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Organic farming day draws many; Celebrating `sustainable living'.

Byline: Pawel Binczyk

AMHERST - Standing some distance away from the main concourse, where vendors displayed everything from handmade hula-hoops to organic body products, Christopher Noonan could not take his eyes off the horses.

The Worcester resident listened closely as Dale E. Perkins, of Rutland's Heifer International Overlook Farm, explained to the small crowd how to drive the animals.

"You really need to take these guys around," Mr. Noonan said with a grin.

Mr. Noonan and Mr. Perkins were just two of the many Central Massachusetts residents who headed to Amherst this weekend for the Northeast Organic Farming Association's 33rd annual Summer Conference, which ran from Friday through yesterday. Joined by more than 1,400 other farmers, enthusiasts and vendors, proponents of the organic movement came together in what the program called "A celebration of sustainable living."

Featuring events both fun and informative, the conference included more than 200 workshops and demonstrations on a range of topics relating to the organic movement. Lighthearted workshops such as "Insects: Amazing and Delicious," were mingled with events more suited to the serious farmer, such as a presentation titled "Questioning Invasive Species Paradigms."

"Once upon a time there was a perception that organic foods belonged exclusively to the fringe of consumer society," said Jason A. Velazquez, spokesman for NOFA's Massachusetts Chapter, which ran the event. "Now, the general public has begun to understand that the health benefits alone are enough to think about the choices they make in shopping."

Jack Kittredge, of Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, has been involved in NOFA for more than 30 years, and co-coordinates the event with his wife, Julie Rawson.

"It's exciting to see this making a generational transition," he said. "There are so many young, energetic couples here looking to get started. People who are in it right now are in it because they believe in it."

Youthful energy was present in many groups arriving at the conference, such as YouthGROW, a group of Worcester teenagers who maintain a three-quarter acre plot on Oread Street in Worcester. Determined to bring a little spice and diversity to the conference, the teens set up a food booth featuring such snacks as organic lasagna, and had sold out within hours.

"We came last year and there was nothing we wanted to eat," said Monaye M. Leathers, a 17-year-old who attends University Park Campus School in Worcester.

YouthGROW produces more than 2,000 pounds of organic food annually, according to Casey F. Burns, who supervised the group at the conference. Much of the food is donated to Worcester food pantries and charitable organizations such as Jeremiah's Inn and Friendly House, while remaining portions are sold at the ARTichoke Food Cooperative on Main Street in Worcester.

"It's healthy food and we think people should eat healthy," said Lailah Almazraawi, a 14-year-old who also attends University Park Campus School, summing up the group's dedication to organic foods.

"This is all about passing the knowledge on to people," Mr. Kittredge said later. "I find more interest in these topics every year."

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Dale E. Perkins, of Rutland's Heifer International Overlook Farm, leads his horse, Gypsy, in the children's parade at the Northeast Organic Farming Association's 33rd annual Summer Conference in Amherst Saturday.

PHOTOG: PAWEL BINCZYK
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 13, 2007
Words:543
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