Publishers' Note Summer 2014

Rice plants
Rice plant at Akaogi Farm, Putney

Written on

May 23 , 2014

We’re turning 7 this summer! It’s amazing to think that Local Banquet has had the privilege of chronicling the local and sustainable food movement here in the state as it has grown up. Of course we owe a tremendous amount to the folks who, in the 1970s, came to Vermont to start the work and give us a solid foundation: knowledge passed from one generation to the next. And nowhere is this exchange of techniques and skills more evident than at the annual winter conference held by the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT).

We love attending this annual event (we’ve been a media sponsor for the past two years) but we never get to write about it because our publication dates don’t jive. This event in the deep of winter recharges and educates, delivering not only the nuts and bolts of what we need to know to grow our food, but most important, it renews our spirits—the why of what we do. The excursion to UVM each February from our home in southern Vermont is at times daunting if it involves a nor’easter (as it did this year), but is always rewarding.

The conference begins with a mass gathering of the attendees at the Davis Center at UVM. Here, while munching on bread and sipping tea, you get a sense of the power of this movement; just to feel the energy of the many people who are building the food system is rejuvenating. The 2014 conference theme was Growing Outside the Box, “honoring the creative innovations of our farmers and their partners, who are continuously expanding the ways that Vermont foods can be grown and consumed year-round; the community leaders who work to ensure that everyone can afford and access local, organic foods; and the ways that the ’food movement’ has grown to encompass issues as varied as animal welfare, fair labor, and climate change.”  The conference officially opens with a keynote address, but for us the “official” opening is when Enid Wonnacott, the executive director of NOFA-VT since 1987, leads us in a song—a true NOFA-VT tradition.

This year we heard from Equal Exchange co-founder Michael Rozyne about the challenge of forging alliances and partnerships with folks outside of the organic movement. We also heard about Farm Hack, an ”open source community for resilient agriculture.”  Co-founder Dorn Cox explained how innovation in agriculture could come from farmers and non-farmers alike, thus enriching the final outcome. Chris Dutton, agricultural programs director at Vermont Technical College, spoke on the importance of education for farmers, and Helen Whybrow and Michael Sacca debuted their short film Organic Matters. If you’re interested in seeing these talks—and we highly recommend them—visit NOFA-VT’s YouTube channel; they’re all there (as are past talks).

And then there were all the workshops—close to 70! Here we found something for everyone, from the home gardener to the seasoned livestock producer. In short, the NOFA-VT winter conference is just what one needs in the dark days of winter. It provides us with “seeds” to be stored until the ground warms in the spring.

See you there next winter?

Meg Lucas
Barbi Schreiber

Photo by Meg Lucas

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Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.