Tag archive

bc organic conference

Building Bridges

in 2024/Current Issue/Organic Community/Winter 2024

2023 BC Organic Conference Recap

By Stacey Santos

Mentorship. Perseverance. Kindness. Relationships. More than words, these ideas were penned and posted to a board at the 2023 BC Organic Conference—a nod of appreciation by and for the organic community, who came together for our first in-person conference in three years. 

Held at the Penticton Trade & Convention Centre from November 7th to 9th, the 2023 BC Organic Conference was a milestone event. Not only did it mark Organic BC’s 30th anniversary, but it was also our biggest event ever, with nearly 300 farmers, ranchers, processors, distributors, retailers, government representatives, students, and other like-minded folks coming together to grow knowledge, connections, and a stronger future for all.

Panel discussion with Abra Brynne, Arzeena Hamir, Michelle Tsutsumi, and Cheyenne Sundance. Credit: Organic BC.

Deepening connections with soil—and people

For nearly 50 percent of attendees, this was their first time attending a BC Organic Conference—but definitely not their last! New or returning, attendees were drawn in by an extensive lineup, community connections, and the need to become reinspired after a tough few years. 

The schedule was packed with 25 sessions (including four panels) on a wide range of topics, with hands-on learning, practical applications, and refreshing perspectives and ideas. We also held two off-site tours: one at Covert Estate Family Winery, which focused on regenerative practices of cover cropping, animal integration, and the use of no-till seeders (and wrapping up with a wine tasting, of course), and the other at Summerland Research & Development Centre, which dove into indoor lab work and outdoor trials on soil health and cover cropping. We were also thrilled to welcome two keynotes, Kelly Terbasket of indigEYEZ & kinSHIFT and Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web. 

Rather than fill an entire BC Organic Grower issue with highlights from this event (which I could easily do), here are few standouts:

  • The incredible lineup and variety of sessions, covering soil health, business management, current challenges in viticulture, pasture ecology and grazing, supply chains, adapting to climate change, and more. You can view all of the sessions here: organicbc.org/conference/sessions
  • The experience, know-how, and enthusiasm our speakers brought to their sessions. Attendees left inspired and energized for the year ahead!
  • The Summerland Research & Development Centre tour. Showcasing the work of five research scientists, this tour was a conference highlight for many!
  • Kelly Terbasket’s inspiring keynote that showed us how, in order to truly build bridges, we must reflect on our own histories, get out of our comfort zones, and come together for a collective purpose. 
  • Farming in Community for Everyone, an intimate, empowering, and interactive discussion about farming at the intersection of multiple (often marginalized) identities. As one attendee said, “This is not a session. This is everything.” 
  • Fuel for learning: The food this year was outstanding, with a great selection of organic meals and snacks donated by local producers.
  • Square dancing: Described as a “hoot,” professional caller Brian Elmer led a 90-minute square dance, complete with custom, organic-themed audio.
Catching up: Anne Macey connecting with Brody Irvine and Tristan Banwell. Credit: Organic BC

And one of my own highlights as part of the Organic BC team: the registration desk. More than an administrative necessity, the registration desk spawned new relationships, meaningful conversations, and creative solutions. From this hub of activity, I could bask in the attendees’ post-session glow and their excitement of meeting both old and new faces. It was a warm and fuzzy place with purpose (and coffee!). 

Recognizing leaders

At every BC Organic Conference, we present awards that recognize the outstanding achievements of our members.

Congrats to this year’s Brad Reid award recipients: Robin Tunnicliffe, Heather Stretch, and Rachel Fisher of Saanich Organics. These farmers have grown a new generation of farmers through their teaching, mentorship, and culture of collaboration.

And more congrats to Ron Schneider and Andrea Turner of Heart Achers Farm on winning the Bedrock Award, which honours a person (or persons) for their contributions to the foundations of organics. With their strong beliefs, integrity, and forward thinking, Ron and Andrea were roots of strength in the founding days of the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC), Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA), and the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS).

The well-attended burnout prevention workshop with Alys Ford. Credit: Organic BC.

Building bridges for a stronger future

On the flight home, my heart, mind, and belly full, I glanced out the window as we ascended over Penticton. That’s when I saw it: the unmistakable glow of fire in the hills. I nudged my seatmate, who responded with a glance and a grunt of acknowledgment before resuming his scrolling. 

Perhaps he wasn’t wrestling with the same conflicting emotions I was. While the conference left me energized and optimistic about the future, our world is changing and there’s still a lot of work to do. And that’s why it’s so important to build bridges in the agricultural sector and find strength in collective knowledge, connections, and support.

