Chronicles of the early years of the NOFA

Our Friends the Fields

Chronicles of the early years of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association

By Sara Norton, NOFA-VT Director, 1980-1984

One morning in June, 1979, Larry Karp walked on his hillside in Greensboro, Vermont. He wrote in that summer The Natural Farmer issue how, “a walk in my fields this time of year is my reward… the sounds of birds, the wind dusting the leaves of the trees and the warm summer sun playing with all the shades of green. … We’ve just finished our first cutting of hay and the thought comes to mind that I am cutting and harvesting half a year’s worth of feed for my animals in four weeks of the year. Then I realize how wondrous it is. Here falls with every pass of my mower, every circuit of my tedder, every blade of my baler, the sustenance of winter …the forces of the sun captured in each bale to warm my cattle during those winter days far from the green mosaic of summer pasture.”

Karp continues, “Haying is the time I get to become reacquainted with my fields and see how they have done since last year; to see what I’ve done for them. Fields are living beings, friends a farmer gets to know. And teachers. Our fields teach us the lesson of our actions. If the fields are not fed and cared for they will not yield up their harvest. One cannot take without giving back.”

Larry and Erika Karp were among the group of farmers, organizers and activists who came together as NOFA, The Northeast Organic Farmers Association. 

That next spring, I sat with Larry and Erika at their kitchen table, planning a NOFA workshop on their farm on keeping bees. Their farm was beautiful—a mosaic of enterprises that fit together in a pattern: bees, cows, pigs, chickens, vegetables—all on a hillside in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

This is how life should be, I thought. Here is an example of the ingenious puzzle that is a diversified, small farm. 

The topography of Vermont and New Hampshire, where NOFA began, with its hillsides, sometimes steep and sometimes gentle, and with its river valleys, sometimes narrow and sometimes wide, begs for small farms and diversified farming practices. And the times, with their desperate need for local, healthy food and with their planetary climate crisis, demand organic agriculture. And it is deeper: it’s about having an intimate relationship with the intelligence of the land and to know the fields as friends. 

I am writing this in 2021. I am almost 80 years old and I’m looking back 50 years to NOFA’s beginning. Now I can say with conviction that NOFA is the most extraordinary organization I have ever known. It is my privilege to have been a part of it.  

Memory likes to gather things up in bundles like bales of hay or bins of carrots in the root cellar – the preserved harvest. These bundles become themes, which is the way history loves to organize itself.  The themes in my memory of NOFA are these: 1) The strong, pervasive sense of idealism that was shared. It was felt in each meeting in farmhouses around the state, tasted in the potluck before the meeting, felt at farmers markets, experienced in the conferences and the hearing rooms at the statehouse, and was present in the mix of grit and high goals seen in the rural, hardscrabble way of life that people were willing to live.  2) The people gathering to work together in a robust volunteer spirit of collective action.  3) A commitment to care for the land, the soil; to nurture our places, our valleys and hills. 

My story with NOFA begins on January 2, 1980 when I took the job of State Coordinator, or Director, of the brand-new organization of Vermont-NOFA. (In those days NOFA loved the term “coordinator” in keeping with its non-hierarchical principles. One didn’t “direct,” one “coordinated.” Later the board changed my title to “Director” to better interface with organizations in the non-NOFA world with whom we were networking). I was given the keys to the new NOFA office at 5 State Street in Montpelier, just two blocks from the Statehouse. I climbed the narrow stairs to the bare office. There was no furniture yet but over along one wall, a collection of cardboard boxes of old files which had emerged from closets around the state waited silently. I sat on the floor and eagerly opened the first box. What would I learn here about what to do as the new director? 

