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BC Organic Conference 2020 Recap

in 2020/Organic Community/Spring 2020

“This is the moment for food in British Columbia.”

BC’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, opened the 2020 BC Organic Conference with a message of hope. In front of a very large crowd of organic growers, producers, and supporters, she spoke of the convergence of the increased demand for local food, a growing interest in where it all comes from, and a renewed interest in producing it. More and more British Columbians are engaged in how their food moves from farm to plate and they’re taking a lot of pride in choosing goods that are grown and made here. “This is the moment for food in British Columbia,” she proclaimed.

This feeling of hope—of support, growth, and optimism—was woven throughout the entire conference weekend. Not just because the conference theme was The Future of Organic, but because, after decades of hard work, the organic sector has consumer confidence and is more connected and ambitious than ever!

Jordan Marr speaking at the opening reception at KPU

BC Organic: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

Dag Falck, Organic Program Manager at Nature’s Path Foods, gave this year’s keynote address and encouraged everyone to stand together for a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

He examined some of the current threats and challenges to organic principles, particularly in light of what is happening to erode the organic standards south of the border. He outlined some of the current responses and opportunities globally, such as IFOAM’s Organic 3.0, and the emergence of additional certification labeling such as Regenerative Organic Certification.

But most importantly, he concluded by presenting his ideas of the best steps that can be taken to ensure a bright and growing future for BC Organic:

  • Farm organically as what it originally was created to be
  • Focus on soil health as a foundation for all
  • Focus on what organics is, not what it isn’t
  • Avoid criticizing others and invite participation (don’t demand it)
  • Challenge group thinking and dare to be different
  • Work together to reach common goals

In case you missed the keynote (or want to experience it again), you can view the full presentation here.

Kwantlen Nation Elder Lekeyten with Lana Popham at the opening reception at KPU
Farm tour at KPU

The Future is Here

This year’s conference featured two farm tours (UBC and KPU) plus over 15 sessions and workshops. From emerging technologies, innovative techniques, and new training opportunities to the latest on organic policies, standards, and research, it’s clear BC’s organic sector has one foot firmly planted in the future. As always, the sessions were informative and full of passion, and motivated us all to take action and continue to move things forward.

There were also some bittersweet moments: Carmen Wakeling’s term as COABC President ended, and Jen Gamble wrapped up her long-time role as COABC’s Executive Director of Operations. We’d like to thank them both for all the passion they brought to their positions and for all of their work to support organic farming in BC. We wish them both the best!

And, a big welcome to COABC’s new President, Heather Stretch, and Executive Director, Eva-Lena Lang.

Heather Stretch, Lana Popham, Eva-Lena Lang at the opening reception

Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2020 award winners! DeLisa Lewis took home the Brad Reid Award, which honours an innovative leader who has strengthened the organic community by moving the sector forward. Jon and Sher Alcock of Sunshine Farm were the winners of this year’s Bedrock Award, which honours work on the foundations organics.

Learn more about these incredibly deserving recipients!

So…What Does the Future Hold?

Right now, BC is home to over 900 certified organic businesses. COABC will continue to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen the term “organic” and make leaps forward in truth in labeling. COABC will keep striving to reduce one of the biggest barriers to becoming certified organic—that darn paperwork—through the COABC’s new online certification system, iCertify. And, it will focus on emerging issues, such as the organic certification of cannabis in BC.

KPU farm tour inside the geodesic greenhouse

One of the best parts of the BC Organic Conference is the wrap-up session, when everyone gathers together, looks back on the weekend, and shares their hopes and dreams for the organic sector. With so much knowledge, drive, and experience in the room, the ideas were insightful and plentiful—and not out of reach. Well-paid farm workers. More respect for manual labour. Accountability for conventional farmers. Public understanding of the true meaning of organic and all its principles. Relationships with, not ownership of, land. Diverse and bioregional available seeds. More funding for first-generation start-up farms. Social justice. And too many more to list!

How do we achieve these dreams? Together. Express gratitude to those who are moving the sector forward, engage in research, share your knowledge, embrace Indigenous perspectives, attend public meetings, care for those who are struggling, and find common ground with other organizations. Oh, and help out farmers who have kids. Include and involve children whenever possible and babysit them as often as you can!

