Timothy Gillis Sheble-Hall is a senior at the University of Vermont who is studying food systems. He grew up on a sheep farm in Dover, MA.
The UVM campus was teeming with farmers and foodies this weekend as it hosted the annual NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Winter Conference. Almost one thousand folks from all over New England, some from even greater distances, came together to teach, learn, and build connections around the issue of food. Workshops took place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday covering topics related to the technical aspects of farming and gardening, food access, GMO labeling, nutrition, food preservation, and much more.
Our current food system is rife with challenges, and events such as the NOFA Winter Conference are crucial steps in overcoming those challenges. The conference brought together folks from all different spectrums of the food system: farmers, gardeners, chefs, nutritionists, consumers, activists, and politicians.
A memorable workshop that featured folks from many of these spectrums was one entitled “Micro Dairies: The Future of Sustainable Dairy Production.” The presenters of this workshop did a great job detailing the specifics of micro dairying, but it was the dialogue between everyone in the room that made the workshop truly special. Throughout the workshop almost everyone contributed, whether it was the aspiring farmer who stimulated discussion with questions about proper feed and grazing requirements, or the experienced farmers who answered with stories of their own, or the grassroots organizer from Rural Vermont who contributed with information about raw milk policy that needs change, or the elder farmer who stressed the importance of raw milk farmers and consumers working together to affect political change, “Raise hell, that’s what you’ve got to do,” he said. The workshop was truly collaborative experience, and went along with the theme of the weekend “Generations of Innovation.”
The conference ended on the sweet notes of live blue grass music and Strafford Farm ice cream. I went home that evening with a smile on my face, a yearning for farming in my heart, and two words deeply imprinted in my mind: community and power. When the organic farming community comes together as we did for the NOFA-VT winter conference, we wield enormous power. The power to farm better, the power to distribute more equally, and the power to enact more desirable legislation.