I had been told about the work of NOFA in its first nine years. NOFA was founded in 1971 by organic farmer and visionary, Samuel Kaymen. He gathered a group of 50 farmers from New Hampshire and Vermont on a hillside at Earthbridge Farm in Westminster, Vermont. “We must come together,” he said, “and start a movement. And we will call it the Natural Organic Farmers’ Association.” (Two decades later it was re-named the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association). “It will be a revolutionary movement for a new society,” declared Samuel. “We will turn the revolution around and go back to the roots: people working together to change the landscape in each valley.” Soon I was to meet Samuel himself and delighted in his infectious enthusiasm; his childlike sense of wonder. “Have you ever really looked at the roots of a plant?” he passionately asked the assembled crowd at our Soil Management seminar one spring. 

From that hillside in Westminster, NOFA spread out over the hills and into the valleys of New Hampshire and Vermont -- a web of markets, growers’ coops, community canneries -- which one by one popped out of NOFA’s seed pod into autonomous organizations. 

Robert Houriet was one of the early organizers and had a strong hand in shaping the organization in those years. He joined Samuel trekking up and down the countryside, initially to get promises from growers to stock the NOFA delivery truck to the People’s Warehouse in New York City to disperse to co-ops and daycare centers. “It was the linkage of food radicals from New York and farm radicals from Vermont and New Hampshire,” Robert told me.  When that project shifted after a few years, Robert traveled the back roads contacting farmers and talking up organic agriculture and regional self-reliance. Out of this grew 17 farmers markets in Vermont and New Hampshire, wholesale marketing co-ops, a root crop storage co-op, and even a grain mill. NOFA became a network, a way to share information, a newsletter, a bulk order of seeds and soil amendments, an apprenticeship program, and a gigantic 3-day conference each summer. NOFA was a magnet bringing people together. Newsletters of this period tell of so many people involved. I’ll mention just a few here: Samuel Kaymen was president, Olive McKenzie (now Olive Ylin) was vice-president, and Robert Houriet was the newsletter editor and the state coordinator. When Robert switched to writing grants, Jack Cook became the editor of The Natural Farmer and Grace Gershuny became the State Coordinator.

But this was January 1980, and Grace, my predecessor, had just resigned. She had dedicated five years to NOFA and her parting gesture was to persuade me to take her position. I was a complete newbie, having just arrived in Vermont from living 10 years in Europe and Asia. I had seen the destruction of the agrarian cultures there and took heart in the return to the land movement in Vermont. Grace said, “Why don’t you apply for my job?” She was up front with me about how the finances of NOFA were worn bare and grant funding had dried up. My job as the only hired staff was part-time and paid $250 a month. It was clear that this was a low moment for NOFA. 1979 had been a challenging year. Rivalries had broken out along state lines. Grace put it like this, “Polarization emerged between the fiscally conservative Granite Staters and the grant-happy Green Mountaineers.” In the end geography arbitrated and the wide Connecticut River separated the NOFAs. The new structure created two autonomous organizations with the possibility of adding neighboring states to the federation.

I opened a dusty box of newsletters. Here, editions of The Natural Farmer told a story of energy and multiplying projects. There were lists of coordinators of farmers markets, wholesale marketing cooperatives, and growers’ coops. Reading The Natural Farmer, it seemed like NOFA itself was a bustling farmers market. Then I opened another box and pulled out a file headed “Board Communications.” Here was a letter to the board of July 13, 1979 from Grace. “I’m still a bit demoralized after Tuesday night’s long drive and meager meeting turnout,” were the opening lines. The November letter began with, “Only 3 board members were present at this meeting…” I turned to the December letter that was titled “A Farewell Message from the Coordinator.” It began, “Once again, alas and alack, there was no quorum at our December 12th board meeting…” 

What was I getting myself into? 

The organization was both young and old. The marketing and co-op organizing era had been spectacular. Farmers found it easier to grow vegetables than to sell them. NOFA’s marketing projects often made the difference for a farmer to make it or not. But now many of these farmers had joined to become thriving independent market groups. So what now? We needed to claim a new identity and new directions as Vermont-NOFA, while staying connected to our roots. We needed to decide what to let go and what to become. 

Working there in that empty office, I wrote out a survey to send to our members to find out who were these 300 or so households scattered all over our state. I worked on the finishing touches of the new by-laws, sent them to our members, and planned for the first annual meeting.

