I was going to try to live-blog the NOFA-NY Conference last weekend, here in Rochester, but I couldn’t get a good, free Wi-fi connection, and then I’ve been ill all week, so I’m just now getting to it.
I missed the first session Saturday morning, so wandered around the tradeshow and found Mark Dunau talking to the tractor guys. In another life Mark was a playwright, and we got talking about irony and a remark he’d made back in November that I’d thought about since. We were talking about bio-char and he’d said the irony was that so much of the northeast had been de-forested to make charcoal. Later I started thinking that it was the playwright saying that. I started noodling on the connection between a sense of irony (or lack of it) as a connection to some kind of humility, to a connection to landscape in some way. I haven’t got this fully worked out yet, but it was important to think of sustainability as both a science and an art. In fact, art became quite a theme for the day.
Saw Jan MacDonald of Rochester Roots, who we were sharing a booth with, and she introduced me to James Allen, who’d put on a sustainability conference at U of R a couple of years ago. We talked about walnuts and berries among other things.
The next session I attended was on Apples. Lou Lego from Elderberry Pond Farm near Auburn had used a SARE grant to do some real analysis of heirloom and new apple varieties: which were the best for eating, baking, pies, juicing, cider, and drying. Some of the winners included Northern Spy, Pink Pearl, Cameo (best storing apple), Caville Blanc (best baking), Pristine (best eating, best early), Enterprise, Jona Free and the overarching winner Spitzenberg. This one had a story-Thomas Jefferson claimed it was one of his favorite apples, and the descendants of Jefferson’s apple are quite hard to come by. As a novice orchardist, I appreciated the detail of which varieties to look for.
For lunch, Jan and I went out to John’s Tex Mex in the South Wedge and talked about various projects, grants and art. Jan’s a former artist, and used to have studio space in the Searle Building years ago. We talked a fair bit about the creative work involved in gardening and sustainability efforts. When we got back we were both at a lunch discussion hosted by the CSL. Deb Denome, recent winner of the Canandaigua Athena award was there, but didn’t get too much opportunity to talk with her. Met Steve Melcher who runs Odonata Sanctuary just a few miles away in Mendon.
As I was wandering out of the lunch hall in search of better coffee (organic, free trade is nice, but I needed a good chocolatey French Roast) I ran into Maria Grimaldi, sitting at a table with Mike Kimball of Essex Farm. The topic was raw milk products and Mike’s ingenious way of churning butter using a milk can and a trampoline. I picked out a couple of “edges” running between groups at the conference. There was the age differentiator (”kids today”) and there was the meat / veggie divide. The livestock people were certainly very vocal.
Next up was a session from a Cornell post-doc who’d modelled New York’s ability (or not) to feed its population. The concept of a “foodshed” was put out there, and it turns out that Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are well-positioned to feed ourselves, and of these Rochester had the best relocalization potential for food. New York City, as you may guess, is somewhat less apt to feed itself from nearby land. In all it was estimated that the State could sustainably feed about 5 million, a quarter of our current population.
The results of the Foodshed map are available at http://www.cals.cornell.edu/cals/css/extension/foodshed-mapping.cfm
Finally I ran into Lisa Wujnovich, who’d presented a poetry session earlier. She said that her MFA program was going well and was feeling more and more connected to the writing. Generally, I think she and Mark were happy for the PDC we ran at Mountain Dell and were even perhaps serious about pursuing some of the students’ ideas about labor housing.