A final word of thanks

A huge thank you to our sponsors, food donors, and silent auction donors for their generous support of the 2023 BC Organic Conference! And of course, to everyone who came out and engaged, connected, shared, laughed and played together. Your record attendance contributed to the success of this event. 

Held every two years, the next BC Organic Conference will take place in 2025. In the meantime, stay tuned for details on our many upcoming regional and online events in 2024!

Stacey Santos is the Communications Manager for Organic BC. She lives, writes, and gardens in the beautiful and traditional territories of the Lekwungen peoples, who are now known as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.

Featured image: Organic BC Conference Field Day at Covert Estate Family Winery. Credit: Organic BC.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Where Anna Anticipates Some Free Time (Questionably)

in 2023/Fall 2023/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Standards Updates

Anna Helmer

Well, on the other hand, when a major crop flops, the harvest isn’t going to amount to much and that frees up a certain amount of time…

Welcome to my head space right now: consumed with our carrot crop catastrophe. You’ve joined me at a positive moment in the endless cycle of despair and future free time optimism. Stick around and we’ll get right back to wallowing in the carrot field of broken dreams, where I am often to be found pacing through the sparse carrot stand feeling bewildered and disappointed, trying to unravel the mystery. Eventually I wander far enough towards the east end of the field where things are not nearly so bad, and the mood improves. Not to the point of giddy elation, mind you—just a sort of contented, if somewhat resigned, reflection on all the free time coming my way.

It won’t be free time, in the strictest sense. I won’t be wandering around with nothing to do all fall. The time will be filled, allocated to something other than carrot harvesting and washing—perhaps directed at a variety of farm projects. I also may binge-watch a season of something instead of just watching the first episode and then googling the outcome, for lack of time. Oops. That was meant to be kept private, but here you are still following along my inner journey.

Sounds quite fun, doesn’t it, puttering about? I hope I don’t start a rush to declare crop flops to generate free time. There must be another way, but it hasn’t presented itself. Feel free to try it out on your own farm. Results may vary.

And it’s not like there are no carrots at all in the field. I think half the crop will make it to harvest. That is still quite a bit as we connived to plant a larger area this year, without admitting to it. Plenty of carrots to harvest, which happens to be my favourite farm job of fall. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t figured out what happened to the other half. The possibilities are myriad, and I won’t go into all the details here unless I need to boost my word count.

I think this column is still called Biodynamic Farm Story and I really ought to stick to the mission. I am having trouble getting to the Biodynamic bits because biodynamics always gets kicked to the curb when the farm is particularly extremely busy, as has been the case this summer.

Most of the summer was spent with me making a strong case for auntie of the year honours: nieces and nephews galore on the farm. Most of them teenagers. Not much intrinsically biodynamic about teenagers. They were eager to work, though, so I helped with that. And they added a lot of youthful energy to the farm, compelling me to contribute a fair amount of middle-aged lady energy to balance it all out. Draining.

That effort was nothing, however, compared to wallowing through the process of achieving our CanadaGAP certification. This was a very distinctly non-Biodynamic effort. We are now awash in hand-sanitizing wipes, spotless harvest bins, and signs, including a “No Smoking” sign on the inside of the cooler door. And we now have over 30 active forms. Rudolph Steiner never mentioned anything about forms.

I am burying the following comment deep in the article as it is still quite an incomplete private thought: we are a better farm for having gone through the CanadaGAP certification process. I still think it’s a travesty of food safety justice that an essentially harmless little farm like ours is required to slog through the same process as a massive producer who needs help keeping the listeria and E.coli off the leafy greens, not to mention actually requiring a no-smoking-in-the-cooler sign.

However, there have been many unanticipated side benefits, coming because of the hours we spent striving to comply. We did a major clean-up, and that has helped considerably with not only airflow, but also freeing up all kinds of space in which to put things. We have better lighting now, the importance of which, for those possessing deteriorating eyesight, cannot be overstated. Our handwashing and toilet facilities are dialled, and I think our crew really appreciates this effort.

It must be said, however, that it all came at the expense of farming, especially the carrot farming. Instead of irrigating the heck out of them to get the pelleting to dissolve, I was going to the dump and reading the CanadaGAP manual. Instead of spending hours setting up the mechanical weeder to do the best job possible, I was going to the dump again, stencilling pallet numbers on the cooler floor, or printing and laminating signs. Instead of doing the one pivotal hand weeding that became necessary, I was carefully accumulating and sorting forms and checklists into piles called Ongoing, Weekly, Monthly, and Annual.