Four weeks later on January 31st, 1980, people converged for Vermont-NOFA’s first annual meeting. We met under the stage at the Vermont Farm Show in Barre. Suddenly, it all became clear to me that in the hub-hub of the farm show and the tightly packed Vermont-NOFA meeting, this new organization was a spit-fire group of people. A new board of directors was elected, by-laws were ratified, and old marketing projects and committees merged with new ideas. Vermont-NOFA had officially launched and my job was to somehow keep it glued together and focused. 

Building a grassroots organization in a state like Vermont where the community comes together for festivals and fairs, where meetings are held in homes and church basements, was a face to face relationship with people and the tactile experience of the land. It was driving through winding back roads in all seasons -- to a board meeting up on Joey Klein’s windy hill in Williamstown, or down on Andy Snyder’s hillside in Rutland County, on Konrad Kruesi’s sheep farm in Woodstock, in Jane Dwinell’s barn in Randolph, at Peter Betts’ strawberry farm in West Danville, and on Olive McKenzie’s homestead at her Wolcott hill with her free-range goats wandering about. Directions to places spoke of topography and landmarks, not coordinates. But one always could spot the farmhouse where the NOFA meeting was by the array of old Saabs and pick-ups lining the roadside. And inside folks gathered with an abundant mixture of good cheer and seriousness. 

NOFA was the energy of so many people pitching in together to build the organization. Many other people could weave their stories into this one. Mine is just one of the threads. “We had a spirit of camaraderie and sense of building community in a joyful way,” said Michael Levine, who coordinated NOFA’s 1979 summer conference. Even the task of sending out mailings – in the laborious pre-internet way that we did them then – gave occasions for a gathering of volunteers. NOFA was volunteers. It was the whole group that made things happen. 

After that first spring and summer of organizing, it was clear that volunteers were the backbone of the organization and I wanted to strengthen our committee system. I wanted to get as many of our members as possible together in one room so we could see each other, talk about our direction, and set goals for the next three years. 

So we planned a big meeting on November 8th in Rutland. This was 1980. It happened that four days before our meeting, Ronald Reagan had been elected president. The energy in the church basement in Rutland that next Saturday was defiant. Andy Snyder, Vermont-NOFA’s then president, led the meeting with his warm enthusiasm. As a group we talked about what made NOFA so important to us personally. Emphasis was placed on NOFA’s visionary aspect -- its ability to look ahead, be radical, bring ideas into focus, and initiate things. People also spoke of the intangible rewards that working with NOFA still brings: that of sharing with others who hold the same concerns and beliefs. Then we divided into focus groups to set goals for marketing, consumer awareness, education, and political action. We feasted together afterwards with a potluck supper and celebrated with a contra dance. What we sensed but didn’t know then was how devastating the Reagan years would be for small farms and for non-profit organizations. In terms of federal programs and money for non-profits, the ever-expanding 70s became the shrinking 80s. We would feel the full force of the shift to Reagan economics in just a few years. 

But that November, the Rutland meeting gave us focus. In everything we would do we needed to raise the consciousness of the public toward the vital importance of a local, sustainable agricultural system. For the larger population, these were new ideas then. In the next five years, our work spread out in all directions yet to capture it here is daunting. We had some on-going projects and then there were the areas that specifically Vermont-NOFA dug into: education, public outreach and political advocacy. 

Our marketing projects were funded by VISTA (now called AmeriCorps). Renee Patnaude drove the Upper Valley Vegetable Co-op truck up and down the Connecticut River valley, bringing produce from farms to 14 different institutions. In Burlington, Linda Holup sat down with city officials and businesspeople to negotiate for the farmers to set up a market in the city.; Grace Gershuny started a Small Farm Advisory Service and began the state’s first Organic Certification Program; Robert Houriet, up at his farm in Hardwick, wrote grants on his kitchen table, trying to snag scarce funding; Fran Ecker-Racz in Glover pitched in to do membership drives and sell NOFA Books; and Jack Cook, The Natural Farmer editor and NOFA bookkeeper, held the finances together. Grower and long-time board member, Joey Klein said, “Jack Cook was a brilliant man who could patch together our organization with the thinnest of threads.”   

