NOFA Winter Conference – John Jeavons Seminar

Last weekend I attended the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Winter Conference. NOFA is “a community including farmers, gardeners, landscapers and consumers working to educate members and the general public about the benefits of local organic systems based on complete cycles, natural materials, and minimal waste for the health of individual beings, communities and the living planet”. In other words…right up my alley! This was a wonderful Christmas gift from my husband and I’ve been looking forward to it since I found the tickets under the tree!

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The conference held over 60 workshops on Saturday and the subject matter was both varied and comprehensive. From a teen workshop about making pickles to urban beekeeping, chainsaw safety to foraging for edible mushrooms, the workshops covered a broad range of topics. There were also several films available for viewing, a large and varied exhibitors area, the NOFA annual meeting, a keynote address by John Jeavons, and a local lunch to top it all off!

I attended a seminar by John Jeavons titled “Designing and Planning Your Garden/Mini-Farm for the Future” which consisted of three 90-minute seminars about growing your own “complete diet garden” on minimal land both sustainably and without chemicals. You can attend his seminars or purchase his book if you’d like to learn more about this pioneer.

Seminar 1 stared with an overview of biointensive farming and how to maximize both the amount and the nutritive quality of food produced on a small 4,000 square foot plot. In order for the farmable land that is left in this world to continue to be considered usable, the current methods need to be updated, the nutrients need to returned to the soil via composting and the focus of what is grown needs to shift to crops that are both nutritive and calorie dense.

The first seminar focused on the production of grain/calorie crops including wheat, corn, barley, sorghum and beans. On top of providing actual food to eat (i.e. wheat for bread) the inedible plant matter from these crops like the stalks and leaves provide the essential carbon needed for healthy compost. The second seminar focused on the production of root crops like potatoes, parsnips and garlic. Root crops provide essential calories for a well rounded diet and they store well, which is great for us in the northeast! The third seminar was all about vegetable/income crops including tomatoes, onions, carrots, cantaloupe, lavender and salad greens. One fun fact from that seminar: When you plant lettuces in the same patch one after the other, you’ll sometimes have a problem with fungi after the 2nd or 3rd planting. However, onions naturally release sulfur into the soil as they grow. Sulfur acts like a natural fungicide.  By planting onions in the lettuce beds in between crops, the sulfur they release acts like a natural fungicide and keeps the later plantings of lettuce healthy! This is the kind of information that just pours out of Jeavons in his seminars. Amazing!

Compost is imperative in biointensive farming and I listened intently to the many questions and answers surrounding it at the seminar. I had no idea what a wonder product compost is! The better the compost, the more nutritive the soil becomes resulting and in higher food production for the area you already have. Composting is essential for sustainable farming. Farming depletes the nutrients of soil 18 to 80 times faster than the soil can naturally regenerate itself. Composting, crop rotation and planting a variety of crops are all essential to maintaining enough nutrients in the soil to keep the soil productive year after year. Without these methods, the soil quickly becomes unusable after only a few years of growing. I plan on starting a big old compost heap this year!

The middle of the day was broken up with the annual NOFA meeting, a keynote speech by Jeavons and a locally sourced lunch. The annual  meeting included an update from lawyer Daniel Ravicher on the current class-action lawsuit against Monsanto, voting for next years board and a raffle. It was noted that there were 1,003 people in attendance; the largest conference to date! The keynote speech by Jeavons was titled “Food for the Future – Now” and was a short introduction to biointensive farming. The locally sourced, organic lunch included a carrot bisque, beef stew, salad, cheese and even some Carlson Orchard’s cider!

I learned so much at the conference and I really can’t wait to go back next year. I’m excited to expand my garden at my house this year and I plan on implementing many of the techniques I learned in Jeavons’ seminar. I would highly recommend his seminar, so try to catch him when he’s in town sometime. He will open your eyes! It was also fun to chat with the other attendees. I had the opportunity to speak with several local farmers, a restaurant owner, an orchard owner and a pretty funky beekeeper from Western MA. NOFA/Mass is involved in some pretty amazing things, check them out!

 

2 Comments

  1. What a great gift! You’re on to something. Excellent tournout for the conferrence.

  2. I can’t wait to see pictures of your gardens this coming season! I just sent my check in for my share of Norwell Farms…I am dreaming of tomatoes and eggplant already!!

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