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Great People, Wonderful Food and Much More!

2017 Eco-Scholars chatting in Trade show

By Shanthanu Krishnakumar, 2017 Guelph Organic Conference Eco-Scholar

I came to the organic conference in Guelph from St. Catherines, where I was working on a project to enhance the shelf life of nectarines as part of my Masters’ research.

Settling in at the Conference

I immediately noticed upon entering the dinner venue, the camaraderie among the participants. They indeed seemed like a big family, and it did not take long for me and the other eco scholars to feel at home.

2017 Eco-Scholars at Organic Food & Wine Dinner

I was excited about the organic food and wine dinner and I must say that it exceeded all my expectations. For a person that is used to having ONE vegetarian option at any restaurant, the dinner was a splendid feast. Moreover, true to the conference theme, the food was made from organic sources. I also got to know many people who have been involved with organic farming.

Genetic Engineering Discussion

Following the dinner, there was a keynote forum about the future of Genetic Engineering. It was interesting to hear from all the speakers regarding their views about GM crops and the way going forward.

Keynote Forum at 2017 Guelph Organic Conference regarding GMOs Genetic Engineering

In particular, I was inspired by Dr. Jonathan Latham’s talk, where he used solid scientific sources to back up his talk. I could totally understand when he said that the agricultural community is too obsessed with the modern techniques of molecular biology and they fail to take into account, the whole ecosystem in which the plant grows. He explained the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) that were a set of agronomic practices followed by growers in India to get spectacular yields in rice.

Dr. Rene Van Acker, Dean, OAC mentioned that interested students must take the lead and request their faculty for conducting research into organic agriculture.

We ended up chatting with Jonathan Latham after the keynote forum to listen to his views about the scientific community, and this is where I met the previous year’s Eco scholars.

We Eco scholars do have similar tastes, don’t you think!! At the end of the day, we were told to move out of the auditorium because the hall was closing and Dr. Latham had to leave!

I was really impressed with the keynote forum, though another genetic modification proponent could have balanced the views of the forum. I was extremely energized at the end of the first day and couldn’t wait for what the next 2 days had to offer.

Saturday Workshops & Trade Show Explorations

Saturday morning was bustling with many people setting up their booths for the trade show. I went to listen to the lecture about ‘How to make a profit in less than 2 acres’. It was very well presented and the speaker gave a very detailed overview about her budget, expenditure and profit streams and it was heartening to see that she was successfully following her passion and earning a profit as well!

Eco-Scholars at a 2017 Guelph Organic Conference workshop

I also listened to the talk from Big Carrot, whose representative spoke about current scientific proof which shows the nutritional, environmental and economic impacts of organic farming. I was impressed by the solid scientific references that backed up the talk and it made me curious to dig deeper into the papers and see the scientifically proven benefits of organic farming to people, their health and the environment.

I also attended the meet and greet regarding cover cropping. Many farmers talked about their experiences using different cover crops.

A sumptuous organic lunch followed after. Following the lunch, I could not resist the call of the trade show, beginning with Mapleton’s ice cream!

The passion for organic farming definitely came across when I was talking with the different people.

Day 3 – More Learning!

Sunday witnessed a whole new set of lectures on a wide variety of topics. I attended all the lectures dealing with orchards and the techniques growers use to prune, fertilize and maintain their orchards.

It was refreshing to hear from growers regarding their own experiences and it was very intriguing to listen to Paul, who talked about his experiences dealing with Sulphur imbalances using organic means like biochar, compost tea and EM microbes.

Elwood Quinn’s talk regarding pruning orchard trees was lively with his trademark brand of humor.

In the afternoon, I listened to Dr. Duane Falk. He talked about how we have been so disconnected from the whole process of plant breeding and how it would be beneficial for growers go back to breeding plants by themselves, like the old times.

He was the perfect example of the process and developed many varieties of potatoes himself. These talks were only a handful that I went to, and there were so many more that I could not take in due to parallel timings.

I got to talk with many people from the tradeshow.

It was interesting to see the different products ranging from SLS free toothpaste to dried organic tulsi basil leaves grown in our University’s farm (Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Gardening).

Guelph Organic Conference Trade Show 2017

Wonderful People & Lots of Passion!

It became very clear that people were genuinely interested in the process of organic farming and they were ready to sacrifice profits to stick to their regime because it was not only beneficial for them, but also to the soils and environment!

The passion was very noticeable and I couldn’t help but get pulled into it and it was one wonderful ride.

The energy is the conference is still thumping within me as I write this days later and I would highly recommend this conference to anyone who is interested to get involved with the organic movement.

I can’t wait for next year’s conference!

Shanthanu was one of 5 Eco-Scholars at the 2017 Guelph Organic Conference. To learn more about this program please visit here.

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Revenue Generating Farm Tools – Bushes and Trees

Sea Buckthorn berries

“Trees should be thought of like the tractor, the plow, and fertilizer – as tools to increase yields, profits and sustainability,” says Rob Johnson, Co-Owner of Terre Verde Homestead and Manager of the Green Legacy Programme for Wellington County.

