NOFA: Organic Growing Vermont Farms

“The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) is a nonprofit association of farmers, gardeners, and consumers working to promote an economically viable and ecologically sound Vermont food system for the benefit of current and future generations.”
Vera Simon-Nobes grew up in Vermont and got a Sociology and Environmental Studies degree at the University of Vermont before moving out west for two years where she coordinated cooking and nutrition classes in San Francisco’s underserved communities. Vera moved back to Vermont and joined NOFA-VT in 2007 and is currently working as an events coordinator.
Q. When did you join NOFA-VT and what led you to them?
A. Since learning about NOFA Vermont when I was in high school, I've had great respect for their work. I was drawn to their role in Vermont's Farm to School initiatives. As a partner organization, along with Food Works and Shelburne Farms, in the Farm to School Project, Vermont FEED, NOFA Vermont helps train food service professionals and educators around preparing healthy food for school cafeterias and integrating food education into classrooms and works with farmers around hosting school field trips. I saw right away how all the pieces for successful Farm to School projects were in place, and I wanted to learn more. As I began to care more and more about food, I realized that I owed thanks in part to NOFA Vermont for the rural landscape that I grew up in and appreciate every day, and the beautiful and delicious food available at farmers' markets, farm stands, through CSAs and in supermarkets. NOFA Vermont provides business planning services and technical assistance to organic farmers, advocates for a fair, just and healthy food system at the Statehouse and beyond, runs an apprentice program to help train the next generation of farmers, operates Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), which certifies farmers and processors to the National Organic Program (NOP) standards, and assists low income Vermonters in accessing local food through their Farm Share program.
I first joined NOFA Vermont in 2007, when they were engaged in a statewide effort of getting farmers' markets online so people could use their EBT (food stamp) cards at farmers' markets. I was interested in hands-on projects that were helping Vermonters' access fresh, healthy food, and NOFA Vermont gave me the opportunity to work on this project.
While at UVM, I did an undergraduate thesis in Environmental Studies and I wanted my final project to have an impact on the community. I asked NOFA Vermont what sort of resources the community needed at the time, and I crafted my thesis around these needs. My research focused on the barriers limited resource Vermonters were facing in accessing locally grown food and I created a guide to eating fresh, local food that addressed some of the barriers identified through research, and was distributed through NOFA Vermont and other organizations in the anti-hunger community.
Q. What do you do for NOFA-VT now?
Today, I'm helping coordinate events with NOFA Vermont.
We host an annual Winter Conference in February, which is a valuable event for people from many sectors. It draws farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, policy makers, educators, eaters and more, and offers workshops on beekeeping, alternative fuels for greenhouses, farming in floodplains, organic methods of deworming small ruminants, foraging for mushrooms, home composting, and so much more. Equally important, it provides a time for people to come together to see the strength of the local food movement and to network. Partnerships form, ideas flow and there is delicious food to be had at the Winter Conference every year.
I also recently co-coordinated the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, for which Vermont FEED was a co-host. It was an incredible 4-day, 800 person conference that drew people from all 50 states and internationally.
Q. For you, what is the most important aspect of what you are doing with the organization?
A. The most important aspect of what I'm doing at NOFA right now is providing sound infrastructure to support the players who are strengthening Vermont's community food systems. Through bringing in instructors to run workshops, and ensuring that the events run smoothly, I'm doing a small part to support the networks that are forming and the education that is being transmitted from generation to generation, farm to farm or person to person.
Q. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
A. I'll never get used to sitting at a desk all day, and I'm lucky that there are great walking trails, swimming holes and a basketball hoop near our office!
Q. Do you see this as being a part of something bigger in Vermont and beyond? Can you see where it’s headed?
A. Many of the systems Vermonters use for growing, selling, aggregating, storing, processing and educating about food are serving as models far and wide. NOFA Vermont and many of our collaborators recognize the importance of sharing information and best practices. NOFA Vermont events are just one place where these exchanges take place.
Q. Is there anything you can say to younger people who are considering a career based in or around agriculture? Are there opportunities out there?
A. Farming is a heroic livelihood. Farmers have unique knowledge and I would encourage all to spend a day, a season, a year or more with a farmer in order to truly appreciate what goes into making the food that nourishes us. There are some opportunities to work on farms or with food systems organizations, but in form with our current economic situation, finding a position that earns a livable wage in this field may be a competitive process. Vermont leads the nation in direct sales of local food per capita, and houses over 70 farmers' markets. It's clear that state supports its farmers, but even this is still not enough. There are hungry families in every community and farmers unable to sell all of what they produce. There are thousands of Vermonters that aren't currently purchasing locally produced food.
While it takes time, it's clear that the state is moving in the right direction, and as this movement builds, there will be more and more opportunities for young people. Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund recently reported that with every 5 percent increase in local food sales in the state, Vermonters would see approximately 1,500 new food-related jobs and $135 million in new economic activity within the state. And since that money would be circulating locally, she said the economic boost would be multiplied to $177 million. For those hoping to work with food and farming, I encourage you to have patience, to learn from those around you and to hold strong to the reasons for your passion. This is what will drive you in your job search and thereafter. Have patience and while you search cook good food, dig in the dirt and talk to people who are working with the land.
By Neel Tandan