And above all, have hope! The future is bright. The future is organic.

Thank you!

A huge thanks to Gavin Wright for organizing this fabulous event, KPU’s Elder in Residence, Lekeyten, for opening the event, BC’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, and Agriculture Co-Critic, Ian Patton, for their opening remarks, Natalie Forstbauer for putting together another successful silent auction (even though she now lives in Saskatchewan!), MC Jordan Marr for his highly entertaining words, and Ken McCormick for his excellent video of the event. And also to the event sponsors, silent auction donors, food donors, volunteer staff, hotel staff, and KPU staff for all your time and efforts towards another amazing weekend together. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Two of the many volunteers who helped make the conference possible!

 

Rebecca Kneen shares the latest information about the 2020 review of the Canadian Organic Standards
Helmer’s Organic Farm with their seed potatoes at the tradeshow

Biodynamic Farm Story: Unfinished Conversations

in 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Spring 2020

Anna Helmer

At the recent COABC conference I enjoyed an unfinished conversation with a peerless organic industry leader about how certain words traditionally associated with our alternative/organic farming movement are being co-opted by mainstream agriculture. Case in point: General Mills using the word “regenerative” to describe some decidedly non-organic, chemically supported farming practices. Some consumers don’t give a hoot one way or another of course, but a certain segment really wants to do the right thing and have previously associated the word “regenerative” with good farming. Using that word is an obvious ruse intended to reassure a large conscientious consumer group: General Mills wants to keep their business.

The galling thing, as far as being an organic farmer goes, is that we might feel “regenerative” is our word. For starters, we used it first; furthermore, we practice it; bottom line, we believe in it. We are using it to heal the earth. General Mills is using it to sell more sugar-cereal. It’s quite irritating.

And what are we to do about it? Cue the unfinished conversation.

Well, we can keep talking about it, amongst ourselves and in our marketplaces. Preaching to the choir ensures that everyone is on the same page, singing the same song. Very important that, but pretty much paves the way if not to rebellion, then certainly outbursts of inappropriate and/or unwelcome individuality, complicating the issue.

Private enterprise has thusly spawned several certifiers, with standards ranging from whimsical to fanatical, offering farms a chance to formalize their relationship with the word. This will remind the older set of the early years of the organic business and send shivers down a few spines.

The next obvious thing is to fight for it at the government level. Get some public policy developed around it. Some standards. We could be fighting for the use of that word like we have for “organic”.

Basically, the fight for “organic” is far from over and it’s not yet clear who is winning, despite all the hard campaigning. I think you can still have the word “organic” in your farm name even without certification. We are very lucky to have people fighting for this word and they do not need the burden of another word. Allow them to focus.

It is possible, left to their own devices whilst organic gets sorted, that these big companies will publicly stumble over the banana peels they will find littering the road to “regenerative” and all the rest of those words: “natural,” “whole grain,” “plant-based,” and of course “sustainable.” A lot of consumers are not stupid and will recognize marketing when they see it; and having done so, won’t buy it. Our fingers are crossed.

It’s a difficult conversation to complete, isn’t it?

Complete it I will, however, by simply moving on to another topic. And this one is affecting me very directly.

Any produce market vendor who understands retail will tell you that the surest way to sell something is to whack it into a plastic bag and put a price sticker on it. Just today at market, one of my staff spent the entire four hours making tidy little plastic bags of potatoes. Probably about 70% of sales today came from $6 bags of Sieglinde potatoes.

These are the bags the Vancouver Farmers’ Market management wants to ban. I have been moaning about this coming ban to anyone who would listen (and some who would not) for months now. And I will just stop you there as you come up with suggestions on how to replace them. You can’t replace them. It’s plastic: it doesn’t break down and there is no replacement.

Plastic is amazing. It has changed our lives in dramatic and important and lasting ways.

Unless I hear a little more celebration of plastic, I am not going down without a fight.


Anna Helmer farms in Pemberton where there are a surprising number of rules, policies, and standards for such a population of keenly individualistic farmers.

 

2020 COABC Award Winners

in COABC Blog

Each year at the BC Organic Conference, we present two awards: The Brad Reid Award, which honours an innovative leader who has strengthened the organic community by moving the sector forward, and the Bedrock Award, which honours a person (or persons) for their work on the foundations of organics.

