This past Saturday, February 18th, was the annual Canadian Organic Growers’ Conference. This year’s theme was “Your Food, Your Choice“. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s lineup.
A Dirty Life
This year’s conference was kicked off with a keynote speech by Kristin Kimball. She is a New York City girl turned farmer. She and her husband own Essex farms near Lake Champlain in the state of New York. Their goal: to grow and provide for 90% of a community’s diet. That is quite a mission statement! Well, they have done it. Hundreds of “members” of the farm pick up their weekly share of the ‘whole diet’ – beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, grains, 40 fruits and vegetables, herbs and maple syrup. And here is the kicker- the entire farm is powered by draft horses. No tractors. The most touching part of Kristin’s talk was her detailed account of a typical Sunday morning. Her two young daughters are sick and she is dragged out of bed when one of the farmhands does not show up. Kristin drags the kids out to the farm where she struggles to milk a cow that won’t cooperate. She is in tears after her older daughter pushes the stroller with the baby into a pile of manure, and the cow expresses her disinterest by kicking Kristen right in the stomach. Amid the chaos and frustration, Kristen finds a moment of gratitude as her husband pitches in, making the girls laugh, and Kristen pours fresh, raw milk into her day-old coffee, transforming it into a fresh cappuccino. Kristen recently wrote a book, A Dirty Life, with stories such as this and many more, detailing her journey from a New York City writer to meeting a dynamic young farmer, falling in love and sharing in his dreams of running a farm that can feed a community. I will definitely be picking up this book (as soon as I have some time to read books for fun!).
Organic for Schools
This was a fascinating panel discussion about improving the quality of food in our schools. I was most impressed by Greg Christian, a Chicago chef-turned-organic-food-crusader. His non-profit organization, Organic School Project (OSP) has led 10 school-based garden projects, trained 200 teachers and cafeteria staff, and served 225,000 healthy meals to school children in the Chicago area. What really impressed me was his business acumen and metric-centric approach to turning a school around. He understands that there is a budget for everything: cups, cutlery, produce, staff. He works with the cafeteria staff to save costs in one area, so that money can go towards fresh, local, organic produce. Greg encourages the staff to set their own quarterly goals and steadily chip away at them. I loved Greg’s passion and enthusiasm for changing the system one restaurant, one school, one cafeteria at a time!
As part of the conference, over 80 of us headed to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District to catch Seeds, a play chronicling the lengthy legal battle between Agro-giant Monsanto and Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. The production is based entirely on interviews conducted by the playwright, Annabel Soutar, and transcripts of the court cases between the two parties. It does not try to sway the audience in favour of one party or the other, instead, it leaves you with more questions than answers. I would *highly* recommend this play to anyone who is interested in the exploitation of our food system by a handful of powerful corporations. Even if you know nothing about this labyrinth of power and politics, it is still a very entertaining night out. Two thumbs up!
All in all, it was an awesome day, filled with tons of interesting people and great information. I would recommend the conference to anyone interested in how conventional and organic food is produced, and why it should matter to us, the consumers.