Compiled by Elizabeth Henderson from the August 6, 2021 Summer Conference Workshop
As the culminating workshop for the 2021 online NOFA Summer Conference, three of our movement’s elders, Joey Klein of Littlewood Farm in VT, Kevin Englebert of Engelbert Dairy Farm in NY, Mike Merner of Earth Care Farm in RI, and four from the next generation shared their visions for the future.
The following is a summary of the answers from the next generation to these questions from the elders:
How do you think you can leave things better than you found them?
What are you going to do to keep building NOFA as a way to build our community?
What are your visions for the next 50 years?
Jayne Senecal, NOFA Rhode Island, Earth Care Farm
Farming is not easy. Nothing meaningful seems to be easy, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes in knowing your own sense of purpose. Farming enabled me to recognize where I fit in the world. And that sense of purpose is what so many people are craving right now, so much so that we’re in a
resurgence of the back-to-the-land movement. I am particularly aware of this resurgence because the demand for our compost is through the roof in the last year and a half, with many of these being new customers, starting new farms. I believe the pandemic has pushed people to follow their hearts.
I envision a whole lot more children growing up like me, raised on small organic farms. Many won’t have a farming background so they’re going to really need NOFA, and its generous spirit of sharing knowledge and joyfully learning from each other. I can see NOFA’s momentum snowballing as we join with other groups such as the regenerative farming movement and the new no-till movement. The essence of all these movements is to grow healthy food and create a healthy society. Society is demanding healthy and more nutritious food and farmers are continually getting better at growing it. This is super exciting to me.
Jayne Senecal, Earth Care Farm
You have to be able to imagine something in order to manifest it. Just working with the land really
hones your imagination because you see what nature creates every day. I’m looking outside at the results of these seeds I saved from last year and there’s
12-foot sunflowers out our window! A tiny monarch butterfly will pollinate that flower and then fly 3,000 miles to its winter home in Mexico… In one handful of soil, there are billions of microscopic life forms. Imagine that!
Let’s continue to envision a better system, one that heals. Just like all these founding NOFA members, my dad embodies that imagination and all farms need it. He imagined a farm system that processed what society considers “waste” into something that enlivens soil and makes food more nutritious. At the same time this system created good jobs, places for wildlife to thrive, high production and beauty. And the system improves every year. I see it. I can measure it.
I envision myself continuing to honor our land and help other farmers improve their soils. I imagine raising my son to cherish all life. I imagine you all joining me in stubborn optimism. I know it can be done, because I grew up on a farm that grew from imagination.
Let’s continue in NOFA to support each other, to raise our children consciously, with consideration for the next generations. In 50 years, I’ll be 90. Let’s meet back here at this conference and celebrate our healed relationship with mother earth. Let’s give ourselves to this world so worthy of attention.
About Jayne, she/her: “I feel like I’ve just gotten it so easy. There’s so much groundwork that’s already been set … for a beautiful momentum to start happening.” Jayne was born and raised, and now runs Earth Care Farm where her “dad created heaven on earth. Earth Care Farm produces vegetables, raises cattle, and runs a large-scale operation making high-quality compost. NOFA has always been a strong part of our community.” Jayne grew up watching her dad prepare for NOFA speeches and attending children’s events at the conference as a kid, and learning different techniques from so many farmers as she got older.
Steve Munno, Connecticut NOFA board president and farm manager at Massaro Community Farm
My vision and hope for the future in a very broad way is that agriculture and the related food industries won’t participate in any way or be in any way reliant on the exploitation of humans, animals, land and ecosystems. That’s a big ask, but most of the farms and farmers we know are doing the right things. We know that it is possible. The folks who are exploiting humans, exploiting animals, exploiting the land and ecosystems can make changes and there are solutions. That gives me hope.
There have been calls for reparations by farmers of color and Native Americans. These need to be realized: the ownership of farmland should be returned and access to farmland made possible for those from whom that land has been unjustly taken. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. And my hope is that within 50 years, this has happened.
We need local and regional goals to manage the crises that we’re in right now the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis, and those that are in our future.
I’d like to see the breakup of large farms so that local and rural communities can thrive. I want to see the end of industrial extractive agriculture, the end of mono-crop systems and the end of fossil fuel use in agriculture. Climate change is one of our biggest threats and agriculture can be one of our best solutions. Agriculture can and needs to play a role so that we can weather the crises ahead. We need local and regional strategies for food, fiber and energy self-sufficiency.
