NOFA Summer Conference Intensives Offer Skills for Body, Farm and Climate

by Nicole Belanger

Register for Pre-Conferences Here

The 41st annual NOFA Summer Conference will be held August 14-16, 2015 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Presenters representing all seven NOFA state chapters will be offering a weekend of hands-on learning. Participants will gain new skills, make new connections, and enjoy the immersive Summer Conference experience. See to learn about work exchange, affordable accommodations, and group registration, as well as the 144 main conference workshops and Children's and Teen Conferences. Registration is now open.

This year's pre-conference intensives take place on Friday, August 14, with four half-day seminars and one full-day seminar. Half-day sessions will cover topics including herbs, carbon farming, pastured poultry, and beekeeping. They run from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm, leaving time to attend the first set of main conference workshops beginning at 2:00 pm on Friday. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride - one of the two keynote speakers for 2015 - offers the full-day seminar, Healing your body with the GAPS Nutritional Protocol, from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm.

In 2015, we're returning to a workshop schedule with two slots on Friday, three on Saturday and three on Sunday. We're also breathing new life and energy into the Saturday afternoon Country Fair, including music, games, skill demonstrations, contests and more.

Pastured Poultry: From Brooder to Bag with Ken Gies
Ken Gies and his wife own and operate a poultry hatchery in Upstate New York. Gies buys in eggs from several suppliers, hatching a total of about 80,000 hybrid layers, turkeys, and broilers. The birds are certifiably organic, fed organic grain from day one. The Gies' prove out the genetics of the birds, raising 50-100 birds a year for their own use.

In his seminar, Gies will cover the basics from when chicks arrive: brooding, troubleshooting, introducing birds to pasture, feeding rations, and monitoring birds in the field. He will also discuss a persistent new strain of Avian Influenza and how small-scale growers can manage to get disease out of their systems. Part of the workshop will be devoted to the hands-on construction of low-cost equipment, including pens, feeders, waterers, and nest boxes. Processing will be briefly discussed, and there will be a demonstration of shackle building (a shackle is a device which holds the bird by the feet and suspends it in the air) and bleeder cones. The shackles that participants build will be for sale at cost.

Shortly after moving to New York from Canada in the late 1990s, Gies connected with the Northeast Pastured Poultry Association (NEPPA). Formed collaboratively by Heifer International and others, NEPPA's mission was to expand the base of pastured poultry producers in the Northeast and create a regional hatchery. Though Heifer typically works internationally, the organization determined that the region was in need of economic bolstering and supported the project.

A SARE feasibility study determined that the hatchery could be profitable in five years (though it actually took 10). Once developed and up and running, NEPPA disbanded, having met its mandate. The Gies' were the recipients of NEPPA's assets, passed on to them as members of the local community, in the spirit of Heifer projects.

For the Gies, education was not just part of their mandate after receiving the assets from the project. Said Gies: "My wife and I are both compulsive teachers. We love to share what we've learned… to help other people along. We like to see people get into [raising poultry]."

Appropriate for professionals and hobbyists and those keeping birds in urban or rural areas, the session will be tailored by Gies to the needs of attendees. He recognizes that local, organic meat and eggs are a niche market and thinks there is room for expansion with careful planning for local regulations, bird maintenance, and effective marketing.

Creating Herbal Remedies for Digestive Wellness with Brittany Nickerson
Herbalist, health educator and food activist Brittany Nickerson operates an herbal education and consulting business, Thyme Herbal, based in North Amherst, MA. She uses herbalism to engender skills that help people connect with nature and their own physical and emotional selves.

Nickerson's seminar is geared specifically to those that struggle with digestive health or are looking for alternatives for achieving digestive wellness. The seminar will focus on individual herbs and their uses. She aims for participants to have a user-friendly and empowering experience, learning how to integrate knowledge of herbs into everyday life using simple home remedies like herbal teas, syrups, tinctures, vinegars and honeys. Attendees will taste different herbal medicine remedies as Nickerson demonstrates how to make them.

She initially became drawn to the use of herbs for health and wellness through knowledge she learned in her own family. Her love of herbs was then rekindled and cemented when she enrolled in an ethno-botany class at the University of California, Berkley.

Nickerson will cover a range of specific herbs and categories of herbs used for digestive wellness. Carminatives, like fennel seed, peppermint and lemon balm, help stimulate circulation to the digestive system, break down and absorb nutrients, and eliminate gas. Demulcents, like licorice and marshmallow root, are soothing and healing to mucous membrane tissues. Bitter herbs, like orange peel, dandelion root and leaf, angelica, and yellow dock, support digestive health, help with breakdown of fats and oils, and create a friendly environment for healthy gut flora.

According to Nickerson, the nervous system is intricately linked with the digestive system, so many of the herbs she will discuss serve as remedies for both. For instance, since neurological responses to various stimuli initiate many digestive functions, stress management can aid digestion. "A healthy, calm, well-functioning nervous system is paramount to good digestion," she said. The seminar will be great for anyone interested in the uses and home production of herbal medicines for a variety of the body's systems.

Brittany teaches from the plants as they transition with the seasons, linking plant seasonality with a body's needs and a greater understanding of the environment. Through Thyme Herbal, she teaches courses like the Art of Home Herbalism and others geared towards individuals' personal and professional development. Herbal education is at the core of her work, even when doing private consulting. "I'm a teacher. I love teaching, and I'm very passionate about it."

