The Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter (NOFA/Mass) will hold its 29th annual Winter Conference on January 16 at Worcester State University.

The conference features workshops, exhibits as well as a keynote and all-day seminar by Ben Burkett, family farmer and cooperative business advocate. In his seminar titled “Cooperative Farming”, Burkett will share lessons learned from personal experience as a family farmer deeply involved with cooperative enterprises. He will discuss many of the steps involved in setting up a profitable, managed cooperative using his own family farm and cooperative history as a model.

Ben Burkett is an African-American family farmer and the State Coordinator for the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. He has traveled to Africa, Central America and the Middle East exchanging knowledge and information with small-scale farmers.

Conference participants may choose from a variety of 70 workshops broken into three 90-minute workshop slots. Over 1,000 people from Massachusetts and neighboring states are anticipated to attend workshops on organic farming, gardening, activism, health, beekeeping, animal care, skill building and more.

Five regional land access organizations working to connect urban and rural farmers and gardeners to usable agricultural land will present the workshop “(Almost) Everything You Want to Know About Accessing Land For Your Farm Enterprise”. Organizations represented include The Trustees of Reservations, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Equity Trust, Food Solutions New England and Land for Good.

The “Nibbling on Natives in Your Backyard and Beyond” workshop is presented by Russ Cohen, Arlington, MA based professional environmentalist and wild foods enthusiast. “While the ecological value of planting native species, for birds and wildlife, is important,” said Cohen, “sometimes that isn’t sufficient in and of itself to motivate people to ‘go native’ in their landscaping. I am looking forward to sharing the happy (and tasty) news that many of our native plant species are edible by people too.”

NOFA/Mass’ Beginning Farming Mentorship Program will also kick-off its 2016 group at the Winter Conference with a gathering of beginning farmers who will be paired with experienced mentors. The program’s aim is to help fill the education gap between apprentice/farm worker and independent farmer through the setting of educational goals, farm visits, workshops and other support.

In her “Launching an Organic CSA Farm at Age 50: Lessons Learned” workshop, Hopkinton beginning farmer, Laura Davis will offer her peers some practical considerations when starting a farming operation over 50. “It is not just young people taking an interest in farming and food,” said Davis. “This year all our hired staff was between 50-60 years old. The Winter Conference has been my source for learning about everything from hoop houses to growing beets. I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with attendees.”

We’re growing a new generation of farmers and nature enthusiasts. Parents are encouraged to bring their children for educational workshops for children 3-8, youth 9-12 and teens 13-17. Workshops include spinning wool, learning about animals and bees, making salves, cooking, opportunities to move around and be active, and more.

Angela Roell will lead the “Honeybee Hive Anatomy for Children and Teens” workshop. “One of my main goals is to dispel fear surrounding bees,” said Roell, an avid beekeeper and educator based in western Massachusetts. “I hope to inspire a sense of fascination, wonder and love for honeybees at a young age. If you can capture the heart and imagination of a child, and plant the seeds of curiosity & inquiry in them – they will never forget it.”

Farmers, artisans and local, regional and national organizations will be on hand to share information and goods with attendees. Participants interested in studying agriculture can chat with representatives from local and regional schools.

Conference registration includes an all-organic, primarily locally sourced lunch. Meat, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes will be available, as will child friendly choices. The conference will be followed by an optional, intimate post-conference dinner with Ben Burkett. Discounted registration options are available for children, students, groups and NOFA members. Partial work-exchange and scholarships are also available. Worcester State University is handicapped accessible. Parking is available, and there is a carpool signup link on the conference registration page.