I was happy to see members of the Woodstock generation exchanging ideas and expertise with young members of the “Kalestock” generation at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) annual summer conference on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus last weekend.
Over 1,000 people registered to attend the 200+ workshops, eat local organic food prepared by award-winning UMass dining services (mess hall grub definitely didn’t taste this good when I became a “pescovegetarian” during my first month of college), visit exhibits and vendors, learn about agricultural policy issues, and hang around with like-minded people.
Although relatively few attendees actually camped on the UMass grounds, the event still had a Woodstockish feel. When fierce thunderstorms and a tornado watch left a three-foot puddle in the volleyball pit, people gamely played in the mud. But NOFA attendees are more likely to be hooked on kale than various illegal substances.
I dubbed the NOFA conference “Kalestock” because kale was the common denominator: it was served at virtually every meal, sold in seed packets, and emblazoned on t-shirts, including the “Powered by Kale” shirts at the Fun Organic Shirts booth.
The spirit of the Kalestock generation was typified by the trio of high school students from the Quabbin Regional High School Composting and Organic Garden Program in central Mass. In addition to participating in a workshop on “Sustaining a School Composting and Gardening Program,” these youth also staffed a table selling organic seeds, herbal products and natural dye plants to raise funds for their program. Led by Karen DiFranza, founder of Hands to Earth, an organization that advises and runs school gardening and composting programs, the student volunteers collect waste food from the cafeteria daily, compost it on site, and use the compost to grow vegetables in their organic garden to serve in the school cafeteria. With the help of the National Farm to School Network and, locally, the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, farm to school programs like this are sprouting up everywhere. How cool is that?
Speaking of compost, I was also impressed by the folks at Grow Compost of Vermont, an organic compost company in Moretown, Vermont, just down the road from the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters. In addition to producing high quality compost and soil, they make cute little “Grow bags” that can be used to transport compost, carry things, or to plant your veggies in directly. Makes me wish I lived in Vermont, so I could get them to deliver a couple of cubic yards next spring.
NOFA also attracts a wide range of herbalists, healers, and homesteaders. The American Society of Dowsers booth (okay, so there’s an organization for everybody), which was right next to my Good Egg Marketing table, was mobbed all weekend. Their website defines dowsing as “the ancient practice of using simple tools to interpret the answers to questions you ask,” but most of us associate it with divining for water. After hearing dowsers explain how it works dozens of times over the course of the weekend, I’m still a skeptic, but their staff and volunteers were awfully nice.
Just a few steps away, I was attracted by the headline on the flyer for the Flexible Farmer booth: “Of all the tools you’ll use this season, it’s the only one you can’t replace.” In addition to offering massages for farmers in western Mass., massage therapist Lydia Irons also holds workshops around the state to teach farmers ergonomic ways to work to prevent injuries. I took advantage of the $1/minute chair massage to have her to work on my stiff shoulders before the two-hour drive back to Boston: I had a pain-free ride, so I’d say she knows her stuff.
Unlike Woodstock and other festivals primarily designed for entertainment purposes, events like NOFA teach people skills and educate them about issues they can act on in their daily lives. Farmers have become the rock stars of the Kalestock generation. Hopefully, the good food movement is growing strong enough roots so that it can have a deeper impact than the “back to the landers” were able to achieve in the ’60s and ’70s. Now, if we can just get everyone to eat more kale….