Becoming a Backyard Beekeeper with Sanne Kure-Jensen
Kure-Jensen has kept bees in her wildflower meadow since taking a class with the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association in 2003. She has had up to eight hives, typically managing five to six. She collects swarms from her own property and nearby sites when asked. She has not had to buy a package of bees since her second year. "I always wanted chickens, but when I really looked into it, I realized bees were much easier to care for," said Sanne. To replace colonies lost to the weather this past winter she hopes for a prolific swarm season this May and June.

Sanne's workshop will be ideal for beginning and intermediate beekeepers. Pollinator and insect identification, anatomy and common behavior will all be covered, as will common diseases, pests and tips to minimize the risk of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Sanne will describe commercial beekeeping operations that move hives across the country pollinating major crops and the risks to moving bees into commercial orchards. Sanne will share her own experiences and lessons from other beekeepers so participants can choose the approach that best suits their interests and needs.

Most people purchase an unassembled hive to save money. Attendees will team up to construct a wooden Langstroth hive, a commonly used hive style. This hands-on experience will help participants anticipate construction challenges and prepare them to construct their own hive for many years of use. The assembled hive will be auctioned off at the end of the workshop.

Kure-Jensen will touch upon important pollinator food sources and habitat needs, as well as the benefits of pollination. "Bees need to have a steady food source as early in the season as possible," said Sanne. "Start with crocuses in March and continue as late into the fall as possible. Try to offer a wide variety of flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs." Honey collection techniques and other bee products will also be covered. "By raising bees, growers get better vegetables, more fully pollinated apples and if we are lucky, we get honey from our happy bees," said Sanne.

Sanne encourages early registration, as her workshop size will be limited for maximum interaction. Participants will receive a list of tools to bring along for the hive construction, and extra tools will be available. Her resources will include favorite nectar plants, essential and optional equipment, potential suppliers and recommended reading. The workshop will allow participants to meet other aspiring and experienced beekeepers, building a network of potential mentors and collaborators. "Knowledge is power. The more you can gather the better," said Sanne.

Carbon Farming: Regenerative Agriculture for the Climate with Connor Stedman
Connor Stedman's pre-conference intensive provides an overview of farming practices that can help stabilize the global climate by sequestering atmospheric carbon in soil and perennial plants. The same practices also regenerate depleted natural resources (like soils) to increase the natural health, diversity and vitality of our landscapes.

Stedman is a naturalist and ecologist exploring the methods and message of carbon farming and regenerative agriculture. He sees himself as an educator and communicator, helping both the farming community and general public understand these practices, their applications, and their ecological and economic potential.

He works with Appleseed Permaculture in New York's Hudson Valley, doing whole farm planning and landscape design for working productive landscapes. Stedman is also the organizer of the internationally acclaimed Carbon Farming Course, training participants in a wide variety of carbon sequestering agricultural techniques. He holds a Masters' Degree in Environmental Planning from the University of Vermont.

This pre-conference session will review the science of climate change and carbon sequestration, introduce a whole range of carbon farming practices, and cover how these techniques can be applied on a property or in a specific climate region. Practices to be discussed will include improved annual techniques (e.g., organic no-till, compost, cover cropping), improved pasture techniques (e.g., holistic rotational grazing, pasture/rangeland compost application), agroforestry systems (e.g., alley farming, silvopasture, multifunctional buffers, savanna mimic systems), and other methods (e.g., biochar, keyline water planning).

Stedman will also cover current trends in carbon farming research, monitoring and markets. Among others, he sees three ways to think about the market potential for this type of agriculture: 1) Traditional carbon markets: These markets are complicated and the rules thus far (though he sees potential for this to change) typically favor large-scale forest management projects over agricultural projects that can store carbon while producing food. 2) Telling the story of a farm: Growers can communicate their use of these techniques and how they reflect the farm's values and environmental impact, setting them apart from other producers. 3) On-farm benefits: Additional benefits come along with these management practices, like improved resilience in the face of drought and flood, wildlife habitat and biodiversity, benefits for cycling and storage of nutrients, animal health, and cost and risk reduction.

"The messaging of carbon farming has focused most on the climate crisis," said Stedman, "but what regenerative agriculture is attempting is a whole rebuilding of natural systems in such a way that the economy and ecology are restoring themselves together, rather than economy growing at the expense of ecology."

Stedman aims to broaden the conversation about carbon farming from a single technique or small set of techniques. "There is no silver bullet anywhere in this conversation. There is a wide range of techniques, some of which are appropriate on some farms and some aren't." He also emphasizes the value of land repair and stewardship in agriculture, noting that our long-term future depends on the health of and access to land.

Growers of any experience level will find the intensive beneficial, including thinking about which of these techniques could be practiced on an existing farm or potential new operations. Those involved in regional planning and conservation planning will also gain an expanded understanding of land management and the potential uses and benefits of carbon farming and regenerative agriculture.

Healing your body with the GAPS Nutritional Protocol with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
Participants in this pre-conference session will learn what Gut And Psychology/Gut And Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) is and how nutrition can heal it and other chronic diseases in the human body. In her keynote and pre-conference intensive Dr. Campbell-McBride will address the importance of healthy, balanced intestinal microbiology in preventing and eliminating chronic diseases. Her work also explores the connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain. Read more about her work in the Spring issue of The Natural Farmer at