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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

CT NOFA Celebrates 30th Annual Winter Conference

Mar 30, 2012 01:25PM ● By Bill Duesing

Connecticut's organic community came together to learn, be inspired, feast and celebrate during CT NOFA's 30th Annual Winter Conference at Manchester Community College on March 3. Since 1982, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut has been educating and advocating for local and organic farms and food.

  Over 600 organic farmers, gardeners, land care professionals, chefs, food activists and eaters gathered at the college to learn from agricultural scientists, master farmers, a cheese maker, a beer maker, chefs and from each other. They also participated in what is likely the state’s largest potluck meal, expertly overseen and coordinated by one of Connecticut's leading sustainable chefs John Turenne of Sustainable Food Systems.

GMOs:  Dangers and Labeling

Jeffrey Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology gave the keynote address, "The Health Dangers of GMOs," to a packed auditorium. A survey of audience attitudes toward genetically modified food before and after his talk showed a remarkable rise in the number of people who plan to be more careful about avoiding foods with GMOs in them and more active in letting others know about the health dangers of and environmental concerns with GMOs. Mr. Smith emphasized the wonderful opportunity the audience has to help Connecticut be the first state in the nation to require labeling of GMOs in food.

NOFA is dedicated to a vision of interconnected healthy communities living in ecological balance, deeply rooted in a sense of place, grounded in organic care of the land.

Mr. Smith's information about the dangers of GMOs in human and animal diets is frightening. The two genetic modifications that account for most of the GMOs we eat are:

1. an ability to withstand massive doses of herbicides designed to kill all green plants except genetically modified ones, and

2. the ability to produce a pesticide in every cell of every corn plant.

Both genetic modifications mean more pesticides in our food and in the environment, with negative health implications for us and for the planet.

  Jeffrey’s books Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette are valuable sources of additional information about GMOs. 

  The message of the keynote was reinforced by three workshops on GMOs. Ed Stockman, an organic farmer from Massachusetts talked about “Biotech Threats to Organic Agriculture.” Attorney Dan Ravicher, who is leading the suit by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association against Monsanto talked about the current situation with the lawsuit. Although it was dismissed by a Manhattan Court at Monsanto’s request, it will be appealed on behalf of the organic seed growers.  (CT NOFA is a plaintiff in the suit.)

  Mr. Smith led a GMO Activist workshop that resulted in a web site that is now live and makes it easy for Connecticut residents to ask their Representative and Senator in Hartford to require labels on foods containing GMOs. Other workshop attendees scheduled events, hosted radio shows and found other ways to let folks know of this opportunity. Visit RightToKnowCT.org/ for an easy way to let your legislators know how you feel about labeling GMOs. There is also a Federal petition drive, organized by Just Label It asking the Food and Drug Administration to label GMOs: justlabelit.org/about-ge-foods/ge-foods-at-a-glance/.

Workshops

Participants got to choose to attend three workshops from among over 40 that were offered. Topics ranged from “Raising Garlic,” “Mushroom Growing on a Small Scale,” “The World of Sprouting Seed” and “Brewing Your Own Organic Beer” to “Food as Medicine” “Coops Build a Better World,” and “Transforming our Tub Full of Toxins.” 

  Other topics included “Animal Welfare Approved Certification,” “Small Dairy/Herdshare,””Can I Eat This? Fermented Foods,” “Permaculture,” “Pasture Raised Laying Hens,” “Root Cellars and Food Storage” and “Small Scale Grain Production.”  One of the most popular workshops was “How You Can Easily Grow Fresh Greens All Winter” taught by certified organic farmer David Zemelsky. David will lead a workshop at his Durham farm on the first day of Spring.

  A panel on “Edible School Gardens” brought together those who are creating and teaching in school gardens in New Britain, Hartford, Bridgeport, Simsbury, and Darien to share their knowledge and experiences. Participants learned of an on-going project to evaluate the effectiveness of garden-based education in addressing educational, health and community goals.

  There were special tracks of workshops and a gathering for beginning farmers, a growing demographic that includes anyone who has been farming fewer than 10 years. If we are going to have abundant, organic, local food, we need more farmers. Visit ctnofa.org to learn more about the beginning farmer program.

Climate Change

Farmers, more than most anyone else, know that climate change is happening and is presenting serious problems. Each year, unprecedented weather events, rains, droughts, tropical storms or unseasonable and seasonable heavy snows have a large impact on infrastructure and production.

  Besides a workshop on “Climate Change in Connecticut” by Jennifer Pagach from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, three workshops addressed Transition Towns. This is a global movement to work with nature instead of fighting nature in the face of multiple serious environmental and resources challenges (i.e. If fossil fuels are getting more expensive and the climate is changing, let's figure how to use local, renewable resources in ways that make our communities more resilient, beautiful, healthy and enjoyable).

  Farmers learned the "Benefits of Reduced Tillage," "Soil Management Techniques," about "Engaging and Keeping Farm Staff," "Nitrogen Management on Farms," and "CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Crop Planning."

"The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." USDA Definition of Organic Agriculture

Winter Food

There were special tracks of workshops especially for farmers who want to grow food through the winter and for consumers about the kinds of winter foods that are available and how to use them. To bring it all together, certified organic farmer Wayne Hansen joined chef John Turenne and Dr. Leigh White, a naturopathic doctor for a workshop on “Collards and Other Cold Weather Greens.”  Wayne talked about what he grows through the winter, John demonstrated how to prepare that food in the school’s teaching kitchen and Leigh talked about the benefits of eating locally and seasonally. For recipes, visit the Winter Food page at ctnofa.org.

This conference nourishes, educates and inspires those who care about food and the environment.  It builds a stronger network of people working to realize the vision and goals of organic agriculture. To keep informed of organic events in Connecticut, sign up for Gleanings e-news at ctnofa.org.

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