The 41st annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference is being hosted at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on August 14 to 16. Participants can choose from over 140 workshops on topics such as organic farming, gardening, land and animal care, sustainability, nutrition, and food politics.
Many workshops and the two keynote addresses highlight this year’s conference theme, “Healing the Climate, Healing Ourselves: Regeneration through Microbiology.”
“The War on Microbes may yet prove to be the most destructive war of modern history,” said conference coordinator, Ben Grosscup. “Presenters at this year’s conference are calling not only for an armistice, but also for new ways of thinking about and living with the microbial communities we depend upon.”
The Friday night keynote speaker and full-day pre-conference seminar presenter is Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a physician and nutritional consultant based in the United Kingdom, who writes and teaches about the healing potential of food. She developed the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet, used successfully worldwide to treat and reverse a wide range of chronic and degenerative neurological and digestive illnesses. These include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune illnesses.
Her approach involves feeding the healthy bacteria in our digestive systems while starving the bacteria that produce toxic byproducts. “I found that the most powerful intervention in health is food. There is nothing more powerful on this planet than food in affecting human health,” said Dr. Campbell-McBride.
Saturday night’s keynote offers a similarly hopeful message in relation to the role of soil microbes in achieving a healthy climate. Ronnie Cummins, co-founder and International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, contends that humanity can reverse the global climate crisis by restoring healthy microbial life in our soils.
Farmers and land managers along with conscious consumers can play a crucial role in this restoration, Cummins argues, because the methods we use to manage soil microbial communities in combination with growing plants can produce dramatic impacts on the climate.
Regenerative organic agriculture focuses on providing soil life with favorable growing conditions, thus facilitating efficient photosynthesis and vigorous plant growth. Properly managed, this process can transform excessive atmospheric carbon concentrations into stable, soil-based carbon compounds that enhance soil fertility. By contrast, commonly used pesticides and herbicides kill the soil life, compromising soil integrity and causing soil carbon to oxidize into the atmosphere where it contributes to further global warming. “We’ve got to reduce fossil fuel use as quickly as possible, but if we don’t start naturally sequestering lots of carbon, it’s not going to matter,” said Cummins.
Modest registration fees, inexpensive dorm rooms and camping, plus delicious, wholesome organic meals, farm tours, a country fair and live entertainment are all features of the gathering. This family-friendly event also offers age-appropriate and fun activities for children and teens.
With chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, NOFA is a non-profit organization with over 5,000 members working to advocate for and educate about healthy food, organic growing practices, agricultural justice and a cleaner environment.
During the conference NOFA/Mass, which sponsors the conference on behalf of the seven-state regional association, will unveil a short film, white paper and other resources demonstrating how farmers, homeowners, municipalities and others can manage land to sequester carbon in soils. These practices can play a part in reducing the excess concentration of atmospheric carbon, which causes climate disruption.