Highlighting Microbes' Role in Healing People, The Climate:

2015 NOFA Summer Conference: August 14-16, 2015
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
by Nicole Belanger and Ben Grosscup

This year's conference will focus on the theme "Healing the Climate, Healing Ourselves: Regeneration through Microbiology". We've chosen this theme to highlight the role of organic agriculture in facilitating microbial communities that can help reverse skyrocketing atmospheric carbon concentrations by fixing carbon in soils, as well as promote a healthy gut microbiome that can help reverse and prevent chronic disease.

2015 will feature two keynote presenters whose works address this theme. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride is a medical doctor and nutritional consultant, and Ronnie Cummins is a consumer activist and regenerative agriculture advocate. Both will give workshops throughout the conference. Additionally, Dr. Campbell-McBride will give a full day pre-conference on Friday, August 14, 2015 from 9:00am to 5:30pm.

Dr. Campbell-McBride

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, our Friday evening keynote speaker, uses nutrition in her work to heal chronic disease in the human body. She recognizes the digestive system and gut flora - the mass of microbes in the digestive system - as fundamental to our health, aiding in the proper digestion and absorption of food. Her nutritional interventions involve establishing a proper balance between beneficial bacteria and pathogenic microbes that exist along side them.

Trained as a neurologist, Dr. Campbell-McBride observed that the majority of her patients with chronic neurological disease also had digestive issues. Although mainstream medicine often ignores connections between different bodily systems, she set out to explore the connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain.

Realizing the limitations of neurology to help her son diagnosed with autism, she began to study human nutrition. Upon completing a master's degree in nutrition, she developed the nutritional protocol detailed in her book, "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" (or GAPS) and opened a clinic to work directly with the public.

Initially, her clinical work focused solely on how diet could treat neurological conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and mental illness. Eventually, she discovered that the same protocol could address physical problems like fibromyalgia, arthritis, epilepsy, asthma, and allergies.

The GAPS diet removes foods - grains, starch, processed foods, and milk - that are difficult to digest, as well as feeding pathogenic flora and damaging the gut wall. The diet emphasizes good quality meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fermented milk products and vegetables, and nuts. She recommends that patients follow the diet for at least two years, but says it is not necessary to follow perpetually. Slowly, as the healing process unfolds, foods can be reintroduced.

Dr. Campbell-McBride trains others in the GAPS protocol, speaking at various conferences and to professionals around the world. She will address the importance of healthy, balanced intestinal microbiology in preventing and eliminating disease in her keynote and pre-conference intensive.

In addition to her work with the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride will offer breakout workshops on the role of nutrition in heart disease. She asks why with so many following 'heart-healthy' diets, people in the Western world are having just as many heart attacks and strokes as before the war on cholesterol and fats.

Drawing links between nutrition and agriculture, Dr. Campbell-McBride says farmers, activists, and consumers should strengthen the nutritive value of food by insisting on high standards for organic growing practices using clean, fertile and living soils, as well as insisting that animals be raised on pasture. "I found that the most powerful intervention in health is food. There is nothing more powerful on this planet than food in affecting human health," said Dr. Campbell-McBride.

Ronnie Cummins

Saturday evening's keynote speaker, Ronnie Cummins, highlights how regenerative organic agriculture provides a realistic strategy for reversing climate disruption. In recent years, NOFA educational activities have increasingly highlighted the potential for well-managed croplands and forests to reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations by building soil carbon via photosynthesis. In the same way that solving today's crises of degenerative disease depends on fostering healthy microbial life in the gut, Cummins contends that to achieve a healthy climate, humanity must restore healthy microbial life in our soils.

Cummins sees the need for a broader coalition of movements working toward regenerative agriculture and increased use of organic farming, ranching and forestry management to capture atmospheric carbon in the ground. Cummins views climate disruption as "the most important issue in the world" and sees an opportunity to "turn this terrible threat into a transformative movement." He aims to bring the various food and farming and climate movements together. "We've got to reduce fossil fuel use as quickly as possible, but if we don't start naturally sequestering lots of carbon, it's not going to matter."

He sees an important role for New England and the Northeast to play because of its well-developed food movement and its critical mass of small farmers and ranchers who can lead the way. "We can't wait for the governments, we've got to create market demand for healthy, climate friendly food and farming… If climate-friendly changes in land and agricultural management are to be made, they must be made by a shift in how small farm, gardens, land and forests are managed," said Cummins.

Cummins is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Founded in the late 1990s to galvanize consumers to advocate for strict organic standards, OCA has grown to a large network of individuals and organizations that employs grassroots marketplace pressure and political lobbying on issues like GMO labeling, the protection of organic standards, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFOs), and other issues related to industrial-scale farming. 10 years ago OCA set up an organization to do similar work in Mexico - Via Organica (The Organic Way). He's been involved in the international climate movement, recently joining protests at the UN Climate meetings in Lima, Peru and New York City, and before that in Cochabamba, Bolivia and Cancun, Mexico.

One of the workshops Cummins will present during the conference is "Regenerative Organics: Reversing Global Warming & Rural Poverty". In this workshop, he'll outline his vision for how regenerative organic farming, ranching, and land can reverse global warming, while simultaneously increasing soil fertility, crop nutrient quality, yields, soil water retention, human and animal health, and alleviating rural poverty.

"We can reverse global warming, but only if we adopt organic regenerative agriculture for farming and ranching. Organics as practiced today are part of the solution - as is rotational grazing and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal husbandry, but we've got to take it a lot further and I think we can do that… This is what I think I'll be dedicating the rest of my life to - strengthening this [movement]," said Cummins.

Conference logistics

Please note that in 2015, we are returning to a schedule of two workshop slots on Friday, three slots on Saturday and three slots on Sunday. There will also be full and half-day pre-conferences on Friday, August 14. Registration opens May 15, 2015.

Call for Workshop Proposals

Workshop proposals are being considered until March 31, 2015. For details on how to submit a workshop proposal, visit www.nofasummerconference.org/callworkshop2015.php.