This is the “conference season” and my busiest time of year. These days, you’ll typically find me beside a display for Northeast SARE (or eOrganic depending on which hat I’m wearing) sharing information about the program and what it has to offer farmers. And while I dread schlepping the display racks and books and banners and tri-fold display boards around the state, getting the chance to connect with long-time friends and colleagues, and meeting new farmers and service providers, makes this my favorite time of year.
The highpoint of the conference season has to be, for me, the annual winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT). It is, by far, the largest agricultural conference in the state — this year NOFA-VT is expecting upwards of 1,500 farmers, gardeners, and homesteaders to descend upon the UVM campus this weekend to attend 70+ workshops and seminars.
The 2013 conference theme is “Generations of Innovation” which is fitting, considering NOFA-VT’s 40-year tenure of innovative educational programs as well as its long-time farmer members who are now starting to turn over the reins to the next generation of organic farmers.
But when I think of “generations of innovation,” I also think of SARE–the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program–and its deep commitment to advancing sustainable agriculture. This year, SARE will quietly celebrate its 25th year of funding innovative farm-based research and outreach projects. Over that time, in Vermont alone, SARE has granted $5.7 million to fund 173 projects on topics ranging from management intensive grazing (Dr. Bill Murphy, the “father of the grazing movement,” received one of SARE’s very first grants) to intercropping as a pest management strategy in organic hops, currently being conducted by UVM Department of Plant and Soil Science graduate student Lily Calderwood. NE-SARE’s graduate student grants program is one way we are encouraging a new generation of innovation.
Join Lily and I this weekend at NOFA-VT’s conference where we will be staffing the NE-SARE display, presenting a research poster, giving a workshop on Funding Farm Innovations, and connecting with both seasoned and younger generations of Vermont’s sustainable and organic farmers!