There is no one solution for all. The farming methods and practices used in one place might not work elsewhere. This is where agroecology comes in, understanding that wherever farming is happening, the methods and practices must respect the uniqueness of that place, and again recognize that humans are part of that place, and the farmers must be part of that ecosystem and protected and cared for as part of that system.
To the question of how we can leave things better than when we found them and what we’re going to do to keep building NOFA, I’d say that we have to keep doing what we’re doing and remain as persistent just as the founders did. And we need to remain hopeful and positive. We need to continue the discussion and press the issues in Congress, in our state, in our chapters, on our farms and in our communities.
My Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who’s a phenomenal advocate for farms, has helped secure federal funds that made my own farm possible. Earlier this summer, Cory Booker reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act to crackdown on monopolistic practices and invest billions into transitioning to a more resilient food system. UConn Extension has created a Farm to School program to help expand access to nutritious and delicious Connecticut grown food for students in schools and to help access markets for farmers. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful. We have had significant victories as our history shows, and I have no doubt there will be more victories in the next 50 years, hopefully so we can realize the just and resilient food system that we need.
About Steve Munno, he/him: Steve grew up in a suburb of Long Island without connection to farming or gardens, possibly without even knowing anyone who had a vegetable garden, but he always loved eating. Eventually, Steve was drawn to farming through that love of food and heightening interest in environmental protection, environmental education and wilderness exploration. Inspired by some friends, he ended up as an apprentice in Santa Cruz in ecological horticulture, followed by a role at The Food Project in Mass. After moving to Connecticut in 2009, NOFA was the first organization he reached out to and has been involved ever since. In 2010, he helped start Massaro Community Farm as a CSA and hungerrelief educational organization, where he lives with his family and works as farm manager today.
Onika Abraham, Executive Director of Farm School NYC, former NOFA NY Board member
I am so, so moved by this focus. Imagination is a critical resource. This movement and our vision that’s so beautiful and so true. Non-exploitation and non-extraction are so critical to this movement. It warms my heart and I’m glad to be in a community with you.
In addition to what’s already been said – I am speaking as a person of color on this panel, as a Black woman and really thinking about the deep ancestral knowledge and ancestral history that I carry with me in my blood. I am here as a representative in solidarity with a number of networks and a number of organizations that I’m in deep community with, and really wanting to lift up our collective vision.
Farm School NYC is one of five Black and Indigenous people of color-led organizations in the Northeast that have come together loosely to form what we call a Black Farmer Ecosystem in New York State. That includes the Black Farmer Fund which I am so blessed to serve on the Board of, Corbin Hill Food Project, Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, Soul Fire Farm Institute, and a number of other organizations that we organize with. We have collectively come together to explore ways that our work is intersecting. To bring more intention to our collaborations and synergies, we created what we call our North Star, which gives me an umbrella to operate under for the work that I do more on a local level in New York City. We envision Black and Brown folks on land in right relationship with the land, with each other and with all the support we/they need to thrive, shifting power and ownership in everything that we do. Our vision includes our practice of working together, interdependence, and collaboration, healing amongst our communi-ties between Black and Brown peoples and creating more possibility and choice for those around us and for those who come after us.
Our organizations are doing a number of different things to move this work forward. We’re freeing our people through nutrition, food and health, through economic development and agrarian knowledge transfer which is the sweet spot for Farm School NYC. That’s a big part of what we do.
We also look at land access for Black communities in the northeast, with an epicenter here in New York State. Our collective contributions around that Black liberation include creating a really coordinated, streamlined pathway for Black farmers to access land, supporting black farmers to own and operate successful farms in the state, facilitating financial capital and land and social networks. Educating policymakers and students is such a big part of the work that we need to do. We have created a collaboration called Black Farmers United New York State, and we are working with other organizations that
are working on similar justice issues from different standpoints. How that coalesces to really make our state, local and federal elected officials take notice is so important. Our united platform lifts up the work that we’re doing as a community with other organizations, other folks and we’re fostering collective governance. We’re even sharing decision-making around all of these financial instruments. Cooperative development is a way to hopefully correct some of the inequities that led people to be denied land ownership and to the power structures within our food system. We’re looking to connect black farmers to larger markets, which bolsters local food systems, and reduces our carbon footprint.
Lastly, we are looking at increasing Black farmers’ access to innovative and culturally relevant and climate-resilient training and technical access.
