NOFAVT‘s Winter Conference was held the weekend of the 12th at UVM and it was amazing!  It was the first year that I had attended one of NOFA’s conferences and I am so proud of what they are trying to do!  Here is my Saturday from the conference in review.  I was trying to take notes throughout the day, so it may seem a little staggered, but I wanted to present my real first reactions throughout the day, not a summary later on. 

Shovel Ready, Shovel Sharp!
7 am:
We’re on the bus, ready to feed both my mind and my stomach with good food and a homesteading mindful of information! The morning is cold (10 degrees Fahrenheit), but not unbearably so for a February in Vermont. I’m excited about meeting these people who have worked so hard to form a life that suits them best, but I am also apprehensive. No matter how much reading I have done on the subject or how well I think I share their feelings about organic farming and my own experiences, I can’t help but feel that I am walking into another world of the great unknown. Will I truly be able to understand their motives and share in their enthusiasm? Will my own ideals and hopes for the future mesh with these amazingly resourceful do-it-yourself-er’s, or will I stick out like a…well, a black thumb?
NOFAVT Opening Remarks and Keynote Speech: Shannon Hayes (9 am)
Walking into the main hub of this year’s winter conference was like walking into another world – one where 1,200 people could gather together to share experiences, products, stories, and information about the importance of feeding our future with the best that we can offer – the gift of growing for ourselves. We all sang a happy birthday tune for NOFAVT, which was fun and gave me a good perspective of the family like atmosphere of the conference. Next, Shannon Hayes gave her keynote speech. Through Green Mountain College, I have had the luxury of attending quite a few lectures, addresses, and persuasive speeches about everything from environmentalism, farming, community, and America’s future. But I have never heard someone speak so beautifully about all of these subjects together in one speech, simply stating what we have been choosing to ignore and hide from for decades. I was enthralled and inspired – I don’t believe that NOFAVT could have done any better for this year’s keynote speaker.

Workshop # 1 and Lunch (11-2 pm):
The first workshop that I attended was called “Exploring the Taste of Place” and revolved around the idea of Terroir, the belief that food has a unique taste to the place in which the food originated from. The presenters mainly focused on documenting Terroir in Vermont cheeses and Maple Syrup, both being products with significant attributes to this wonderful state. It was interesting and thought provoking, making myself and another student from UVM begin to broaden our understanding of Terroir into other foods and places. As for lunch, the food was amazing! After the Terroir workshop, it made the food we were partaking in that much more enjoyable. At the risk of sounding like a hippy from my parent’s generation, I could taste the love and care that went into every bite of that meal, something we all too rarely get to experience. Eating our consumer driven mainstream food everyday is all well and good after you become used to it and you don’t realize what you are missing, until someone hands you plate of fresh salad, homemade turkey stew, and an apple crisp with real thick whipped cream with cinnamon and says “try some of them apples!” Suddenly, it’s like waking up and realizing that you’ve been asleep for most of your life. That’s what good food can do. It can be the trigger that pulls you out of your comfortably furnished lifestyle of consumer culture and puts the bang back into your reality. I love this approach – after all, the best way into any persons heart and mind is through their stomach.
` There was live music on the first floor, drifting all the way up to the exhibition halls, playing Viva Las Vegas of all songs. They were extremely talented and made all of the conversation and interactions taking place on four floors move with perfect tempo. Bernie Sanders and Peter Shumlin both made an appearance for lunch and gave compelling and persuasive speeches on the importance of NOFAVT and the pride they took in being a part of it. Their speeches used words of encouragement and reiterated Hayes’ call for an evolutionary and radical change for the control over our food resources.

Radical Homemakers and Urban Beekeeping Workshops (2-5 pm):

I even struck up a conversation with a woman next to me before Hayes workshop began over the importance of what NOFAVT is trying to do. She expressed a desire to see communities created for older generations that also want to do their part, creating gardens and subsisting off the land, living together and spreading the food and skills they acquire to those around them. She wanted me to know her enthusiasm and aspirations because “you are the future, so I want to tell you how we feel about our food and communities.” Hayes’ workshop was the best one I attended all day, and was obviously packed with people who thought the same. There was definitely not enough time though, as I would have loved her question and answer period to continue for at least another hour. My urban beekeeping workshop was interesting, but I think it was made better because I had already read Farm City, which put a lot of what our presenter was saying into perspective.
Ice cream Social and Green Horn Film Preview (5-7 pm):
The ice cream social was unbelievable. There was carrot cake with real cream cheese icing (to die for) and the ice cream was the best I have ever had. As one student put it, “it tastes like REAL COW, you know?!?!” Yes, I did know – I understood perfectly what she was saying and I think everyone in that room did as well. What brought them to this conference was either a desire to change their lifestyle and learn how to do it or people who had already found their calling in life and were there to share their information with those who could put it to good use. I think what made the biggest impression for me on Saturday was the collaboration. Here we are, this small state, with a very nearly even split of young and old, bonding over an ideal. The future meets the inspiration of our past, fighting to redefine progress by recapturing our roots. I have never felt more proud of my state and of a movement then I did this weekend and I may have found my true calling – I was a farmer and I will be so much more than that once again.