In what follows, I will talk specifically about Vermont-NOFA’s new projects that we developed over the next five years.

Education

One morning in late May, Robert Houriet was weeding down a row of young carrots. “I’ve got witchgrass,” he growled holding up a bunch of curling white rootlets for me to see. “Witchgrass is supposed to be a beginner farmer’s problem. By now I should have progressed onto more sophisticated weeds.” As we raked through the ground with our hands pulling out weeds, we talked about the early days of NOFA in the 1970s. “There was a lot of witchgrass,” he said. “First year farmers go out and put on a lot of manure, attempting to go from sod land to productive vegetable land in just a year and witchgrass is the result. In those days we wanted to go from A to Z without going through all the letters in between.”

These ‘letters in between’ meant a decade of learning, research and sharing information. A great experiment had been taking place in the fields and greenhouses where organic farming practices had joined with new understanding of soil science. During this time, NOFA had been the clearing house for these developments through its summer conference and its publication The Natural Farmer. Michael Levine, co-editor of The Natural Farmer from 1981-1983 told me, “My role was cheerleader, to encourage people to try organic farming. We filled the newspaper with shared experiences and that helped farmers out there in the fields know they were not alone.” Joey Klein, one of those farmers out in the fields told me, “It was urgent to start a network of organic farmers. We needed support because there wasn’t much support out there. We needed each other’s knowledge and we needed each other’s friendship. NOFA facilitated that.”

Now as NOFA-Vermont was launching and shaping its new identity, the experienced farmers up and down the Green Mountains had more sophisticated weeds, and more sophisticated skills. They were ready to teach, to share their knowledge. So that winter of 1980 when Al Johnson from South Royalton came up the stairs to the office with a clipboard and a new plan for a series of on-farm workshops, it was perfect. “We can call it ‘Small Farming: How we do it in Vermont,’” he said. Visiting farms in preparation for the workshops, Al and I found farmers very pleased to be asked to share knowledge. We published our first flyer for the spring series and waited to see what would happen. Taking registrations for the workshops in advance was not practical in those pre-internet days. So imagine our surprise when 60 people showed up for the first workshop on a cold, rainy April day.  That spring we gave seven workshops followed by six more in the fall, and each year after that, our education committee organized an on-farm workshop series. The farmers were generous with their time and knowledge. We tapped the knowledge of experienced growers such as Paul and Susan Harlow, Howie Prussack, and Jake Guest in the Connecticut River valley where NOFA got its start. Up in Greensboro, I remember Rosie Oats’ bright green spring sheep pastures where she was “flushing her ewes.” We peered curiously into Jim Nolfi’s fish tanks in the greenhouses at Goddard College’s experimental farm. In Brookfield, the Hooper’s goats looked on skeptically as Don and Alice talked about how they managed them. Ann and Jack Lazor in Westfield showed us their new solar barn and yogurt making facility. Adele Dawson led us up her steep hillside beside her Marshfield waterfall where we picked herbs and then crowded into her kitchen to make salve. Henry and Cornelia Swayze in Tunbridge showed us how their innovative, intensive sheep grazing methods created lush, nutritional pastures. And as an added bonus, their young children proudly gave us a talk on how they set up their egg business. “Are you ready for the family cow?” was the question that Ernst and Margret Daniel answered at their workshop on their homestead in Bethel. Nancy and Lewis Hill, who had grown fruits and berries since 1947on their hillside in Greensboro, showed us how to prune and graft apples. 

After the summer conference in 1981, we heard a lot of grumbling from growers that it was a challenge to come away from the farm for a conference in the middle of summer. A winter conference was the obvious solution. It would be a conference that focused on advanced farming skills, cutting edge research, and issues that were right on the top of the minds of those who farm for a living. I remember clearly the first winter conference we organized. People just kept flooding into the church basement we rented for the day in Montpelier. 