We’re pleased to tell you a bit more about the 2020 award winners, through the voices of those who know them well!

Bedrock Award – Jon and Sher Alcock of Sunshine Farm

Said presenter Rebecca Kneen: “They have quietly, persistently and smilingly strengthened the organic community through their seed business, and strengthened the entire local community through their work with the Community Living Society. Jon and his family embody so many of the core values of organics. They promote biodiversity through breeding and cultivating heirloom organic seeds, building soil in their diverse mixed farm, teaching skills and passing on knowledge, encouraging local food production and consumption at all scales.

In addition to all of that, Sunshine Farm offers vocational development opportunities to adults in the community living sector. They offer hands on experience and skills training in everything from cooking classes to literacy to equipment operation, all in the context of an organic farm. They involve their students in all aspects of the farm, providing opportunities based on interest and choice, building self respect along with skills.

Over the years, Jon and his family have been mainstays of the Kelowna Farmers’ Market and of the many seed swaps and Seedy Saturdays in the Interior. And they’ve always kept things personal, choosing to deepen their farm’s work rather than just expand. Every customer will tell you about their passion to share all that knowledge. Sunshine Farm is an invaluable resource to the entire farming community.

Our seed growers and breeders are often our unsung heros in terms of organic agriculture and it’s about time we sang to them!”

Brad Reid Award – DeLisa Lewis

DeLisa Lewis is co-owner and operator of Green Fire Farm in the Cowichan Valley, and a part-time Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC. She has more than 20 years experience as a certified organic farmer, and holds a PhD in Soils and Agroecology. DeLisa is also a member of the COABC’s Accreditation Board.

Said Erin Bett (Fierce Love Farm): “As we grow our business and our farm employees, the question, “What would DeLisa do?” is the guiding principle at the forefront of my mind. Not just for crop management, but more importantly for people management—for the human side of our farm. Can I be the type of manager that empowers people? Particularly young female farmers, to develop their own skills, ideas and confidence? Can I motivate and inspire my staff to work hard, not because they’re intimidated or driven to compete, but because they’re happy and excited to be farming? As DeLisa inspires me.

Farming, as we all know, can be an exceptionally hard way to make a living. And I honestly don’t know if I would have gone into it as a career if my initial experience had not been so skillfully guided by DeLisa. And I know the biggest compliment someone could ever pay me, years into the future when I can consider myself a seasoned farmer, is that they see even the tiniest glimpse of her in me.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners! You can view a list of past winners here.

 

2020 BC Organic Conference Keynote – Dag Falck

in COABC Blog

The 2020 BC Organic Conference was held over the February 28 – March 1 weekend in Richmond, BC. We were thrilled to welcome Dag Falck, Organic Program Manager at Nature’s Path Foods, as our Keynote Speaker.

In his Keynote, BC Organic: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future, Dag examined some of the current threats and challenges to organic principles, particularly in light of what’s happening south of the border to erode the organic standards there. He outlined some of the current responses and opportunities globally, such as IFOAM’s Organic 3.0, and the emergence of additional certification labeling such as Regenerative Organic Certification. Most importantly, he concluded by presenting his ideas of the best steps that can be taken to ensure a bright and growing future for BC Organic.

Thanks to Ken McCormick of Nature’s Path for filming Dag’s Keynote.

2019 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2019/Organic Community/Spring 2019

Stacey Santos

One snowy Sunday morning in Vernon, I found myself contemplating a selection of bolt guns. I listened as a panel of organic farmers explained their uses, their modifications, and the proper way to ensure an ethical death. You only have one chance to learn how to do it right and do it properly.

It was an unusual weekend morning for sure, but particularly for me. As a long-time vegetarian and the kind of person who can’t willingly kill a mosquito, I never imagined I’d be part of a discussion on on-farm slaughter. Or that I’d be engrossed, not grossed out. Or that one of my most burning questions would be answered: How can we raise animals, create a relationship with them, and then kill them?

One of the presenters, Rebecca Kneen, said, “We have an ethical and dynamic relationship with livestock. They’ve been bred over thousands of years to depend on us. Look at it as an intergenerational bargain we’re having with these species. We must provide them with a good life and a good death in exchange for being able to use their products. Figuring out how to do it well is critical and I prefer to control all aspects of that process.”

