Celebrating 50 Years of NOFA

*excerpt from The Natural Farmer June 2021

This year is a very special year for NOFA as we celebrate the birth of NOFA in 1971 and also the oldest organic farming association in the country together with MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association). Individual state chapters would begin to appear in the late 1970s beginning with VT and NH. Back in 1971 there was a loosely organized group of passionate people connecting with one another primarily based on an intention to push back against the formidable powers and harmful influence of big Ag. Their respective work led them to begin enterprises that provided healthy food systems in a marketplace dominated by chemicals and saturated with low cost, low nutritional, food-like substances.

50 years of NOFA celebrationUnlike today, the primary communication channels were word of mouth and a steady stream of potluck invitations. The Natural Farmer was begun early-on by founder Samuel Kaymen as a mimeographed newsletter but by 1973 had had been transformed into a newspaper by the first formal editor Robert Houriet. This was used as the primary source of sharing the techniques and information on sustainable agricultural practices that would yield healthy foods and nourish the environment better than conventional agriculture.

Al NOFA 50thDuring this year’s conference we will celebrate our 50th Anniversary with three special sessions that will include various founding members and folks from across five decades of NOFA’s work in education and advocacy. In the session, Thrilling Tales of Yesteryear, we will visit with founding members and hear their stories of what was happening around 1971 that led to the creation of an organization as a platform for their passion. As you might expect, there were numerous trials and tribulations -- and wild times -- and we’ll get a glimpse into that period, guided by long time NOFA Policy Director, Steve Gilman.

In 50 Years of NOFA History, NOFA New Jersey’s Al Johnson will present recent interviews and thoughts from many NOFA members woven into a video panorama of the last 50 years. Al has recently collected interviews across the Northeast with various members to mark this milestone with personal testimonies and insights into their experience with NOFA.

The final session of the conference will be The Next 50 Years of NOFA. This session will be guided by NOFA NY’s Elizabeth Henderson and will bring together a collection of founding NOFA members with a collection of much younger NOFA members to dream together about the next 50 years of NOFA’s work. This meeting of the generations will be a passing of the torch that honors the past and frames the next chapter of NOFA’s history to come.

Elizabeth Henderson on a tractorWe hope you will join us in these celebrations and take part in the 47th Annual Summer Conference. 50 years of NOFA and 47 years of the Summer Conference. Do you know who the first NOFA Conference keynote speaker was? Some of you may have been there.  Hope to see you at this year’s conference!

NOFA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Sessions

Friday, July 30 7-8:30pm

50 Years of NOFA History NOFA New Jersey’s Al Johnson will present a video panorama of recent interviews with members from across the Northeast to mark this milestone with personal testimonies and insights into their experiences with NOFA and the Organic Movement from the last 50 years.

Saturday, July 31, 7-8:30pm

Thrilling Tales of Yesteryear

As Vietnam, Civil Rights, Nuclear Disarmament, etc. protests raged in the background, thanks to serendipitous gatherings of Back to the Land counter-culturists in the late 1960's a group of embryonic organic farmers, gardeners, organizers and eaters ended up forming the "Natural Organic Farmers Association" in 1971 -- later morphing into the Northeast Organic Farming Association as more state Chapters joined ranks with the NH and VT startups. As you might expect there were numerous motivations, experiences, trials and tribulations -- and wild times! Join in a live and lively virtual exchange evoking the spirit of the time with some of the dynamic originators who laid the groundwork for NOFA's 1st 50 years. Moderated by Steve Gilman, the panelists are Samuel Kaymen, Sara Norton, Jake Guest and Howie Prussack.

Steve Gilman, Thanks to the early peer education days of NOFA, Steve Gilman became an organic vegetable farmer for 30 some years in the Saratoga NY area, followed by serving as policy coordinator for the NOFA Interstate Council.

Friday, August 6, 7-8:30pm

The Next 50 Years of NOFA For farmers who joined the movement for a more sustainable agriculture over the past 50 years, connecting with NOFA was part of creating a way of life centered on food, good work and community. Three of the founding farmers – Kevin Engelbert (first certified organic dairy farm), Joey Klein (vegetable farmer for Deep Root Coop), Mike Mercer (RI’s first organic composting business) – will share stories from their lives and work. And then interrogate younger members of the movement – what attracted them, what fuels their passions, and what do they hope lies ahead? Onika Abraham, director of the NY Farm School, Kevin’s dairy farmer son Joe Engelbert, Steve Munno, CSA farmer and president of CT NOFA’s board, and Iris Fen Gillingham, still in college, daughter of organic farmer-activists – will turn our gaze to envision the future they will shape.