Windbreak planting.As farmers, both large and small, explore ways to enhance their farm, bush and tree options may be the perfect add on.

“I don’t see corn or soybeans ever competing with the prices of chestnuts and hazelnuts. The income potential is there,” says Rob.

Hazelnuts & Chestnuts

“Hazelnuts, typically start producing nuts by year three with larger crops by year five,” says Rob.

“Yields of 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre are possible by year ten,” notes Todd Leuty, Agroforestry & Tree Nut Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

“Chestnuts require eight to ten years to start yielding nuts and can produce over 2,000 pounds per acre,” Rob notes.

Rob feels that potential revenue in the range of $2 to $3 per pound in shell wholesale for hazelnuts is realistic. For chestnuts, $12 to $15 per pound retail for flour.

But can these prices be sustained? “Even if farmers jumped at these opportunities, and acreage of these crops increased, I still think these prices will hold,” says Rob.

“Farmers who decide to market chestnuts and hazelnuts to consumers directly, through farmers markets for example, could realize even higher price premiums. The fats & nutrition of nuts is far superior and consumers are recognizing this,” emphasizes Rob.

Adam Dale, retired college professor emeritus, and Dr. Toktam Taghavi in the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, have been conducting research on bringing hazelnut production to Ontario together with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ontario Hazelnut Association.

Adam is quoted as saying, “30,000 acres of hazelnuts is not unreal in Ontario. There is a market for anything we produce.” Source

“I suggest farmers interested in nut crops start cautiously with 5 to 10 acres so that they can really understand the physical labour requirements to manage orchards and their costs of production. Even at these acreages, farmers will be considering specialized equipment to manage the harvest, plus post-harvest handling and storage accommodations,” says Todd.

“Effective insect and pest management is important. For example, with hazelnuts, late season weevils, filbert worm, defoliation by Japanese beetle, and bacterial blight infection can be issues,” adds Todd.

Sea buckthorn berries.

Super Berries

Sea Buckthorn, Haskap, Aronia, Gojiberries, Currants and Elderberries are just a few of the super berries Rob feels farmers should be considering. “Like nut trees, they not only offer nutritional benefits, but medicinal, environmental and economic advantages,” says Rob.

At their home, the Johnson family enjoy frozen Sea Buckthorn berries in their smoothies. Rob notes they have extremely high levels of antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin C as well as being loaded with omega 3,6,7 and 9. Beyond being a food source, they are also a popular ingredient in skin creams because of their vitamin E and omega 7 fatty acids. “I feel they offer great potential in Ontario,” says Rob.

Certain types of berry bushes can also work well on less desirable land notes Rob. “Haskap are a dark blue berry in the shape of drop, and these bushes can handle wet conditions.”

He adds that “Sea Buckthorn bushes are perfect for dry, sandy knolls that experience high winds. These bushes are nitrogen fixers. In their native habitat they are often found on wind swept dunes and survive almost anywhere.”

 Windbreak photo showing good yield beside it

Wind Breaks Increase Yields

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs estimate that windbreaks can increase crop yields up to 15 per cent. Source

Rob agrees that yield increases of 10-20% are reasonable. “The key is a properly designed windbreak that slows the wind but doesn’t stop it,” he notes. “A thick three layer wind break of evergreens is not ideal because it drops the snow on the other side where the ground stays frozen longer in the spring – making it tough for farmers to access those areas.”

Rob suggests windbreaks should be approximately 50% porosity to optimize yield increases.

“A properly designed wind break allows the wind to go through it, and can spread snow out evenly on the other side. An even blanket of snow protects the soil from erosion and helps prevent winter kill of hay (alfalfa),” says Rob.

He suggests evergreens. “Because their roots are more vertical, they cause less issues with equipment and provide better wind abatement in the winter than hardwoods,” notes Rob.

Living Snow Fence example

Living Snow Fences for Safety

“Depending on location, they typically are planted 30-60 metres from roads, at a spacing of 2 metres between each tree in a single row,” says Rob. White or Norway spruce and Colorado spruce are usually considered due to their tolerance of winter road salt.

Municipalities may provide funding support for living snow fences.

On roads in Wellington County, living snow fences are subsidized through the Rural Water Quality Program. Areas of ‘snow concern’ noted by the County Roads Department receive an additional payment.

In these areas, the County Roads Department pays 100% of the tree and planting costs. As well, the landowner receives approximately $4,000 for each linear kilometer of Living Snow Fence for allowing it to be planted.

“If you ever drive in the north of our county, you’ve likely had more than one white knuckled driving experience in a snow squall,” says Rob. He knows the incentive package and more living snow fences are making a difference.

Interested Wellington County landowners should contact Jessica Trzoch 519-546-2228 for more information.

Upcoming Workshop

At the 2017 Guelph Organic Conference Rob discussed trees further in his workshop “Carbon Farming and the Ecosystems Approach Using Trees.”


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Living the Green Dream

Catherine Stilo in her garden
“When did we lose our childlike wonder, sense of adventure, and willingness to explore and try new things?” asks Catherine Stilo.


