7 Mar 2011

Guelph Organic Conference

Well, the Guelph Organic Conference happened January 27 to 29th in Guelph, Ontario. Apparently this is one of the biggest organic farming conferences that happen in Canada.

I had the honor of traveling and attending with a local farmer - She has had a farm in Vineland (St. Catharines-esque area) for fourteen years, with her main crop being fruit - especially grapes, raspberries, plums and others. It was really nice to attend with her, as i was able to network with other Ontarian farmers.

The workshops i attended were:

1) an overview of Farm Start training programs
2) On-farm fruit and vegetable storage
3) Starting/Running a successful market garden w/ emphasis on the co-op model
4) Bio-dynamic Beekeeping
5) A critical response to climate change from the organic sector

+ the fair

1) an overview of Farm Start training programs: this was for-sure the best workshop i attended. Information about FarmStart can be found here: http://www.farmstart.ca/

The reasons I enjoy farmstart's presentation so much is that there were many programs that supported new farmers, young and old, and most importantly, of various ethnic backgrounds. A lot of the time, i find the organic/green trend marketed to rich people, and conferences such as this one which attracts so many white, rich ex-hippies. It is so unfortunate when various "minorities" get excluded for various reasons, such as free/leisure time, access to property, disposable income and systemic racism, which is often perpetuated in the green, local trend.

An introduction to Farmstart's programs made me feel a little more confident that what i was doing was a sound choice, feasible, and that it would be emotionally supported as well as physical resources such as access to land and equipment. Yay farmstart!

2) The on-farm vegetable storage program was presented by two people. The first took a more general look at how different vegetables need different environments in which they will be properly stored. It also focused on safety in organic farming - how to avoid contamination in food production, which i thought was something lacking in the conference altogether. I also learned that beets, potatos, celery and turnips will not all enjoy being stored in the same place! Such things such as humidity, temperature, storing medium (eg: peat moss, sand, straw), are all important and vary so very much between different vegetables, even if they are in the same group (such as root vegetables, or night shades or etc). The second part of the presentation focused on an individual's personal project of turning an outdoor pool into an underground root cellar. I enjoyed it as a fun presentation, but personally didn't think that it applied to many of the audience members.

3) Starting and Running a successful market Garden, with focus on the co-op model:
This presentation should have been called: A Co-op Market Garden, it wasn't just focused on a co-op model, but rather the entire presentation was about the co-op model, while quickly mentioning other models of starting a market garden. Not that i didn't enjoy the presentation! I personally really enjoy the co-op model in which i learned about. It reminds me a lot of the consensus-decision making and non-hierarchical model in which many volunteer organizations like to promote. There were clear, applicable spreadsheets presented that could be used in any farms, not just necessarily a co-op model. Obviously the TS farm had a well managed, meticulously organized and socially just model from which they built a foundation for their farm. The presenter also mentioned a great book which i took out from the library: "Non-violent Communication" by M. Rosenberg.

4) Bio-dynamic Bee-Keeping
Well i would say that this should have had a description in the folder, so you knew what you were getting into before you got there! I thought this would be an intro to bee keeping, and it was anything but. I wish i had known before i got there. The presenter was lovely and very knowledgeable and she managed to take control of the audience after awhile of being taken over by audience questions and know-how. Too superstitious for me.

5) A critical response to climate change from the organic sector
A discussion about climate change affecting organic farms. Very interesting and charismatic speakers. Felt kind of like a lecture at a university.

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