Keltie & I just got back from the annual conference of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN). This year it was held in Fredericton (March 10-12). In no particular order, here are some of the highlights of the conference…
1. Financial Planning for farmers with Daniel Brisebois. Daniel and four others own and operate Tourne-Sol, an organic farm outside of Montreal. He is careful to refer to the farm as a business and has developed some great resources on running a profitable farm. If you’re thinking of starting a market garden, you should buy his book. It’s called “Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers”. He walked us through start-up budgets, how to calculate profitability of different crops both in terms of time they take to harvest and the space they take up on the farm. Such good information. His book is available from the Canadian Organic Growers (COG).
2. Market Garden Tricks of the Trade. Rowena Hopkins, who ran her own farm for a number of years and now is the Executive Director of Farmers Market Nova Scotia, took us on a whirlwind photo tour of her 6 month WWOOFing trip across the country, in which she worked 20 farms. She shared best practices she learned along the way. Her presentation highlighted the creativity and innovation of farmers. She showcased simple technologies and techniques for making life easier. Examples include a number of options when it comes to washing veggies on farm – from using an old washing machine as a salad spinner to simply wedging a conventional salad spinner inside a tire to make for easy spinning. Another tip was to make use of the warmth coming from your greenhouse by planting along its outside walls – especially the south-facing wall.
3. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs): There is a lot of interest from farmers in starting and expanding their CSAs. On Saturday, there was a stream of workshops devoted to the topic. ACORN conducted surveys of CSA customers last season. They found that one of the big reasons people joined CSAs was “to be part of the solution”. One of the main reasons they decide not to join up for a second season: too much food in the box and the feeling that they are wasting food. Other news: Taproot farm is developing website systems that will be available for other CSA farmers to purchase.
4. Attracting farm apprentices to the region. I attended a discussion on this topic. While no specific conclusions were reached, some of the topics discussed included: how to attract apprentices with a serious interest in farming (and how do you find such people?), the creation of a network of farms with apprenticeship programs, the potential for a more formalized program with a certificate or diploma at the end. I expect that this will be a topic of growing interest and that more discussions will follow.
5. Transplants 101. Keltie attended what she described as an amazing workshop on transplants led by a New Brunswick organic farmer. Some of the tips Keltie passed along in the car ride were: transplanting your tomato plants from a small seedling cell to a 4 inch pot and then into the ground; getting the seedling soil mix just right – a balance between compost (but not too much as many seeds prefer to germinate in low fertility soil) and peat (as it has lots of air space and thus water can drain more naturally); do not cover herb seeds with soil as they want the sun; it is key to have both heat and light – heat without lots of light will result in very poor germination.
6. Kids conference. So, we didn’t attend any of these sessions, but ACORN had a kids conference on Thursday, which I thought was such a great idea. The kids added a fun and lively element to the conference. I missed the play/presentation that they did at the end of the day, but next time I will definitely plan to attend.
7. Seedy Saturday! I have no self-control when it comes to seed purchasing (and neither does Keltie). There were seeds from Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds, Tourne-Sol (http://www.fermetournesol.qc.ca/eng/seeds.html) and others. I’m looking forward to the two kinds of basil, snap peas, purple beans, and lettuce mixes that I’ll be growing in my backyard this season!
8. Consumer day. Keltie and I presented as part of consumer day, which was held on Saturday. It was great to see so many people interested in canning and preserving, concerned about GMOs, and generally asking lots of questions. I caught the tail end of the sprouting workshop and had a chance to hear about the Local Foodies of Fredericton, who seem to be doing similar work to Keltie and me.
9. The food. The food, of course, was delicious. My favourite was the pesto pasta. Keltie couldn’t get enough of the fresh greens. We also popped into the Fredericton Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning before the sessions started. Lots of delicious looking cheeses, breads, veggies… Yummy!
10. Old friends and new friends. Often my favourite part of a conference is the in-between time. I like hearing what people are up to, their plans for the season, what’s new in their lives, and generally catching up. It’s also in these moments that new project ideas are born…
Yours in Food,