Saving the world one small business at a time — that’s the level of commitment and synergy that over 70 farmers, growers and entrepreneurs emanated during the 30th annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) MASS Winter Conference held at Worcester State Univeristy mid-January. And farming is a business. One that is — more often than not — a family affair, as many hands are required.
Brian and Nissa Gadbois from Barre, MA, own Renaissance Farms and were one of the vendors at the conference. Their daughter, Cat, and their future son-in-law, Paul Aldonis, were also present.
Ten years ago, they delivered farm fresh food to the customers’ door. Then they purchased a farm and tried the CSA concept, but found it, “very intense and very logistically demanding. We went back to the delivering-to-the-door concept. We had people who couldn’t come get their product so delivery was the solution,” said Brian.
They have 283 acres, 100 of which are open: 50 grazing fields, 24 hayed, two to four in vegetables, and another two planted in lavender which is used to make their vibrantly colored, 100 percent beeswax candles and soaps. RotoKawa Estates leases Renaissance Farms’ grazing land to raise grass-fed Red Devons. Some of their beef is included in the farm to door deliveries of peppers, greens, turnips and other vegetables.
Another exhibitor was Daniel Stoltzfus, Operations Manager for Lancaster Agriculture Products from Ronks, PA. This is a business started by his father, Reuben Stoltzfus, in 2000. “We work to get the soils in good health so we can grow good, healthy livestock…fruits, eggs, and milk for good healthy, people,” he said. They sell everything from minerals and feeds for dairy cattle or produce, to dry and liquid products for the soil. All their products are delivered to customers’ homes.
Harrison Griffin has offered organically grown CSAs sold at his Oxen Hill Farm in West Suffield, CT, for the last 18 years and is currently offering flower shares as well as vegetable shares. The farm is named for a pair of Black Devon oxen, named Spike and Tony, on land that has been in the family since 1647. “The first Griffin came from Wales,” said Griffin. The East Granby farm location was part of a land grant award given to Sgt. John Griffin in 1647 from the King of England in gratitude for Sgt. Griffin’s previous work. Sgt. Griffin was drawing the tar out of pitch pine trees and smelting it to send back to the King to help make ships. The land is now farmed by the 11th generation.
The 28-acre Suffield farm used for most of their production has been in the family since the mid-1800s, when his wife’s, Carol Biggerstaff Griffin, ancestors emigrated from Northern Ireland. As his wife’s sister’s farm, it was called Beaver Marsh Farm. When it was decided someone else needed to run it, his three children decided to try to keep it.
“I’m excited that my three children are renovating it. I’ve milked cows with my wife, Carol, for 40 years. “We started with 30 CSA members. Now we have 700, plus we do markets,” said Griffin.
Retired after a long career of 37 years as an Ag teacher, he said, “It’s so exciting to see young people going into farming.” He noted that there are many agencies helping farmers, including organizations like NOFA.
Numerous other vendors were represented at the conference, increasing the size of the farming family represented.
Keith Tetreault of Plain View Farm in Hubbardston, MA has worked with alpacas for six years and owns 44. He sold everything from alpaca socks to toys at his table. “I enjoy being with the animals. This is what we do to make it profitable. They are very peaceful — nonaggressive.”
Stockbridge School of Agriculture, UMASS, Amherst was represented by Isabella Chiaravallotti. Graduates range from farm managers at Northfield Mt. Hermon School, Lyonsville Valley Farm in Colrain, MA, or farm as nearby as Hawk’s Flight Farm in Whitingham, VT, and as far away as Katmandu, Nepal.
Biologist and semi-retired organic farmer Ed Stockman of Plainfield, MA, co-founder of MA Right to Know GMOs and Hilltown Non-GMO Working Group, was present with Social Media Coordinator Grant Ingle of Conway, MA. Stockman and other members have been striving to get clear labeling on GMO foods in Massachusetts.
Hannah Jacobson-Hardy of Sweet Birch Herbals of Montague, MA, forages for herbs to make her herbal lotions and creams. Greg Disterhoft of Full Kettle Farm in Sunderland grows the herbs for the teas she makes. She sells her products at Northampton’s Tuesday Farmers Market, plus the Winter Northampton Market. She taught a stress and anxiety release workshop at the conference. What she likes best about her business is, “I get to incorporate being outside with the land and teach outside,” as workshop attendees visit the farm.
Amy Pulley from Cummington, MA had a table devoted to pollinators and the necessity of conserving bees. She wasn’t the only booth dedicated to insects.
What do you do about seasonal ticks and the threat of Lyme disease when you work outside? Sarah Stockwell-Arthen of Hilltown Herbals from Cummington, MA, offered remedies she has made based on author Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book, Herbal Antivirals. “You have to be obsessed to do what I’m doing,” she said, working hard to locate the hard-to-find ingredients listed. A little bit of bentonite clay to apply over the tick remedy tincture after the tick is removed with, “a really, really good tick remover,” are included in her very affordable tick kit.
For more information on the NOFA MASS Winter Conference, visit www.nofamass.org .