A well thought out answer, and a fine balance of science and heart.

That’s the thing about the COABC conference—and the organic sector as a whole. No matter what aspect of organics is being discussed, the passion and dedication is contagious. I’ve never met such an engaged bunch of people. And the knowledge, well, it’s off the charts. You’ll find yourself rethinking past notions, exploring new ideas, and, keeping in tune with this year’s theme, “Celebrating Organics,” having a great time doing it!

This undercurrent was woven throughout the entire COABC conference weekend. With 18 workshops on an incredible array of organic topics plus many other formal and informal information-sharing and social sessions, it was a weekend to remember!

Growing the Organic Sector

The keynote this year was a plenary-style panel featuring Rebecca Harbut, Andrea Gunner, and Rob Borsato, moderated by Rebecca Kneen. As is typical with plenary sessions, each panelist contributed their own unique views on everything from marketing to research to the principles of organics. It was a spirited discussion with many important points:

  • A true consumer appreciation for organics is still a ways away
  • The organic community needs to advocate more effectively and help the public understand the bigger picture
  • Organic growers and researchers need to collaborate to co-create knowledge and allow it to be something meaningful and valuable that harnesses everyone’s expertise
  • When it comes to organic farming, complexity doesn’t mean nonsense—it means complexity

What it boils down to is many individuals spreading the word! So join the listserv, get involved with your Certification Bodies and get out in the community. The more involved we are the more excited and educated people will be about organics!

Basics and Beyond

The hardest part of the COABC conference is picking which sessions to attend. Some conference-goers bounced between workshops to take in as much as possible, while others, such as myself, picked one that stood out and stuck with it.

As a newbie to the world of organic farming, I knew for sure I wanted to attend the Organic Standards Bootcamp with Dr. DeLisa Lewis and Dr. Renee Prasad. There were many other fresh faces there (many new to organics and even more to the conference itself), but the room was also packed with folks looking to get back to the basics and refresh their knowledge.

The session outlined the recent introduction of the mandatory organic regulations, walked through the certification process and highlighted the many toolkits available to both new and existing farmers. We were all given a chance to test our knowledge with “simple” questions, but quickly realized that when we applied the organic standard, the questions weren’t so simple after all! There are many tools available, so the trick is to invest the time to find and understand them.

Many of the other sessions involved a more in-depth look at organics, with topics that included climate change, regenerative agriculture, marketing, intercropping, management-intensive grazing, weed control, financial management, policies, animal welfare, human rights, and much, much more. There was so much to be learned on so many levels, and thanks to regular—and generous—snack breaks, we all left with our brains and stomachs full.

The Award Goes To…

Congratulations to this year’s award winners! Lisa McIntosh of Urban Harvest Organic Delivery was the recipient of the Brad Reid Award, which honours an innovative leader who has strengthened the organic community by moving the sector forward. Anne Macey and Rochelle Eisen took

home the Bedrock Award, which is a brand-new award given to a person (or persons) for their work on the foundations of organics.

Moving Forward

Before the AGM kicked off on Sunday, Michelle Tsutsumi and Rebecca Kneen wrapped up the conference by summarizing the ideas gathered at Friday’s Open Space session. Then, with an army of flip charts by their sides, they opened up the conversation and invited everyone to comment on the challenges and opportunities faced by the organic sector. Some of the main takeaways were:
Staying connected: overcoming isolation/geography by building networks that carry beyond the conference
Strengthening the organization by offering educational workshops in your own communities
Increasing brand recognition through the use of the Checkmark logo
Building relationships with non-organic farmers and producers and inviting others to learn about organics
Mentorship: transferring knowledge both inside and out of the organization

Thank You!

A big thanks to Samantha Graham for organizing this incredible event, Natalie Forstbauer for putting together a hugely successful silent auction, and MC Jordan Marr for keeping the program flowing and the laughs rolling. And also to the event sponsors, volunteers, hotel staff, and food donors for contributing to this amazing weekend. We couldn’t have done it without any of you!

And another round of thanks to everyone who attended for being so welcoming, so helpful and so open to sharing your knowledge and exploring new ideas. The organic community is an incredible one and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the coming year!

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