Clara’s Keynote Talk at NOFA-VT 2013 Winter Conference

On Saturday, February 16th 2013, I was the keynote speaker at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s (NOFA-VT) 2013 Winter Conference. I delievered an inspiring speech titled “Back to My Roots, Forward to the Next Generation” to a crowd of over 900 people and hosted a workshop with my father, Eliot Coleman.

Was this your first time attending the NOFA-VT winter conference? If so, can you tell us your first impressions of the event?

As far as I can remember (I may have tagged along with my dad as a kid), this was my first time attending the NOFA-VT winter conference and both my dad and I feel it is one of the best organic winter conferences in the country. Since it is also one of the oldest organic conferences (since 1971), it is very well attended with over 1,500 attendees from the Vermont farming community and beyond. I met out-of-state farmers traveling from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. They all shared with me how much they appreciate the informative workshops, interesting keynotes, and networking opportunities easily sourced at this conference.

Can you tell us a little bit about your speech titled “Back to My Roots, Forward to the Next Generation”. What does this title mean to you? What were the key points you addressed in your speech?

Since the 2013 conference theme was ‘Generations of Innovations,’ my aim was to address both the early pioneers and the new generation of farmers in an attempt to encourage a larger conversation about the heart of farming as we move forward into the next generation of farming communities. I shared my story about starting my farm in Colorado and how the inevitable uncertainties of the farming lifestyle can sometimes lead to unpleasant and unanticipated results – namely burnout and divorce. What I discovered through my experience and through sharing stories with many other farmers is that not only do we need to innovate solutions to farming problems and hone our technical proficiency, we also need to unearth our authenticity and cultivate our emotional intelligence as farmers.

Emotional intelligence is defined as interpersonal relationships, those we have with other people, and intrapersonal relationships, the one we have with ourselves, and it is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence. With this in mind, I sought to develop a clear and simple framework for helping farmers to strengthen their resilience and my innovation is the development of a Real Farmers’ Manifesto (MANIFESTO is an acronym for Make Connections; Ask For Support; Nurture Yourself; Innovate And Inspire Ideas; Farming Fun; Educate Your Community; Serve Your Community; Trust In Nature; Own Your Story) as a call to action to farmers to share stories with one another to discover authenticity and cultivate emotional intelligence. Each of the Manifesto topics was illustrated with personal farming stories collected from farmers, both young and old, located around the world. And I am still collecting stories as I work toward developing my idea into a book. Stay tuned!

Does every Northeast state or region have an Organic Farming Association? What is the purpose and function of the association?

NOFA-VT is part of the larger NOFA association, an acronym for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and it is comprised of seven state chapters in the Northeast United States including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and each chapter is a self-sustaining entity within its state. The primary purpose is to advocate on behalf of organic farmers and their communities by providing educational conferences, workshops, beginning farmer resources, farm certification, technical farming assistance and printed materials to better educate farmers, gardeners, consumers and land care professionals.

Are you a member of the NOFA association? How can growers and farming enthusiasts get involved?

Since I recently moved from Colorado I am not a current member but after attending the conference, I plan to become one!! All of the details you need to join or learn more information is found at this link: http://nofavt.org/join

Can you tell us a little bit about your workshop at NOFA-VT with your father? What was the workshop’s title, how many people attended? What were some key points?

Roughly 75-100 people attended our workshop entitled ‘Keeping Four-Season Farming in the Family.’ My father and I presented on our farming observations as two generations of farmers sourcing from two generations of inspiration and situated in two drastically different farming locations (Maine and Colorado) and how these differing experiences allowed us to discover some universal inter-generational similarities. Specifically, we shared the following to be important to both of us: follow an intensive, ecological and high quality approach; focus on healthy soil, seeds and supplies; invest in high tunnels and greenhouses for four-season growing; discover your niche market and educate new customers; relationship marketing is key to building a loyal customer base; consistent attention to detail is imperative to success; always learn from mistakes and record observations; innovate and collaborate with farmers; share stories and knowledge, and remember to have fun! Our goal was to provide encouragement to farming families to keep farming in the family as a means to inspire and ensure future generations of farmers.

What is the overall importance of events like NOFA-VT to growers and farming enthusiasts alike? Why should people attend?

Since farmers are typically very busy during the summer months, annual winter conferences give them a wonderful opportunity to learn new information and skills, connect with other farmers, and celebrate the joy of farming. Joining NOFA-VT or another similar association and attending the conferences is another important way of adding your voice of support to a growing movement of farmers and enthusiasts who want to grow sustainable, nourishing food, care for their land, and educate and serve their local communities.

What was this experience like for you? Will you be attending again next year?

Wow! What an amazing weekend! The conference was great fun and I feel like my talk was well received but I was even more inspired and humbled by all of the heartfelt comments and feedback I received during the weekend. I even had someone come up and just give me a hug! Of course I would enjoy attending in the future.

What are some tips and tricks growers should keep in mind when attending conferences like NOFA-VT? Do you have any networking advice?

Expect to be delighted!! And take advantage of a tremendous opportunity to make connections – you just never know who you might meet.