And instead of diligently and regularly applying BD 500 and BD 501, which I should have realized early in the season were going to be required to help the crop contend with heat, smoke, drought, and inattentive farming practices, I was just plain otherwise occupied. I found it very hard to tear my mind away from what seemed like daily new CanadaGAP compliance conundrums, discovered as we deciphered the manual or performed the latest self-audit.

So, it all boils down to this: I am not too disappointed over the reduced carrot yield. We’ll sort it out financially, and the crop we have will still allow me to enjoy my favourite job of fall. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work.

I’m being positive again. How annoying.


Anna Helmer farms in Pemberton and is not sure she would have been able to handle this summer in her 30s.

Featured image: Some acceptable carrots. Credit: Moss Dance

2022 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2022/Organic Community/Spring 2022

By Stacey Santos

It really says something about you, the organic community, when you still shine two years into a pandemic, after a hot and fiery summer and a devastatingly wet fall. Even virtually, your leadership, knowledge, and humour are at the forefront—even eclipsing Jordan’s fake beard and eyebrows, à la Tristan.

That’s saying a lot.

We thank you for pushing through a tough year and for coming together for another great BC Organic Conference!

The “Bring Your Own Banquet” Edition

We had originally planned to hold the conference in person at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, but in light of a certain pandemic, we switched to a virtual format on February 27 and March 6. The conference committee had some great brainwaves when it came to creating a new program, including the incredibly popular pre-conference beer and bevvie night (which folks were still talking about weeks after). It was wonderful to be able to laugh together, have breakout discussions, create spontaneous poetry, and kick off our online auction.

This year, the auction had especially fun contributions and we were able to raise over $5,000 in support of the conference!

From Virtual Field Days series, Hutley Acres.

Conference Podcast

Like last year, the conference included all-new podcasts featuring practical tips, regulatory insights, farmer reflections, and more. And, we were lucky to invite back a couple of guests from the podcast for some Q&As. Our podcast listeners voted to learn more about weeding and agritourism, so Kerry McCann and Andrew Budgel of Laughing Crow Organics joined us to share insights on weeding techniques and technology, and on agritourism’s economic opportunities, costs of doing business, labour, set up, and, of course, challenges.

The new podcast episodes will be released to the public at a later date. Find current and future episodes at organicbc.org/podcast

Welcome from Minister Popham

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham joined the conference and shared, as always, her heartfelt thoughts on the state of organics and agriculture in BC, plus an update on things to come.

We learned that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon announce its Regenerative Council/Board, which Organic BC will be a part of. The Ministry is also working to get government funding for equipment that will help farms be more resilient, and is creating a food hub network with shared-use processing facilities. When asked about the possibility of creating a meat processing hub in the province, Minister Popham said it’s definitely possible but will take some time.

If you have ideas on how farms can become more resilient, let the Ministry know! They have solid connections with funding resources and Minister Popham recommended an aggressive approach to get things done more quickly. So, stay connected!

Some familiar faces at the virtual Organic Conference—wait, who is that guy with the beard?

Mental Health in Agriculture

With so much going on right now—in farming and also the world—our conference session with Dr. Briana Hagen was more relevant than ever. Dr. Hagen presented on mental health literacy, touching on some of the struggles and challenges farmers face and how we can maintain and bolster our mental health during crises. A lot of strides have been made when it comes to having conversations around mental health, but there’s a lot more work to be done.

Thanks to Dr. Hagen for presenting on this important topic, and to attendees for their questions, comments, and insights.

Learn more about Dr. Hagen’s work and In the Know, the mental health literacy program for agriculture, at ajbresearch.com/in-the-know.

Reframing the Regenerative Conversation

One of our sessions focused on regenerative agriculture and its strong and long-lasting link to organic. The conversation highlighted the question: What is needed to make organic the key to regenerative certification?

The answers came from a variety of perspectives, including what the Ministry’s goals for regenerative agriculture are, what’s happening at the federal level, how Regenerative Organic Certification is being put into practice already, what sort of policy frameworks are needed to support regenerative (e.g. organic) agriculture, and more.

The Ministry of Agriculture highlighted the importance of collaborative groups, including the Regenerative Agriculture and Agritech Network, and also mentioned that the Environmental Farm Plan program offers funding towards creative regenerative solutions. They encouraged everyone to reach out to the Ministry to learn more about how the program can support your goals.

