Ag and Food Conference Recap

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The threat of a late day snowstorm couldn’t damper the spirits of those in attendance at the SEMAP’s 8th Annual Agriculture and Food Conference, with over 200 attendees enjoying a day chock full of interesting programming, speakers and exhibitors at Bristol County Agricultural High School. In partnership with the Bristol County Conservation District (BCCD), SEMAP brought together a diverse assortment of workshops and presenters, ranging from fermentation to hot water seed treatment to business development. Whether an attendee was a farmer or a foodie, there was something for everyone at the conference and, as Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux noted in his address to the attendees, “the diversity present speaks to the great strength of agriculture in Southeastern Massachusetts and the state as a whole.” Bristol Aggie Superintendent Steve Dempsey also welcomed the audience to the school, an ideal location for the conference and the only agricultural high school in the Commonwealth with a working dairy farm. 

In addition to workshops, SEMAP was proud to have Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project deliver the keynote address on the topic of Ecoefficiency with the goal of promoting better, truer sustainable farming and gardening practices. Additionally, attendees received a coupon for a discount off of his upcoming book, “Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening: Innovative Techniques for Growing Vegetables, Grains, and Perennial Food Crops with Minimal Fossil Fuel and Animal Inputs”.

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While there were workshops that focusing on topics like food policy, nutrition, and even a creative raw bar demonstration, Jason Wentworth, SEMAP’s Executive Director, noted that “you can’t have local food without local agriculture. It’s incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to support our farmers and growers. Whether it’s providing them with the tools they need to have more viable businesses or helping to share best practices in their respective fields, that kind of support will go a long way toward ensuring our local agricultural community is sustained and enhanced, and we can all continue to ‘buy local’.” To that end, SEMAP was thrilled to also have The Carrot Project providing 1-on-1 guidance on developing business plans and reviewing opportunities for micro-financing.

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Attendees were able to visit exhibitors and vendors like Sharing the Harvest, the YMCA’s farm program based in Dartmouth that provides fresh vegetables to regional food pantries, South Shore Great Pumpkin Challenge, Progressive Grower, and Lu Yoder, who brought along his bicycle-powered mill, allowing anyone interested in 8 minutes of exercise privilege of making fresh corn or wheat flour. Erin Sylvia, a local realtor who also still works at her parents’ farm (Sundowner Farm) in Dartmouth, was an exhibitor but also managed to visit several of the workshops. “The range of exhibitors and workshops is great! My parents are here too, so we’re splitting up to cover as many topics as possible,” she said.

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The 8th Annual Agriculture and Food Conference was made possible by a grant from MDAR through its “Buy Local” program. Major sponsors included The Trustees of Reservations, Farm Credit East and Southcoast Health.

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Additional sponsors included First Citizens Federal Credit Union, Erin Sylvia (Realtor), UMass Extension, Bristol Aggie, Edible South Shore and South Coast, H&R Block, Legal Services Food Hub (a project of the Conservation Law Foundation), the 11th Hour Fund (a donor-advised fund of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts), the Island Foundation and Fertrell.

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Of course, locally-sourced food had to be at the center of the conference, and SEMAP was honored to receive donations for the conference from 1773 Roasters, 2 Friends Farm, Arruda’s Dairy, Bridgewater Village Bakery, Chamberlain Farm, the Chatham Jam & Jelly Shop, Colchester Neighborhood Farm, Copicut Farms, Herb-in-Fusion (Sprig), Sampson Farm, Silverbrook Farm, and Skinny Dip Farm, with everything exquisitely prepared by M&C Catering of New Bedford.

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Wentworth also credited SEMAP Program Coordinator Kendra Murray for making the Conference an overwhelming success, and thanked the Planning Committee of Ashley Brister (Round the Bend Farm), Kyle Medeiros (Bristol Aggie), Sue Guiducci (BCCD), SEMAP co-chair Derek Christianson (Brix Bounty Farm) and the SEMAP Board of Directors for “bringing the depth and breadth of their agricultural knowledge and experience to bear, and shaking the trees to make this one of the best SEMAP events ever.”

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