Political advocacy & grassroots organizing

Who were the folks coming to learn from our conferences and our workshops? Some were experienced farmers who were curious about how others did things. Some were new on the land, honing their skills. Still others were those who wanted to start a farm -- to buy land, make a farm plan and set up a new enterprise. And here was the biggest hurdle: what land? We heard this again and again from people. They had a great desire to become farmers. Maybe they had had a stint as a farmworker, had a clear idea of what they wanted to do, had enough savings to start up, but not enough money to buy land. In the early 80s land was beyond reach for many          

In Vermont, there had been a gradual shift in land accessibility and by the early 1980s it had become a crisis. Housing developments, shopping malls, and industrial parks accelerated their appearance on prime farmland. “More and more fields are starting to grow ranch houses instead of crops,” wrote Tom Slayton in the Times Argus (Nov. 21, 1982). The Reagan era saw how vulnerable farmland was to big economic forces. In the State House there was an organized, powerful lobby of developers. Act 250, Vermont’s land use regulatory law, for example, was seen as standing in the way of “progress.” One view we often heard in hearings was that agriculture as an industry was dwindling in this state and that we didn’t need farmland. 

It was obvious that a regional food system based on local, sustainable agriculture would never become a reality here in the Northeast without land. Yet, as NOFA people worked to open up marketing possibilities, educate would-be farmers and research organic farming techniques, the land was being pulled right out from under us. In Vermont, land was going out of agricultural use at the rate of 17,000 acres a year. For this reason, Vermont-NOFA’s political action program focused on farmland preservation. We had a large and energetic Legislative Committee. During the 1981 legislative session, the Senate Agriculture Committee was quite impressed when representatives from NOFA and the Vermont Northern Growers’ Cooperative trouped in to testify for S. 132 – the long awaited institutional marketing bill. The Growers’ Cooperative brought for their testimony “exhibit A,” your typical organic farming family, the Gaillards from Walden. Luke Gaillard, age 2, was the youngest person they said to come before the committee. The House Agriculture Committee also seemed surprised to find so much interest in agriculture and was receptive to the ideas NOFA had to offer. This was Louise Giovanella’s experience when she went to the committee. She had just joined NOFA’s legislative committee as an intern from UVM and it was her first day in the State House. She went to simply ‘listen in’ on the committee but found herself being the one to answer questions. Taking advantage of their interest, Louise quickly became a resource person for the House Agriculture Committee.  They would ask her to bring in witnesses on various bills.

By the next year we had moved the NOFA office down the block to 43 State Street, inching nearer to the State House and the Department of Agriculture building. Climbing three steep flights of stairs at No. 43 you would have found yourself in a warren of offices. We shared an office suite with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance. Down the hall was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Safe Energy Coalition, and the Central Vermont Peace Coalition. It made for a stimulating hall with good neighbors and helpful sharing of information, advice and support. We shared a Xerox machine - no longer the dreaded chore of cranking out newsletters and petitions on the mimeograph machine. Our new Vermont newsletter started and edited by Andrea Chesman, “NOFA Notes,” flew out of that machine informing our members of our doings.

Over those years, we pushed hard for an Agriculture Impact Study, for the Family Farm Security Act, and joined the Agricultural Lands Task Force set up by the Commissioner of Agriculture. By the end of 1982, Tom Slayton, assistant editor of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald wrote, “There is considerable evidence that a quiet restructuring of agriculture is under way in the Green Mountains.” He goes on, “The Natural Organic Farmers Association has played a vital part and will continue to do so. The UVM Extension Service has lately begun promoting part-time and small-time farming. It will co-sponsor a series of farm workshops with NOFA next year. That development would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Now it seems logical.” (December  12, 1982).  