And, we were able to welcome Alison Squires from Upland Organics in Saskatchewan who walked us through the Regenerative Organic Certification process and shared tips on how to incorporate regenerative practices onto your farm. Her biggest game changer? Livestock integration.

Organic BC’s Regenerative Ag Committee will keep the conversation going, and we encourage you all to join the Organic BC listserv if you haven’t already (organicbc.org/listserv) to carry on discussions of your own.

From Virtual Field Days series, Molly Thurston at Claremont Organic Ranch.

Virtual Field Days

Thanks to public health orders and the fact that BC is a really big place, we were lucky to bring field days to the conference with the launch of our Soil Health Series. These videos included farm tours and conversations with:

Hutley Acres (dairy): Owner Mike Broersma gave an in-depth look at weed management, crop rotations, and key machinery, as well as keeping a healthy herd, overcoming obstacles, and the importance of trying new things.

Claremont Ranch Organics (tree fruit): With a focus on soil health, owner Molly Thurston walked us through the optimal soil for growing tree fruits, the benefits (and best combinations) of cover crops, tips for weed control during planting, and so much more.

Wild Flight Farm (vegetables): Owner Hermann Bruns gave tips on inexpensive and effective green manures that suppress weeds and give soil more structure, plus countless other ways to build nutrient-rich, healthy soil.

We were lucky to have some of the farmers in attendance at the conference, so folks were able to ask questions about the videos and get answers right from the source!

If you missed the virtual tours or want to have another watch, you can find the videos on our YouTube channel (@thisisorganicbc).

Organic BC gratefully acknowledges funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a joint funding agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

Save the Dates

Looking ahead to 2023, the venue and hotel are already booked. We’re crossing our fingers for an in-person conference at TRU in Kamloops on February 24 to 26. The plan is to have a single-track program with an emphasis on providing opportunities for conversation both in and outside of the sessions.

And, because we had a lot of comments about roller crimpers during this conference, we’re also considering bringing some equipment to the in-person tradeshow, and inviting attendees to bring in theirs for an equipment show and tell.

Thank you

A huge thanks to our conference coordinator, Michelle Tsutusmi, and to our incredible and creative volunteers, including our conference committee and our witty and oh-so-entertaining hosts, Tristan Banwell and Jordan Marr. Also, thanks to our conference sponsors (Farm Credit Canada, Institute for Community Engaged Research, BC Coop Association, Gambrinus Malting) and to our tradeshow exhibitors (AgSafe BC, BC Agriculture Council, FarmFolk CityFolk, Frankia Fertilizers, Organic Crop Improvement Association, Osborne Quality Seed, and TerraLink).

Until next year!

Feature image: From Virtual Field Days series, Hermann Bruns at Wild Flight Farm.

All images: Credit: Organic BC.

2021 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2021/Organic Community/Spring 2021

Stacey Santos

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but I’m going to say it again. This past year was a year like no other. The pandemic affected—and continues to affect—every aspect of our lives: our health, our social lives, our businesses. It’s been a year of humbling learning experiences, pivoting to new directions, and figuring out that it really doesn’t matter if your naked toddler interrupts your Zoom call to ask you for help with her dragon costume.

Throughout all of this, we’ve watched the organic community come together under pressure and become stronger and more supportive than ever. And while the ride isn’t over yet, we were so happy to be able to take a moment and reconnect with many of you at the 2021 BC Organic Conference.

This year’s conference took place on February 28, 2021 and was entirely virtual (we hoped we would be able to carry out some socially distanced farm tours, but alas). Conference attendees had early access to 40-plus podcasts spanning all aspects of food systems and organic farming in BC as well as a chance to bid on some fantastically creative items in the silent auction.

The live event was a giant Zoom call with opening remarks from Heather Stretch (COABC president), Eva-Lena Lang (COABC executive director), Ian Paton (opposition critic for agriculture) and the Honourable Lana Popham (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries), who hinted at big announcements coming from the provincial government on food hubs, support for local seed production, and changes to meat regulations!

Farmers Take the Lead

Next up was the conference keynote from Darrin Qualman, Director of Climate Crisis Policy & Action at the National Farmers Union. Darrin spoke about emission problems and organic agriculture solutions, and wrapped up with a Q&A session with conference attendees. In case you missed it, or want to relive the conference magic, you can watch Darrin’s presentation on our YouTube channel.

