Last weekend the Northeast Organic Farming Association held its 40th annual Summer conference at UMass Amherst and assistant farmer Kenneth, my spouse Leslie and I were there. It was Kenneth’s first conference, but Leslie and I have been to more than a dozen of them over the years including the last two years. The emphasis this year was on changing dirt into soil.  The keynote speaker was soil ecologist Dr. Elaine Ingham whose research centers on the vital importance of balanced soil microbial life in building/rebuilding deep, living soil. She is convinced that conventional “fertilizers” and even organic mineral supplements are unneeded if the soil ecosystem supports/is supported by an appropriate, native mix of micro and macro organisms. I attended a workshop of Elaine’s where she demonstrated how to use a microscope to evaluate the microbial life of soil and compost.

Another workshop I attended led by Jonathan Bates described how two families over ten years converted a barren 1/10th acre backyard in urban Holyoke into a rich, fertile permaculture of over 200 mostly perennial plant species, chickens and fish that provide 80% of the 2 families food during the growing season and 20% the rest of the time.  Truly inspiring!

The summer conference features workshops on a very wide array of topics (check out, exhibits, music and dance events, films, local organic meals and more. It is attended by a great bunch of people including farmers, gardeners, consumers, homesteaders, alternative health practitioners, activists, children, teens and adults. For Leslie and me it’s a great, cheap, healthy, stimulating, weekend retreat and a great way to connect with like-minded folks.  I heartily recommend the summer conference to everyone in our Stearns Farm community.

Pictured: David Fisher demonstrating his draft-powered cultivation equipment for NOFA Conference, @ Natural Roots Farm: Conway, MA. Photo from Kenneth Hacker.