By Michele S. Byers
January is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions.
Just as the two-faced Janus looks ahead as well as behind, so can gardeners, farmers and food lovers … to the beginning of a new growing season. It’s not that far away!
One great way to look ahead to spring is by attending the annual Food & Agriculture Winter Conference on Jan. 25-27, sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, or NOFA-NJ for short.
Not just for organic farmers, this educational extravaganza is chock-full of workshops for anyone with even a small patch of land for gardening, or an interest in eating and cooking healthier foods.
Some of the biggest names in vegetable and fruit growing – including Eliot Coleman, Ellen Ecker-Ogden and Michael Phillips – will provide inspiration and practical advice at the conference, which will be held at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.
Now in its 23rd year, the winter conference has several “tracks,” each with its own lineup of classes and workshops. For example, there are beginning and advanced farmer tracks for those who work the land for a living, and gardening and “food and lifestyle” tracks for hobbyists.
If you’re new to the organic foods movement and want to learn more, check out the class titled, “The Origin of the ‘O’ Word and Building the Organic Movement.” There’s also Organics 101, which provides a newbie’s must-have list for the kitchen.
In the gardening track, you can learn how to design a kitchen garden, grow healing herbs, tell good insects from bad, keep a hive of honeybees, improve the yield of fruit trees, extend the growing season and raise winter greens.
The food and lifestyle track includes the basics of canning and food preservation, the history of fermentation and how to home-brew beer, and “The Joy of Uncooking,” an introduction to the raw foods movement. There’s also a session on what everyone needs to know about genetically modified foods.
For beginning farmers, look for workshops in organic certification, the importance of native pollinators, increasing farm market sales, managing weeds and plant diseases organically, and finding land for farming. Experienced farmers can learn advanced techniques in organic growing, pruning, harvesting, pest control and building soil fertility.
So, if you’re dreaming of a green spring in your garden or on your farm, the NOFA-NJ winter conference is for you. Frosty January turns out to be the perfect time to plan for those first green shoots pushing through the soil and into the sunshine!
To learn more about the annual Food & Agriculture Winter Conference, go to the NOFA-NJ website at www.nofanj.org/winterconference.htm.
And please support continued farmland preservation! New Jersey recently celebrated its 200,000th acre of preserved farmland. Despite this success, New Jersey Keep It Green says another 350,000 preserved acres are needed to maintain a viable agricultural industry in the Garden State. To sign a sustainable funding statement of support online, go to www.njkeepitgreen.org/statementofsupport.htm.
For more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.