hot summer day, and the Hampshire pool will open for an hour.

Farm “hackers” are invited to showcase their farm and garden innovations as part of the Country Fair. Founding member of Farm Hack, Dorn Cox, shares, “Farm Hack has blended a rich set of old and new traditions – the Enlightenment salon ideals of the eighteenth century and those of the open source software movement. Both believe that the natural state of knowledge is to be free.” Cox will lead a Farm Hack intensive on Sunday.

We are also excited to have the opportunity to partner with Hampshire’s own farm operations.  “Hampshire College has two examples of farm hacks that we get to show off at the Summer Conference,” says Jason Dragon, Assistant Vegetable Grower at the Hampshire College Farm Center. “We took advantage of two well-established farm hack solutions for things we needed at the farm: a portable cooler, and a converted electric tractor we use for basket weeding,” he explained. The portable cooler is a converted and insulated trailer using a “Coolbot” device to control an air-conditioning unit at a fraction of the cost of a commercial refrigerator. Jason also worked with Hampshire students to convert their 1940’s “Allis Chalmers G” tractor from fuel to electric powered.

In addition to promoting advances in techniques and skills, the Summer Conference provides opportunities to advance our understanding of patterns of injustice so that we can create a food system that works for everyone. On Saturday morning, Liz O’Gilvie from Gardening the Community invites all to “hear the story of [her] journey from ambivalent consumer to grower of food, community and power, interwoven with an open conversation space about black people, food, and land.” On Sunday afternoon, farmer-organizers from the National Young Farmer Coalition will present on “Organizing for Racial Justice in Food & Farming.” Over a dozen other workshops explore issues related to food justice and urban agriculture.

We are very pleased to bring the NOFA Summer Conference back to Hampshire College after ten years at UMASS Amherst, and we hear a collective sigh of relief when thinking about how easy it will be to park, navigate, and join the conference festivities at Hampshire. In addition to over 100 sessions on everything from food preservation and natural health to soapmaking, mushrooms, homesteading and bees, advances in the art and science of regenerative organic agriculture will again be highlighted at this year’s conference.

Organic farmers are working hard to continue the ancient tradition of working in collaboration with natural systems and lead the way toward a truly sustainable and just way to feed the world. We hope you will join us at the 2017 NOFA Summer Conference to share inspiration, new and old perspectives and to continue the tradition of progress.

Learn more about the conference and register at or call (508) 572-0816. To save on costs register by the July 25 Early Bird Deadline. Scholarships and work exchange opportunities are available.