COABC Awards…with a Virtual Twist

Normally, our annual COABC awards are presented at the conference’s closing banquet. This year, we obviously couldn’t do that—so our conference coordinator, Jordan Marr, got creative.

In our conference podcast, we surprised the award recipients with the news, and at our live conference session, we gave them a chance to say a few words in front of their peers. And, gave their peers a chance to say a few words about them!

This year, Mary Alice Johnson and Rod Reid received the Bedrock Award, and Arzeena Hamir took home the Brad Reid Award. There isn’t enough room here to say all that needs to be said, so please head over to our blog to learn more about the winners and why they’re so incredibly deserving of their awards.

Conference photo contest winner – category: Fail.
Credit: Spray Creek Ranch

And so Much More

Conference attendees also took part in three Q&A sessions with podcast guests and voted on their favourite images in the photo contest. The live session wrapped up with a small group visioning discussion, to take the pulse of the COABC community and make sure the organization knows what’s going on and what’s important to everyone. It was a great discussion with some big ideas, and as always, we thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly and generously.

A big part of what made this conference so special (other than seeing so many of your shining faces, of course), was all the planning and work that went into it. This was a brand-new format for us, and it took many folks wearing many different hats to make it happen!

For some final insights into the conference and some thoughts on what’s next, I caught up with Jordan, this year’s conference coordinator and podcast producer for Q&A:

The 2021 BC Organic Conference was a radical change from past conferences. How did it all come about?

The first question for the conference committee was to decide whether we’d have a conference at all, and in what format. As a committee we collectively decided it was worth having something for continuity, and because we could produce something of value. We knew we couldn’t reproduce the social component, but could reproduce the networking and education components in some way. We decided to have a virtual conference and started brainstorming!

I suggested that we consider making an audio series rather than webinars, which tie attendees to a screen. A podcast is a great way to consume information and would be more accommodating to people’s busy lives. The committee briefly talked about it and ultimately agreed it was a good idea. That was the first major decision and from there we came up the rest of the details.

The podcast really was the centrepiece of the conference in terms of the amount of content it involved. How did you pull it off?

I had produced a hobby podcast for years and I’m super comfortable with the basic technology and the audio software. No question marks there.

But, this was the first time I oversaw a team of interviewers. The volunteer interviewers were really great! In some ways, organizing the interviews wasn’t all that different from organizing speakers at the conference. But, it’s cheaper and easier to get people involved. It was a really busy November and December when the podcast got recorded and produced.

From a coordinator’s perspective, how did the conference go?

I think the most positive way to look at it is that we had to start from scratch and figure out what to do. If someone from the future told us we’d have almost 200 people participating, and a podcast with almost 40 episodes, not including the tradeshow episodes…

Overall the conference was fairly well received, and so was the podcast. One special thing about the podcast is that it very much turned into a podcast about the BC organic community, by the BC organic community. Not many farming and food podcasts are so focused on British Columbia. That’s something worth keeping in the future.

And the live session—I underestimated how special it would feel. I was skeptical of the online communication space. And after the year we’ve all had, it was really cool. If I had to do it all over again, I would have created a few more opportunities for small group interaction. The day was weighted too heavily towards large groups.

There’s talk of carrying the podcast into future years, even if we’re able to hold an in-person conference. Is there anything you would change?

For this year’s podcast, I took a light touch to editing. Next year I would consider having fewer episodes, with more time invested in each one.

An ongoing challenge, even in prior years, is choosing the right topics for the education sessions. That can only come from good participation. It’s hard for a small committee—even one like ours with good representation—to create a lineup of topics that would please a wide group of people. There’s a bias towards small to medium scale farmers, and with a committee, there’s also a bias towards the members’ own interests. And I can’t stress enough—I represent those biases.

When it comes to decision making, I had great support from the committee. But when the rubber hit the road, I made the decisions and I take responsibility for that. The podcast could have seen more representation as far as identity politics, gender perspectives, and people of colour. Also glaringly absent was enough content from BC-based Indigenous peoples.

It doesn’t hurt to try harder to get more perspectives presented, whether it’s the size of the farms or the perspective of different groups in the province.

Any parting thoughts?

It’s really great that so many people embraced this new idea. And if we have to do it again in this format, we’ll improve. We’ll miss the social elements though!

And, as a coordinator, I really had a lot of help with great support from the office. I had a lot of fun getting to know all the people. I also noticed more people signing up to play a small role in next year’s conference committee. The committee is mainly comprised of people on the COABC board or the board of a certifying body, but anyone’s welcome to join. On the conference evaluation, if you want to put your name forward, please do!

