Article by Nicole Simpson
This year I was lucky enough to attend my second Guelph Organic Conference.
A few years ago I found out that volunteers get nearly-full access to conference events and I could not put my name down fast enough.
Each year in attendance I learn so many new things that I could write a book on them.
For enviro-nerds like me, the GOC is a place to exchange ideas, meet like-minded people, and feel like you are making a collective difference.
The trade show is free to the public and is a great place to learn about new products and innovations in organic food production.
This was my second time as an Audio Visual assistant, and let me tell you the small commitment of volunteering and the trade-off of participating in high-quality seminars is well worth it.
When I arrived on Saturday morning, there was eclectic mix of students, hipsters, farmers and Mennonites bustling around registration booths.
First round of seminars started at 9 am. I was slated to attend the Soil Conservation stream in Thornbrough 1200. A large sum of people attended, some still filtering in as Dr. Andrew Hammermeister began his presentation Managing Soil Health for Grain Production.
Dr. Hammermeister made the argument that growing high-quality products requires increased attention on good soil structure, building organic matter, balancing time-sensitive nutrient release programs and promoting beneficial soil biology (fauna).
What was most interesting to me were the discussions around intervention timing (adding nutrients, dealing with pests) to get more productivity bang for your buck.
Next up we had Efficient and Effective Control of Perennial Weeds by Anne Weill and Jean Duval of CETAB+.
Their argument was that you can use fallow times and cover crops (green manure) such as soybeans and/or quack grass to control plant-pests like Canada thistle, sow thistle and coltsfoot.
They got into specifics of machinery and techniques that did not apply to me, but the point was made. Rather than over-tilling and compacting soils, perhaps farmers could use competitive species during fallow periods to deal with pests in a greener way.
A very interesting presentation indeed.
After two morning presentations under our belt, we broke for lunch.
GOC organizers planned for a nice long lunch allowing people time to browse the trade show and try a few goodies. Among the tables were some of my favourite brands including Nature’s Path and Organic Meadows.
Rumours of an ice-cream stand were buzzing around, which I did not find due to the abundance of other interesting displays to check out.
After lunch we settled back in with Anne Verhallen of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) leading the Cover Crop Crew.
Alongside plant pathologist Albert Tenuta and Nuffield Scholarship winner Blake Vince, this trio provided an entertaining look at utilizing cover crops to reduce off-season erosion, compaction, water loss, and general pest and disease issues for crop management excellence.
Using cover crops research, OMAFRA and partners are seeing positive outcomes related to soil productivity and increasing biological activity within the soil. They explained that elements of cover crop production can reduce the need for mechanical or non-organic interventions.
Wrapping up the day, we heard from Ruth Knight on Creating Nutrient Density with Soil Regeneration Principals.
Ruth is an Organic Consultant who works with farmers on soil regeneration issues and teaching people how to transition from business-as-usual to organic production and updating to more sustainable farming models.
After a long day of presentations, I was feeling worn out. My head 10 lbs heavier from information overload, thinking about how I can bring these concepts into my own field.
After all, this conference is all about the ‘take home message’.
My take home message of the day was not to give up.
Anytime I think I am alone caring about the environment, I remember these times. Seeing what others are doing to address issues in our food production systems is very encouraging.
Thanks to the organizers and all who participated. Putting together a 4-day conference, scheduling presenters and volunteers, is no small feat.
Thanks to Kerry Brookes and Alex Ricci who make this volunteer experience a good one each time I come. HOPE TO SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!