COABC 2016 Resilience

2016 COABC Conference

in Organic Community/Spring 2016

Michelle Tsutsumi, Conference Coordinator

Legacy, Inspiration, Rejuvenation

This year’s conference was filled with anticipation about our illustrious keynote speaker and the many engaging session topics. There were also undertones of sadness, both from the ongoing ripples from losing Mary Forstbauer in the fall and the more recent passing of Cathleen Kneen—two tenacious and spirited women who were persistent in facilitating organic agriculture and food sovereignty, both in BC and across Canada.

As we acknowledged the deep contributions of these two, we also took time to recognize the legacy of the elders in our community. One of the more impactful sessions was Stories from the Vanguard of the Organics, where panelists who were there when it all went down described the history of the organic community and the commitment it took to get to where we are today. For some of the younger folks in the room, the words resonated and compelled them to be more involved at an organizational level.

Vandana Shiva’s keynote address was an impressive interweaving of so many elements: the sacred art of seed saving, how food and access to land contributes to much unrest, the significance of farming nonviolently with the earth, and how food is everything. Shiva’s message was inspiring and helped to rejuvenate people (myself included) who were feeling disheartened by how exhausting agriculture can be – and how hard on your mind, your body, and your heart.

With Resilience as the focus this year, it became clear just how strong the organic community is. Comments were overheard about how this conference had a real sense of togetherness and there was a rich diversity of backgrounds in attendance, from post-secondary students and retailers to new entrants to organics and long time farmers, from Certification Body administrators to agrologists. The Friday Open Space Discussion hosted several tables focused on topics such as apprenticeships, seeds, CSA’s, and chemical/GMO drift. It was invigorating to see lively talk and a healthy mix of young and older alike.

During the Friday Reception, we were thrilled to experience conference firsts: having wine from Kalala Organic Estate Winery and a cask of Crannóg Ales’ Wobbly Toddler. Pemberton Distillery (whisky) and Dogwood Brewery offered up additional sampling. Chef Inna prepared an abundant spread of organic food, ranging from lovely charcuterie platters on Friday to most delicious pork belly slices for breakfasts and a satisfying range of vegetarian options.

The Trade Show was packed and it was hard to walk down the foyer at times. Mini social media sessions were a hit, providing short bursts of information on how to fit social media into your farming schedule, best practices for copy and text, as well as how to grow and engage social media followers. Thank you to COTA and COABC for facilitating these.

Feedback from the sessions was very positive, with crowd favourites being the presentations on healthy honeybee colonies, small scale hops production, and setting SMART goals for your business plan. The strong emphasis on seeds this year was well received. Both basic and advanced seed saving presentations were offered and it was standing room only in the BC Seeds Roundtable, where panelists shared the current status of seed in BC and Vandana Shiva provided her global perspective.

MC Jordan Marr was fabulous and creative in keeping the program running on time (and catching up after an initial delay) and encouraging people to fill out their evaluation evaluation forms—and for the record, I would never sneak onto someone’s field to spread salt. How could he say such a thing?! 😉 A highlight on Saturday was Carmen Wakeling’s presentation of the Brad Reid award to Annie Moss, in recognition of her steadfast work in promoting organics. Annie was so modest in receiving the award; however, it is entirely well deserved.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to the event sponsors, planning committee, volunteers, hotel staff, and food donors, who made this such an unforgettable and momentous weekend – truly regenerative on so many levels.