This past Saturday (3/1) the midtown campus of Western Connecticut State University (WestConn/WCSU) in Danbury was bustling as hundreds of gardeners, farmers and sustainability advocates gathered together for the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) 32nd annual Winter Conference.
The winter conference is the largest food, agriculture and sustainability conference in the state. In fact, there were over 900 people in attendance.
CT's largest food-related conference
The day was filled with workshops for beginning gardeners all the way up to experienced farmers.
In between "classes," there were over 70 vendors and exhibitors featuring local food, crafts, books and sustainability initiatives.
Many local eateries, one "farmer philosopher"
Connecticut restaurants and chefs served a lunch using local, sustainable and organic ingredients.
Lunch providers included Danbury's own Stanziato's Wood Fired Pizza and Kibberia, as well as area favorites like Barcelona, Le Farm/ The Whelk, Bar Sugo, Sugar & Olives, The Cake Box, Swoon, Wave Hill Breads and Green Leaf Organic Bakery.
The "farmer philosopher" Fred Kirschenmann delivered the keynote speech entitled "Tomorrow's Farmer & You."
Kirschenmann is a Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY. He also owns a 2600-acre biodynamic farm in North Dakota.
The end of cheap energy
Kirschenmann's talk discussed the challenges facing agriculture, some of which are already beginning to surface, including the end of cheap energy, limited natural resources, decreasing access to water, climate change as well as an aging farmer population.
He pointed out that it's not just up to our farmers; consumers have a role to play in the future of agriculture too.
Think of food as a relationship, not a thing
These challenges, according to Kirschenmann, should be seen as an opportunity to energize us all and find alternative ways of doing things. He said we need to transition from the thinking of "food as a thing" to "food as a relationship."
The proliferation of farmer's markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) as well as financially strong co-op brands like Organic Valley are just two examples of a shift in the paradigm.
There is also promising work going on in the agriculture world to improve soil, restore biodiversity and foster new, younger farmers.
Whether sitting in a workshop, listening to the keynote speech or just enjoying lunch, there was a contagious sense of community and passion at this event.
If you'd like to learn more about CT NOFA and how you can become involved, visit them online at www.ctnofa.org