Guest Post By Jenna Wills, FALPC Intern

For this post Jenna spoke with Julie Rawson, Executive Director of NOFA/Mass.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is a regional organization that has chapters in MA, CT, NY, NJ, VT, and RI. Their missionis to: “[to “foster] a community including farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, landscapers and consumers working to educate members and the general public about the benefits of local organic systems based on complete cycles, natural materials, and minimal waste for the health of individual beings, communities and the living planet”. To Julie Rawson, Executive Director and Education Director of the NOFA/Mass chapter, sustainability means taking the carbon in our atmosphere and putting it back into our soil; allowing this soil to be the host for future seeds—growing into organic, nutritious, and [certainly] beautiful fruits and vegetables.

It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon when I interviewed Julie over the phone. Although the weather outside was not exactly reminiscent of warmer days, Julie’s enthusiasm for the work that she does at NOFA/Mass certainly got me excited for the spring season.

Growing up on a farm in Illinois, Julie was always surrounded by agriculture. Catching the organic “bug” from her mother as a teenager, Julie began to live in a more responsible way—she began “saving the earth and her body”.  When it was her turn to have children, Julie knew she wanted to raise them on a farm, and began sharing the practices her mother taught her with her children. Julie surrounded herself with a culture conducive to living with the land while being thoughtful of the resources that surrounded her.

Claiming that her children inspired her to be an active member of the food system, Julie started working with NOFA/Mass in 1984, four years after she and her husband purchased a piece of land for their own farm (Many Hands Organic Farm) in Barre, MA. Currently, Julie is both the executive director and education director at NOFA/Mass. These jobs require that Julie wears many different “hats”, as she does everything from keeping track of finances to making sure that members get their needs met, and that staff (who all work remotely throughout the state) have the support they need to do programmatic work.   Julie also focuses on the “big picture” view of NOFA/Mass, creating ways to address weak spots, and fostering a collaborative setting along the way—recognizing how to be a vibrant organization that is “kind of cutting edge and not just like everyone else”.

Currently, NOFA/Mass sponsors many different programs and undertakes numerous projects. The organization hosts two conferences each year: one in the summer and one in the winter (right here in Worcester!).  NOFA also supports many other programs, ranging from beginning farmer programs to their CSA Connect program.  CSA connect program is an exciting new initiative, opening their first extension in Worcester this upcoming season. CSA Connect will be serving residents in the Great Brook Valley area, “connecting families in low-income communities to weekly deliveries of fresh local food, thereby eliminating the obstacle of access, and guaranteeing high quality nutritious produce”. All of the programs sponsored by NOFA support the organization’s mission of making organic food accessible to everyone.

Every winter, NOFA/Mass hosts their conference in Worcester. This brings NOFA/Mass “right to Worcester’s doorstep”, according to Julie. Julie mentioned that she was very excited to continue to work with the Worcester community, specifically with the Worcester Food and Active Living Policy Council. By keeping strong connections to local institutions like WPI and Worcester State, Julie hopes that Worcester will continue to be open to NOFA’s mission and programs. Julie would like to continue the conversation on how to sustain connections within the Worcester community.

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with Julie. The work that she does for NOFA certainly does not go unnoticed. I believe it is safe to say that those of us in Worcester are going to continue to embrace NOFA/Mass’ presence in our community.

What has your experience with NOFA/Mass been? Tell us about how you’ve interacted with them and how you hope to in the future!

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