If our only goal had been to help budge the fixation on the dairy monoculture,-expanding the image of Vermont’s agricultural community by the state’s policy makers’  to include the notion of ‘diversified farming,’ we would have been quite encouraged. But when it came to land-use issues, that was another matter.

“You know,” mused Anthony Pollina, chair of the Legislative Committee, at one of our meetings, “If we had just one dollar for every acre of farmland lost each year in Vermont – that’s $17,000 – we could do a lot. We could gather data, print flyers, send lawyers to Act 250 hearings, hire lobbyists, send advisors to local planning commissions.”

“Well, why not?” said I.

“Let’s start a campaign,” he answered, and that was how our “Adopt an Acre” campaign began. For a $1 contribution, we gave out a sticker: “I adopted an acre to help save Vermont farmland.” This went along with the “Save Vermont Farms” petition that NOFA members circulated all around the state. We collected over 10,000 signatures, but not $10,000. 

In the days before the internet, petitions were circulated by hand around the state -- set out on clipboards on cashiers’ counters in grocery stores or hung up on bulletin boards. Our members put the “Save Vermont Farms” petitions everywhere they could imagine.  This petition was launched to focus public and legislators’ attention on the importance of agriculture and the preservation of farmlands; to shake public opinion loose from its single-mindedness about economic growth through commercial and industrial development.  This was the beginning of our grassroots lobbying efforts. This was the kind of lobbying NOFA was made for.  

Grassroots lobbying is an old political tool. We discovered that in Vermont it still makes a big difference to a legislator to get calls from constituents. They don’t get many, so when they do get three or four calls on one issue, it’s like a whole movement. NOFA has an advantage in this kind of tactic. We are spread out over the state, and, we are just folks, concerned folks. 

It was on the meat inspection issue that we next decided to use our grassroots power. In the 1982 session of the legislature, the state wanted to cut meat inspection from its budget – a move which would virtually kill small meat-raising operations and make it unattractive for farmers to diversify. We called our members who raised meat and they either came to the hearing or called their representative. The result: the meat inspection program stayed in the budget.

One evening in September 1982, I got a desperate call from a member of the Environmental Board asking that NOFA intervene in an Act 250 hearing. No other environmental group asked was willing to take the time to participate in this process to block the conversion of prime farmland into an industrial and residential subdivision in South Burlington. Denis Sauer, then president of Vermont-NOFA, jumped to the task. He was a farmer in Essex on leased land. For him, the land issue in Chittenden County had a particular bite. He and I did a crash course on the law and testified on NOFA’s behalf. Around the table in the hearing room sat the developers, the real estate agent, the District Commissioners and the representatives from the Department of Agriculture. The farmer who leased the land for his dairy operation, Dan Pillsbury, came in timidly and sat in the audience. No one thought to make room for him at the table. The hearing began. The developers wanted to push through the Act 250 regulations and obtain unprecedented advance approval to bypass the farmland criterion, before presenting specific plans for their South Burlington development on 320 acres of prime farmland. Their engineer presented ‘conceptual plans’ of industrial lots, set down where the corn was and housing lots where the alfalfa was growing. The large amoeba-like squiggles on the map he called “building envelopes.” “In between the building envelopes,” he said with an air of reassurance, “we have left corridors for agriculture.” 

 “Why didn’t someone talk to me first, before you drew up those plans?” piped up Dan from the back of the room. “I can’t farm in a situation like that.” 

Had NOFA not been there, the case would not have had a contesting party. From consultations with Dan and in doing our own research, Dennis and I built and presented a case that farming was economically viable on that piece of land in particular and in Chittenden County in general. Denis calculated hypothetical broccoli yields. The developers produced a “conceptual” drawing of an industrial park; we countered with a “conceptual” map of the property as a diversified farm with orchards, row crops, pastures, barns and a farm stand. The developers backed off. Usually these hearings went ahead without contesting parties and the commissioners heard only opinions from development sympathizers that “farming in Vermont is dying” and should not be planned for as a significant part of the economy. 