A big thanks to everyone who made the 2021 BC Organic Conference possible: Jordan Marr, volunteer interviewers, podcast guests, conference committee members, COABC staff & contractors, event sponsors, silent auction donors and the Institute for Community Engaged Research at UBC Okanagan for offering technical expertise, tools, and a physical space for broadcasting the online event. Until next year!

Feature image: Conference photo contest winner – category: closeup. Credit: Big Rock Ranch

2021 COABC Award Winners

in COABC Blog

Each year, we present members of BC’s organic community community with the following awards:

  • The Bedrock Award: Created in 2019, its purpose is to honour a person or persons for their contributions towards the foundation of organics.
  • The Brad Reid Award: A long-standing award that honours an innovative leader who has strengthened the organic community by moving the sector forward.

Normally, our annual COABC awards are presented at the closing banquet of the BC Organic Conference. But this year, for reasons that are obvious (and the new normal), we went virtual!

In our conference podcast, we surprised the award recipients with the news, and at our live conference session on Feb. 28th, we gave them a chance to say a few words in front of their peers. And, gave their peers a chance to say a few words about them!

Here are the 2021 COABC Award winners and a few of the many reasons why they’re so deserving of their award:


Bedrock Award: Mary Alice Johnson

Mary Alice embodies the very name of her farm: ALM Farm, coming from the Arabic Alif Lem Mim, meaning the beginning, the middle and the end. She embodies the very name of her farm in the cyclical focus of her approach to agriculture.

Mary Alice has recognized the full needs of a sustainable and vibrant organic sector. This includes mentorship and learning, perhaps most obvious in her involvement with Stewards of Irreplaceable Lands (SOIL), which helps pair interns with experienced farmers. Plus, Mary has trained and mentored many new farmers herself.

Stewards are an important aspect, but she also recognizes the importance of access to land. To that end, her efforts as co-founder to establish the Sooke Region Farmland Trust put in place a vision of holding land for the sake of food production rather than real estate speculation.

And of course, her work on saving seeds has been crucial to the larger recognition of seed security. With her business, Full Circle Seeds, she is a member of the BC Eco Seed Co-op and has saved seeds for over 25 years, stewarding some 275 varieties.


Bedrock Award: Rod Reid

Rod has been a stalwart supporter of organics through his service as a board member with BCARA, and as a board member with COABC, but far beyond this work as well. Rod has also provided substantial support to livestock producers, both in actions taken to carve out a place and stand ground for organic producers with marketing boards, as well as in mentoring and assisting livestock producers.

In Season Farms provides an option of high-quality feeds to growers of many scales of production. Rod strongly advocates for various scales of production and has not been afraid to act as a dissenting voice in forums, where he believes matters of principle are at stake. As his nominator notes, Rod “maintains integrity that goes beyond the letter of the standard. He truly believes in the principles behind the movement.”


Brad Reid Award – Arzeena Hamir

Arzeena earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Crop Science from the University of Guelph and her Master’s Degree is Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London, England. Arezeena worked abroad for many years as a CUSO volunteer in Thailand, and as a researcher in Jamaica, India and Bangladesh. She was the staff agrologist for West Coast Seeds in the late 1990s and ran her own seed company, Terra Viva Organics.

From 2008 – 2012, Arzeena was the coordinator of the Richmond Food Security Society, where she oversaw a number of community projects, which included a proposal to the city of Richmond to declare itself a GMO-free zone. In 2010, in conjunction with Kwantlen University, Arzeena helped to launch the Richmond Farm School.

Arzeena has served on the Board and Executive of the COABC and as a mentor for the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network. In 2015, Arzeena was one of the founding members of Merville Organic Growers Cooperative, a marketing cooperative based in the Comox Valley that helped small-scale growers develop capacity and a market for their produce.

In 2017, Arzeena was part of a cooperative study tour of agriculture cooperatives in Italy, hosted by Vancity Credit Union. Arzeena founded the Mid Island Farmers’ Institute in 2016 to support the sharing of knowledge about sustainable agriculture in the Comox Valley. In 2018, Arzeena served on an advisory committee to the Ministry of Agriculture on the revitalization of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Arzeena hosts multiple seminars and workshops throughout the year. She’s a leader on issues related to climate change, diversity and equity on issues of food, agriculture and education. She now serves as an elected representative for Area B in the Comox Valley Regional District.

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!

Go to Top