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Think “livestock to help poor countries” and what comes to mind? Probably not bees, worms and snails. Though they are not your everyday farm critters, they are among species John P. Perkins says will be included in workshops he will lead at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Summer Conference this weekend.
The 37th annual NOFA conference runs Aug. 12 through 14 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is open to the public. Perkins, of Worcester, is volunteer coordinator for Central Massachusetts for Heifer International at Overlook Farm in Rutland. He will present two workshops on Sunday, “Livestock for a Small Earth,” for adults, and “One Solution to World Hunger: Farm Animals,” for teens.
Among other local people involved with the conference are Julie Rawson of Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, executive director of NOFA/Massachusetts, who will teach a workshop called “Certified Organic Nutrient Dense Small Fruit,” for people interested in growing fruit trees on their property; and her husband, Jack Kittredge, policy director for NOFA/Mass, will talk about how to make a foolproof country wine.
“The conference is for farmers, homesteaders, gardeners, landscapers, consumers and organic activists,” Rawson said. “We like to say anyone who eats can be involved in the organization.”
Consumers concerned about where their food comes from can attend workshops on organic activism. Also among the 225 workshop offerings are some on food preparation and family health. There also will be activities with children and teens. In the Saturday evening keynote address, Dr. Ignacio Chapela, of the University of California, Berkeley, will address the rise of GMOs, new genetically engineered crops destined for the food supply and gas tanks. The conference is expected to draw about 1,400 people.
Not only are you likely to learn a lot at the conference but the fact that dorms are among accommodations available and a meal plan is offered also might make you feel like you've gone back to college. The menus have a healthy twist, however, and lack the starch-over-starch approach many of us endured in dorm days. The Saturday supper options, with locally sourced ingredients, include: Roasted chicken, stuffed peppers, garlicky kale, smashed potatoes, balsamic roasted beets, bread and cheese, local organic salad bar with local vinaigrette, yogurt and fresh blueberries, maple raspberry bread pudding with Grand Marnier crème Anglaise and vegan carrot cake with vegan cream cheese frosting.
After eating you can peruse the dozens of exhibits, including the one Saturday and Sunday from Heifer International, a development organization working in more than 50 countries to alleviate hunger and poverty. The organization works with about 30 different species of animals, Perkins said. There are projects with familiar farm animals: cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and such. But Heifer also works with not-so-familiar animals: snails in projects in Ghana, bees in Honduras, alpacas in Peru, camels in Tanzania, water buffalo in Vietnam, yaks in China, worms in Armenia.
“When we teach children about the many different ways you can help our planet with livestock, we tell them that there are seven M's: meat, milk, material, money, motivation, muscle and more,” Perkins said. Most are obvious benefits, although the “More” in this case stands for creating “more animals,” as in a pair of pigs from Heifer can generate many litters of piglets. The Motivation is for the fact that the animal projects bring communities together to work toward a better life, he said.
So, let's see, how do worms measure up on the 7-M scale? “Worms are actually Manure, which becomes organic fertilizer,” Perkins said. “And More and Money because they sell the organic fertilizer.”
And snails? “Meat and Money because they sell them in the market as well,” he said.
The buzz on bees? “Money from renting out the hives to pollinate crops, and Material — the wax for candles and things like that.” Bees also have an additional M to their credit — Medicinal. Honey and pollen often are used to make traditional medicines.
You can't beat the mighty water buffalo when it comes to Muscle. “A farmer in Thailand can double his rice yield if he uses a water buffalo to plow his fields,” Perkins said.
This year's conference will also offer workshops on nutrient density, permaculture, community supported agriculture management, beginning farmers, organic land care and winter growing. Eric Toensmeier will deliver the Friday evening keynote address, “Regenerative and Perennial Agriculture for Climate Stabilization,” about ways to reduce carbon emissions while providing abundant food. Toensmeier is the author of “Perennial Vegetables” and co-author of “Edible Forest Gardens.”
Area residents who also will speak at the conference include Bruce and Rachel Scherer of Orange, with a workshop with the intriguing title of “Goats From the Ground Up: We are what THEY Eat”; Rebecca Buell, a homesteader from Petersham and director of communications, NOFA/Mass, teaching a workshop called “Cultured Dairy Products”; and Beth Ingham and Bob Jennings of Noonday Farm in Winchendon Springs, with a workshop called “No-Till Raised Bed Gardening.”