NOFA reflections

thanks to CARLY WESTLING for sharing thoughts!! 

I went in to the NOFA conference trying to psych myself up for it. After freshman year it had been such a struggle to be even close to as involved with MCOF as I have always wanted to be – whether it was a cappella rehearsal, keeping up with a long distance relationship, or simply drowning in reading for class, there was always something standing between me and quality time with the soil. But in my last semester with no lab classes and all of my requirements finished, I was determined to get involved again, and the NOFA conference was going to be the first step.

 

I spent most of the day in a reverie, pleasantly lost in the voices of alternative farmers talking about their creative strategies for preventing weeds or keeping the soil healthy, for forging connections with other farmers – and I even forged some of those connections myself. But as I was trying to decide which workshop to go to during the third session, it hit me that the potential of all of these amazing methods and connections is still pretty far in the future for me. Despite graduating in May, it will be a long while before I am settled enough to have my own land and try some of these methods myself. And while I am looking forward to that day immensely, I thought maybe I should be focusing more on my current state of affairs for now. And so with 3 minutes left before the start of the session, I did a one-eighty, turning off of the path toward the “Backyard Intensive Gardening & Extended Seasons” workshop and headed instead for “The Farm as a Classroom: Engaging Children in Meaningful Work on Farms and at School.”

 

At that point, I had been leading NOM (Nutrition Outreach and Mentoring – a service organization on campus) for one semester with absolutely no idea what I was doing and basically no help… and to say the least, I was not feeling confident about the prospects for the organization’s future. In the fall, we taught a food education class at Bridport Elementary, and though it turned out alright in the end, along the way I felt completely lost and disorganized – like I was pulling things out of thin air – and it left me exhausted, disheartened, and unenthusiastic. While I believed heart and soul in NOM’s mission, I was not confident about our approach and did not know where to start in trying another.

 

But once I made up my mind to do that one-eighty, I made up my mind to make it better. In my last semester, I was going to pull NOM together. I was going to find a new, committed leader for next year and make sure that there was something good to be left behind when I was gone, and I was going to start by going to this workshop: The Farm as a Classroom.

 

The women leading the workshop had all kinds of awesome ideas about how to engage kids in their local food systems both in the classroom and on the farm. From having the kids put illustrated note cards of a plant’s life cycle in order to dressing a classmate up like a cow, they had dozens of activities that had proven successful in getting kids interested and involved, getting them outside and dirty, getting them talking and playing all centered around food and farming!

 

So what did I get out of the NOFA conference? What did it do for me? Not only did it give me a lot of ideas that can serve as jumping off points for several new programs that NOM is going to be involved with this semester, but more importantly, it reenergized me. The passion and progress of these women in the fields of food and nutrition education inspired me, and their tangibility – they were normal people, standing right there in front of me, and they had started from scratch! – made such feats seem attainable. I may only have a few months left here, but with a little luck and a lot of determination, I’m convinced it’s not too late to make a difference.

 

Wish me luck!

Carly

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