By Eric Houppert and Christine Dionese; photo by Steve Carter
in less than two weeks, Boomtown Agricultural Editor Eric Houppert will join farmers, gardeners, consumers and activists from all over the state in Saratoga Springs, New York to attend the 34th annual NOFA-NY Winter Conference.
To preview this year’s conference, both Eric and West Coast editor Christine Dionese list a few of their most anticipated workshops.
|| Eric's top picks ||
NOFA-NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York) is self-described as “a statewide organization of farmers, gardeners, and consumers creating a sustainable regional food system which is ecologically sound and economically viable.” NOFA seeks to provide education, resources and a strong agricultural network among organic farmers by offering dozens of field days and workshops all over New York each year.
The 2016 winter conference is themed “Good Hard Work: Ecosystems, Economics, Energy and Equity” and will focus on the positive impact organic farming -- and people behind it -- has on the world and how it can continue to grow into the future. There are 11 different tracks, ranging from urban farming and livestock to policy and community, with over 80 unique workshops for attendees. Of course, it’s not all seminars and workshops (you can’t have that many farmers come together without a bounty of delicious regional food, plenty of live music and a Saturday night contra dance).
LIVESTOCK TRACK // ORGANIC BROILER PRODUCTION
I will be kicking off my weekend with an intensive on organic broiler (chicken) production led by Michael and Karma Glos of Kingbird Farm and Erica Frenay of Cornell’s Small Farms Program. This past year, I raised 100 chickens on pasture with another crewmember and I am looking forward to building on that experience as I plan to increase production this season. This workshop will cover everything from hatching to on-farm slaughter - including things like insurance, sales and production regulations. Raising, processing and direct-selling chickens that were grown organically and as a part of holistic farm system has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences of my life. It doesn’t get much better than feeding people real food and I look forward to the insight this workshop will provide.
DAIRY AND GRAZING TRACK // PASTURED RABBIT FOR PROFIT
Rabbits. Cute, cuddly, furry rabbits – I know, a much harder animal to picture on your dinner plate. As one of the most sustainable, efficient and delicious animals to raise, I am hoping to have the time and resources to try a pilot batch this spring. This workshop will be facilitated by Letterbox Farm Collective and will address the start up, system design and economics of a pastured rabbit operation. I believe leveraging the growing restaurant market for local rabbit in our region can provide efficient, diversified revenue streams for small farmers and will create burgeoning interest in the household market as well.
MARKETING AND BUSINESS TRACK // CREATING YOUR MISSION-DRIVEN FARM: STORY WEAVING FROM SOUL FIRE
Mission statements can often feel detached, obscure and packaged. Just a sentence or two that goes at the bottom of corporate stationary or on a website. Working at a CSA where we see our members every single week brings the concept of narrative and mission to life for me. Farming directly for people within your given community is tangible and visceral - and I believe we, as farmers, have the ability to weave our mission into each interaction. At this workshop, Jonah Vitale-Wolf and Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm will be sharing their story of creating a sustainable, mission-driven farm that is deeply rooted in food justice, community and love.
VEGETABLE TRACK // HIGH TUNNEL PLANNING AND SOIL MANAGEMENT
One of the biggest challenges of farming in this part of the country is the ability to extend the growing season and offer fresh produce as long as possible. Wet, cold springs and early frosts followed quickly by impending winters can make it difficult to maximize production. High tunnels are one of the keys to season extension and this workshop will take a look at a first-year growing scenario. This includes site assessment, soil testing and irrigation, as well as managing soil in intensive growing operations in order to maintain healthy and sustainable land. This is an area that we at Mud Creek will be focusing on over the next few years, as we hope to eventually offer both summer and winter shares to our members.
|| Christine’s top picks ||
The potential health benefits that plants and animals confer to humans relies on the unique plant and soil biota of a region. So does a region’s ability to diversify what it grows. My top picks for NOFA’s Winter Conference workshops focus on how microbiology mutually accentuates soil, plant and animal ecology. And, to break for some fun, how understanding these microbes can help you make some darn fine cheese at home.
Growing Healthy Soils: Challenges and Best Practices // Lecturers: Hannah Shayler and Jonathan Russell-Anelli
The effects of soil contamination face all types of gardeners, growers and eaters of food (so, everyone). For nutrients to become capable of not simply surviving, but thriving as eventual nutrition sources for animals and humans, identifying origins of potential soil contamination is vital. This intensive-style workshop is ideal for large and small farmers and gardeners to learn how to achieve and understand how they can test and interpret soil composition along with troubleshooting amendment practices.
After learning the ins and outs of growing healthy soil you can level up at the Using the Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health with Robert Schindelbeck to master your soil’s viability.
Vertical Gardening: Exploring the Use of Growing Towers and Walls // Lecturer: Rick Carr
If you travel out west or through major cities like New York or Chicago into their urban areas, you’ll see Rodale-style vertical growing towers erected as you walk into restaurants, inside their courtyards and even by independent urban-farmers. Carr is Rodale Institute’s compost specialist who brought the Rodale towers to Allentown, Pennsylvania this past year. He’ll be discussing the effects on soil ecology, what worked, what didn’t -- and what’s ahead for potential use in the upstate area.
Microbes Make the World Taste Delicious // Lecturer: Veronica Pedraza
Tiny little microbes are what makes each cheese you love taste so unique. Veronica Pedraza’s workshop helps you deliver the magic of cheesemaking into your home or professional kitchen, with tips on how to troubleshoot the microbial life that rules it. Get just enough science to understand microbial survival and how they relate to one another and then end the workshop with a tasting.