The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) conference was held in Dartmouth, NS on November 11-13. It’s always both practical and inspiring. Given its location this time, there was an increased focus on new farmers and urban agriculture. The location also meant that a lot more of our Food Action Committee members were able to attend than in past years.
At our meeting on Monday, several people shared their favourite moments from the conference. They ranged from feeling inspired they stories of community support for new farmers to a new-found fascination with farm equipment to reflections on the importance of seed saving. Others felt inspired by the urban bee keeping and urban chicken sessions
In no particular order…
1. Root Cellars: It’s probably no surprise that I found this one interesting. Both of the speakers were winter CSA farmers. Amy Lounder has a simple, urban root cellar in the basement of her parents’ home. It cost about $1500 to build. Tarrah Young has a much larger root cellar, which was converted from an old swimming pool on her farm. It also serves as a washing station and cost $12,000 to build. (You can see Tarrah’s webinar on the topic here.)
2. Soil: I generally attend the sessions that are most closely related to my work at the Ecology Action Centre, but I decided to sit in on a session on soil health, because it’s something I know little about. While a lot of the discussion was beyond was knowledge level, I am feeling inspired to learn more soil structure and health.
3. Forest Gardens and Edible Landscaping: Jayme Melrose gave a great talk on this subject. As a home gardener who just moved, my new backyard is somewhat of a blank slate. Jayme recommended the book “Edible Forest Gardens“, which I’m planning to check out soon.
4. Four Season Harvest: This book by Eliot Coleman was mentioned in at least 3 sessions I attended. Season extension is so key in this climate. And apparently this book also has good information on root cellaring. I’ve just put on hold at the library.
5. Farm Internships: I really enjoyed the panel discussion on internship programs from people who had attended different programs in North America and in some cases had run internships programs or had interns on their farms. One panelist recalled listening to the conversations between farmers during the farm visits that were part of the internship program. She found it interesting and helpful to learn what farmers asked each other about and what was important to them.
6. Cold frames and winter gardening: By the end of this talk I was mentally scrapping all of my summer gardening plans in favour of cold frames full of kale and window sills of microgreens. Niki Jabbour has a new book coming out in a month called “The Year Round Vegetable Gardener” and I think I’m going to have to check it out.
7. Passing on the Gift: In a session on guerilla marketing, Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm, outlined many of the activities they undertook this summer including monthly learning sessions at the Bridgewater Community Garden, “Grow a Farmer” sessions, and having school groups visit the farm. A requirement of the Heifer International Funding they received was to “pass on the gift”, by giving back to the community. They have fulfilled their obligations and more, and plan to continue passing on the gift because it’s something they enjoy.
8. The in between times: Often some of my favourite moments of any conference are the conversations that occur between sessions. One such moment was a conversation about the “Little House of the Prairie” books that my co-worker is re-reading. (This is, in fact, the third conversation I’ve had about these books in the past few months. Apparently my favourite childhood books are all about food preservation!) Another such moment was the enthusiasm of a couple who recently started a vermicompost business and their description of their quickly growing worm population.
And because she’s sitting right behind me, I asked Garity, our Urban Garden Coordinator, what a couple of her conference favourites were:
9. Nutrient Definiencies: During Av Singh’s talk on Nutrient deficiencies and this moment of awareness I had of how the soil is so much like the body, complex and interconnected, but also surprisingly resilient. He pointed out a few areas where one deficiency can be caused by a surplus of another nutrient that can prohibit uptake of other nutrients. (ie.an excess of Phosphorus can prohibit the uptake of other micronutrients such as iron and zinc). We need to be gentle and attentive with our soil.
10. Permaculture 101: Alex Denicola’s talk on Permaculture 101 blew me out of the water. He talked about peak oil, education and the land in such a frank but witty way, it was one of the first times I truly related to the principles of permaculture and wanted to know more and more.
And that’s 10. Looking forward to next year!!