By Cari Hartt, Communications Coordinator, Organic Alberta
As the annual conference approached, I was filled with apprehension and wonder. As a new member of the Organic Alberta team, and the organic industry in general, I was unsure what to expect. It would be my first time attending the event, putting faces to the many names I would hear on a daily basis, and seeing how all of our hard work would come together. I can assure you that it far exceeded my expectations and solidified my respect and admiration for this industry, and the people who work tirelessly to move it forward. It is my hope that as a new arrival, my insight can provide you with a unique view of the community you are an important part of. So what were my key takeaways from the conference?
Unity. Despite the various personalities, sectors, and opinions that filled the rooms, a prevailing atmosphere encouraged sharing, growth, and improvement for not only the industry, but individuals as well.
Learning. The event was unique in providing a range of learning formats – Interactive sharing sessions, seminars, business building “speed-dates”, and focus groups. Participants led much of the discussion and created an environment that encouraged innovation.
Experiencing the industry. I watched people form relationships, make business connections, and share stories. I saw the passion and commitment that our members have for the environment and the future of this industry. It was inspiring to learn about the individuals that we work to help, and experience first-hand the importance of what we do.
The Conference was one of our biggest events to date. Held in partnership with Western Canadian Holistic Management, the conference united diverse communities in conversation on regenerative agriculture. A theme of digging deeper resonated throughout the weekend, while participants and speakers shared their knowledge, struggles, and experiences, made meaningful connections, and gained new strategies to improve their farming and business practices. The following are recaps of some of the sessions that I had the privilege to attend.
Researcher Joanne Thiessen Martens, from Dr. Martin Entz’s team in the Department of Plant Science at the University of Manitoba discussed effective nutrient management and her experiences from organic grain farms on the Prairies. She shared highlights from her research on cover cropping, integrated crop-livestock systems, and farming systems design. Joanne asserted that effective nutrient management results in healthy growth, good yields, high quality crops, and highly active and efficient soils. She also presented with Ben Stuart on opportunities for organic grain and beef integration. I cannot pretend to have an in-depth knowledge of the vast amount of science that goes into farming, however, Joanne’s highly detailed, yet approachable presentation certainly got me on my way. Farmers walk a fine line to find balance between providing everything and nothing to effectively manage soil nutrients.
Callum MacLeod, of the Slow Meat Committee, and Ian Griebel, owner of RedTail Farms co-presented “The Opportunity for Marketing Slow Meat”. Both recently attended Terra Madre, an annual conference held in Italy, that celebrates local eating, agricultural biodviersity, and sustainable food production. They shared what Slow Meat means for the producer, as well as consumer. The Slow Meat movement promotes producers who work with respect for animal welfare and the environment, and raises awareness among consumers about better, cleaner and fairer consumption habits. Slow Meat directives focus on heritage or regionally adapted breeds, providing pasture-rich diets, and livestock husbandry. Consumers who support Slow Meat choose to eat less, but better meat, eat different species and breeds, eat nose to tail, buy local, and are curious – they get to know their farmers, and are engaged in their food. To Learn more about Slow Food in Canada, click here.
‘You are what you eat eats’ presented by Richard Bazinet, associate professor with the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, was held in partnership with a panel of organic and holistic management producers. Bazinet’s interest in the effects of Fatty Acids on the brain led him to eventually measure and learn about the profile of Omega 3:6 ratios in pasture fed and finished livestock. In this research project, a dozen producers in Alberta were invited to submit samples of pasture raised and finished pork, poultry, beef, organic milk and eggs to his lab in Toronto for analysis. Bazinet and his team measured the fatty acid profiles in the samples submitted, analyzed the findings, and presented his research back to the producers. The findings were amazing. Organic beef producers saw an Omega 3:6 ratio far closer to dietitians recommendations than that of their conventional counterparts. The same exceptional findings were seen in all the samples, from different types of livestock.
Marnie Chown & Patrick van der Burg of Fair Sun Farm, and Lisa Lundgard & Donovan Kitt of The Homestead inspired both existing and aspiring farmers with their livestock start-up session. Marnie and Patrick operate a pasture-based small farm that uses regenerative practices to produce nutrient-dense pork, chicken and eggs, and sheep. They encouraged farmers starting out to think about their scale, infrastructure and cash flow by asking “what you currently have to work with, what are your needs, and how do you time investment with respect to income?” In 2015, Lisa and Donovan started the Homestead Farm. They bought land in the Peace Country and slowly added vegetables, sheep, bees, laying hens and grains, and hope to add cows in 2018. The couple is working to overcome the challenges presented by living remotely, a lack of infrastructure, marketing, limited processing, and regulations to pursue their dream of a more meaningful way of life within a local food community, that also enables them to make a living.
Courtney White, author of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, 2% Solutions for the Planet, and various other publications encouraged participants to find hope in regenerative agriculture. He insisted that as conservationists, we must endeavor to understand and preserve the lands capacity for self-renewal. Courtney shared his experiences as co-founder of the Quivira Coalition, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to improving economic and ecological resilience in Western working landscapes. Courtney emphasized the importance of natural processes, and effective practices and principals of range management. Rather than dreaming of big, timely solutions to our problems, we can utilize low-cost, easy-to-implement solutions, here and now. These solutions include carbon sequestering, reduced energy use, and increased food production.
Takota Coen, from Grass Roots Family Farm and Deep Roots Design discussed ecological design planning and practices for a resilient farm. Takota and his family employ various techniques on the Grass Roots Family Farm such as designing irrigation canals, integrating livestock grazing, and overall farm planning strategies which utilize energies most effectively. For instance,Takota worked with organic farmer Don Ruzicka to redesign his water system using elevation maps that allowed him to “speak the language of the land and understand what it needed”.
After challenging our brains for two days, we “dug deeper” by gathering into small focus groups of like-minded people, going in depth on everything from research topics to tensions among different generations. The energy in the room was palpable as participants shared their stories, visions, ideas, and concerns. It was a wonderful scene to behold as diverse generations and sectors of organic agriculture joined to support, inspire, and encourage one another.
These speakers are only a small sample of the many inspiring and informative guests we were privileged to hear. Click here to check out these presentations and more!
It was truly amazing to see such a wide range of individuals, joining together to share, learn, and dig deeper into the important issues facing organic agriculture today. On behalf of the Organic Alberta Staff, we are truly thankful for all of the attendance and support that we received for this wonderful event. The weekend truly displayed that we have a strong, sustainable, and united organic community in Alberta and beyond.
What were your key takeaways from the conference? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know, or join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #diggingdeeper.