This is work that we’re trying to do at Farm School NYC in particular, and we’re so excited about the intersectionality of that with other communities of beginning farmer training programs and things of that nature. Looking at some of the ways that Black and Brown farmers have traditionally farmed, and looking back at our ancestral knowledge is a big part of the reclaiming that needs to happen. Those practices are the bedrock of how we’re going to do carbon sequestration and really make a difference in a lot of the work that we’re doing. What’s exciting to me now is that there’s a lot more intentionality to bringing the metrics and measurements that scientists and legislators value, and the scientific method values. We’re starting to see some really interesting grants and projects that measure some of the ways that these traditional methods are doing carbon sequestration and how that’s happening on these smallholder farms. This is getting me excited because I think that data is going to trickle up to start to change minds at the policy level to see the real importance of agroecology. Folks that are struggling around racial justice issues are leading the way.
I am deeply passionate about people being able to learn on farms and I love the idea of them being able to learn on farms that have people who reflect their own experience. That’s something that was sorely lacking for me when I learned to farm in Santa Cruz and that I’m trying to do something about here in New York State. Nonprofits and philanthropy have real roles to play trying to make up that gap because it’s really important for folks to feel safe in communities where they’re sorely underrepresented. In that vein, I’m also working with my compatriots at Rock Steady Farm on a pilot right now for LGBTQ farmers, going from the city to a much more rural space where there’s very few folks of that kind, creating a space that feels really welcoming and supportive for them with folks that understand that experience.
I think that there’s this beautiful kind of tsunami that we’re building together and the ways that all our efforts are intersecting.
About Onika Abraham, she/her: Onika is a parent, a partner, the executive director of Farm School
NYC based in New York City, and a NOFA-NY board member until last year. Though Onika grew up in New York City, she is the grandchild of three farmers. Her grandmother farmed in rural Alabama and grew everything her family ate except flour. While her grandfather grew crops on a more commercial scale, it was her grandmother who fed everyone. There was a richness to what was happening in her grandmother’s yard that she fell in love with and she eventually found her way to Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) in California and then to Farm School NYC. FarmSchool trains New York City residents in urban agriculture in order to build self-reliant communities, inspire positive local change, and increase food access, and social, economic, and racial justice. Farm School centers low-income Black and Brown folks who can’t necessarily take a year off to do a deep apprenticeship. No one’s ever turned away from Farm School’s programs for not being able to pay
Iris Fen Gillingham, Wild Roots Farm
All I can do is just agree with everything that everyone has said!
One of the things I’ve been studying in school, and something that I have learned from growing up on a farm is learning about emergence and resilience, and with climate change, we are seeing that communities need to have the ability to develop resilience to plan ahead to mitigate and adapt to grow in this changing world. I think many of us and the groups we’re all connected to are doing this. Farmers are constantly experiencing more erratic weather patterns and adapting. Farmers are a part of the solution and sharing that knowledge and practice in an emergent way, working with the land instead of against it.
I feel very tied to the land that I grew up on and I am a part of that land. I’m named after wild irises and the fen that grow on my family’s farm. So the vision I have for the next 50 years is more than NOFA, but expands to our whole country, our world. Thinking about how we can shift people’s relationships with the land through land reparations, reconnecting communities that have been removed from the land, acknowledging the skills and knowledge of Black farmers and Indigenous peoples. So I just feel like part of my vision for the future is to have a reciprocal relationship with the land, with the community and that we think of our farms and the land, the plants we cultivate, as part of this community, not as separate reciprocity.
I think we are on a path to leave things better than we found them, and every step that we take, we are doing so for future generations. Every step the older farmers have made to create NOFA has helped give me a community of fond memories, where everyone has dirt under their fingernails and a connection to place that is invaluable. To keep building NOFA, we need to remain on this path of creating an incredible environment for young people to have relationships with the land whether it’s creating art, activism, or whether it’s growing vegetables. There are so many ways that young people can build and develop relationships with intergenerational farmers and communities and I think that the future is right here, in all of the lands that we all work with.
About Iris Fen Gillingham, she/her: Iris is the great-granddaughter of a dairy farmer and greatgrandniece to dairy farmers and was raised at Wild Roots Farm in Upstate New York. She grew up going to NOFA conferences, joining contra dances, and being impacted by this beautiful, thriving organic farming community. Iris got involved in activism and climate justice at a young age and now studies human ecology at the College of the Atlantic and runs a nine-week farm immersion program for college students on Wild Roots Farm, sharing knowledge about sustainable living, farming offgrid, working with the land, rewilding, and adapting to climate change.
Resources & Links:
- Earth Care Farm, earthcarefarm.com
- Massaro Community Farm, massarofarm.org
- Black Farmer Ecosystem, blackfarmersunited. org
- Farm School NYC, farmschoolnyc.org
- Wild Roots Farm, growwildroots.com