Welcome, March! Though the weather seems a little misplaced, it's time to stumble out of our various winter slumbers and stretch our limbs. Fall may be a time of nostalgia as the year comes to a close, but spring brings with it a sense of anticipation and expectancy. Farmers all over New England are beginning to think about the upcoming growing season, and those with the capacity are working on something even more important, at least in my opinion: maple syrup. Hello, sugarin' season!
My role with NOFA/Mass is changing with the seasons as well. This January we hosted the marvelously successful 25th Annual Winter Conference at Worcester State University in Worcester, MA. Over 1,050 people were present to attend various workshops and presentations or to peruse the diverse collection of exhibitors and vendors over the course of the day. There was also an incredibly delicious, locally sourced lunch! It was incredible to have had the experience to work hand in hand with conference coordinator Cathleen O'Keefe. I truly got the ins and outs of the whole process, from ordering tables in October to directing the thick traffic of attendees up to registration. And there was even more work to be done in the aftermath: reviewing evaluations, budgeting for next year, and designing a work plan to make the next conference even better. New ideas for next year include efforts to create a zero-waste conference, which is in tune with the NOFA ethic, and sourcing Spanish translation services to make the conference more attend-able to all.
Now, however, is the time to put all the new knowledge gleaned from conference workshops into action. Cathleen and I have been putting all our efforts into tallying up the hundreds of order forms coming in for the Spring Bulk Order NOFA offers. In this program, small farmers and producers are given the opportunity to order from a list of farming materials, from soil amendments to composts to seed potatoes. Farmers then choose a site (of which there are 9 sites spread across Massachusetts, including one in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut) closest to them that they will pick their order up at. All the orders are then compiled into spreadsheets, which are organized by site, allowing suppliers to ship in bulk rather than to individual farms, cutting down on shipping emissions and giving small farmers a break on shipping costs. Cool, right? (I know, it sounds a little complicated, but Cathleen is a Microsoft Excel GENIUS.) Soon, I will be heading out to the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown to unload pallets filled with everything a farmer could dream of. That's when my crew training really comes in handy. Bring on those fifty pound bags!