Our task was to give a balanced view, to demonstrate that there are farmers who want to farm rather than sell their land, and to show that there are Vermonters who see that “progress” does not have to mean covering farmland with factories, second homes and shopping malls. One instance that stands out in my memory took place on October 24, 1984, when eleven NOFA people, ten of whom were farmers, spoke at a hearing on Act 250 before the Senate Agriculture Committee. We put out the call and farmers  took a day out of their busy lives from Glover, Essex, Chittenden, and Orange. These farmers to come to Montpelier to speak out. “The development of ag land is more or less a nickel and diming process,” said Will Gehr in his testimony,  “and the bad guy cannot be identified. There really is no bad guy: the enemy is us and nobody likes to tackle something of that nature. But certainly it is a social issue and one which deserves a broad-base decision making process.” 

Our political work over these years served the following purpose: It established NOFA’s reputation as a political force and it expanded the state policy makers’ image of the Vermont agricultural community. Though we learned to talk the language of lawmakers and build reasoned and substantiated arguments in land-use permit hearings and in the legislature, I often heard in my mind’s ear another language, another way of speaking. Here are the words of the leader of the Suquamish tribe, Chief Seattle, spoken one hundred and seventy years ago: “How can you buy or sell the sky or the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?”

 I don’t know how far away we are from re-sacralizing our relationship to the land. Sometimes it seems very, very far. But I do know that no change will ever come without a grassroots movement. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Especially since we are talking about land. Of all the groups in the Northeast, it is logical that the people of NOFA would be the ones to spur such a movement. 

This period of Vermont-NOFA’s history is but one of its chapters. My five year term ended in the last months of 1984 when I was offered a position on the faculty of Goddard College – an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. NOFA’s next chapter relied on the energy of volunteers, particularly the dedication of Robert Houriet, Grace Gershuny, Joey Klein and others. And then came the Enid era: three decades of expansion and new direction under the exceptional leadership of Enid Wonnacott. And now we are in the present robust and exciting chapter. Each era of NOFA has its unique story. Yet the deep story remains the same. It is a story of a vision for a different world than what conventional agriculture and economic systems offer us.  It is people working together to build this sustainable and just world, and it is a story of people creating an intimate relationship with the land, with the fields, as Larry Karp wrote, “who are living beings, friends a farmer gets to know.” Samuel Kaymen said, “NOFA should have 200 million members. Everyone has to share in the care for the earth and the production of food. We are all members of the soil community.” 

On September 17, 1983, NOFA held a Dawn Dance at Memorial Hall on the shore of Mirror Lake in North Calais. Five different bands kept the contra dances, polkas and waltzes going all through the night. People came and went, but the dancing never stopped. At daybreak, breakfast was served. This is the energy of NOFA: to dance all through the night until the sun rises.

 

References

Personal files     

  • Correspondence      
  • Coordinator’s Diary      
  • Notes on workshops and lectures, including talks by Samuel Kaymen
  • Board Meeting correspondence and agendas   1980-1984 
  • Personal memory

Interviews 

Robert Houriet (1982), Olive McKenzie Ylin (1982), Eugenie Doyle and Sam Burr (1983), Dan Pillsbury 1984), Michael Levine (2021), Joey Klein (2021).      

Vermont-NOFA materials 1980 – 1984

  • Annual Reports
  • On-Farm Workshop flyers
  • Winter Conference brochure
  • Save Farmland petition
  • Member survey
  • Out-reach brochures

Publications and other writings

  • The Natural Farmer    1973 – 1986
  • NOFA Notes    Issues 1 – 12
  • Gershuny, Grace. “A Brief History of NOFA-VT” (1986).  manuscript
  • Gershuny, Grace. Organic Revolutionary. (2016).  Joes Brook Press
  • The Times Argus/Rutland Herald.  Issues: 10/17/1982, 11/7/1982, 11/14/1982,    11/21/1982, 11/28/1982, 12/5/1982, 12/12/1982, 3/12/1983, 11/13/1983