Catherine Stilo in the garden

After 20+ years as a senior marketing executive in the manufactured food industry, Catherine took a huge leap of faith and decided to live more authentically.

She left the corporate world and began to actively pursue her passions for yoga, permaculture and sustainable living.

Making your Dream a Reality

Bees - Catherine StiloFor those dreaming of a greener lifestyle, homesteading or just being a bit radical in their own suburban backyard, Catherine provides suggestions and inspiration from her own experiences.

Getting Started is Critical

“Every one of us needs to take that one step to bring about change. There may be people who have yet to realize how critical decentralized food supplies are and how powerful self-reliance is and how easy it can be,” emphasizes Catherine.

Don’t Make the Excuse that You Have No Time

“Really?? All we have is time. When things are a priority we MAKE time, otherwise, we’re making excuses.”

Be Prepared to Leave your Comfort Zone

Trying something new and facing change can be difficult. “The feeling of being nervous and being excited is the same sensation with a different label,” says Catherine.

A favourite quote of Catherine’s is by Francis Chan – “Don’t fear failing, fear succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

“I Can’t Afford It” – Is Not A Valid Excuse

Catherine Stilo - Plants in Containers“This all depends on how your lifestyle change is approached,” says Catherine. “It can be expensive if that is what we tell ourselves and those are the choices we make.”

For example, Catherine notes that leftover materials from landscaping and building projects can be very helpful.

The gardening pots she uses were being thrown out by a retailer. Cinder blocks, bricks & wooden pallets she and her husband have picked up on freecycle have been perfect for creating microclimates, pathways, and frames for raised beds.

“Your green dream doesn’t have to be a huge life-altering drastic leap. Take a small step in the direction you want to go and that is the formula for success,” says Catherine.

“Know yourself and your limitations. Just do what you can, no judgement and no comparison.”

Letting Go

Catherine Stilo with basket of vegetablesCatherine notes that there were habits and beliefs that she needed to leave behind. At times she questioned her choices to leave the corporate world, her salary, and her title.

“Now it’s Mother Nature who gives me my performance review through the bounty of the harvest.”

Albeit smaller and more irregular then her previous paycheques, Catherine has built an income from teaching yoga and some business and managerial consulting.  She also counts as income the eggs from her tiny flock of Red Sex-Linked hens.  (Whose surplus eggs are shared with the neighbours.)  In coming years, as her hives become established, Catherine will also add honey sales as a small stream of revenue.

“It’s important to let go of your familiar and comfortable identity and the way you are defining yourself and your worth,” advises Catherine.

Being a perfectionist also had to go.

“I tended to be more rigid in my previous life. Those tendencies weren’t serving me in my previous life and definitely don’t serve me now. There are many ways to do things and there are no mistakes only lessons.”

Get Dirty, Create and Watch Something Grow

Working at the propertyOn her journey, Catherine has found authenticity and connection.

“I am the happiest I have ever been. I am living the life I want, aligned with my own truth and not what I think others expect,” says Catherine.

“With the changes I have made, I have found myself in such a vibrant community with amazing like-minded people who share the same values and ideals and help each other out all the time,” she adds.

Learn More

Catherine made the move from “big city” life to a small town homestead over several years. She now resides in Horning’s Mills, Ontario writing, teaching and working her way to an off-grid, self-sufficient life with her husband, John.

She is beginning to share her story and experiences through writing, workshops and lectures to help inspire other people to follow their hearts and make the changes they know are right.



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Exploring Organic Production in High Tunnels

Tomatoes in greenhouse


“High tunnels may be one of the very promising alternative low-cost technologies to use when facing global climate change,” says Dr. Youbin Zheng.

He is the leader of a group of researchers at the University of Guelph investigating using high tunnels to produce high-value organic vegetable and nutraceutical crops in Canadian climates.

Results from the project are highlighting several benefits of high tunnel production.

Increased Growing Degree Days

Tomatoes close upHigh tunnels can provide an early start in the spring for crops like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

The growing season can also be extended in the fall, by helping these plants avoid light frost.

Researchers in this project have been able to extend the growing season by roughly two months per year.

High Value Crop Production

“Unique, local and fresh produce can be marketed for a higher price,” notes Dr. Zheng.

He uses the example of bitter melon. “They are normally imported and are not that available in Canada. This is a high value crop that is able to provide minerals and vitamins, and has medicinal benefits for type II diabetic patients,” he notes.

Bitter melon, along with tonghao – an edible chrysanthemum, are two crops that love the heat and are being trialed as part of the project.

Crop in greenhouseAdditional Benefits

“High tunnel production can produce higher quality crops and reduce insects and pathogen damages,” says Dr. Zheng.

As part of the project, three of the six high tunnels have insect nets, and three without. He notes that, “in high tunnels, there is the opportunity to better control the growing environment. For a crop like strawberries, this can be very beneficial.”

The three-year project continues until 2017.

Dr. Youbin Zheng is an Associate Professor and the Environmental Horticulture Chair at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences.

Dr. Zheng presented on this topic at the 2017 Guelph Organic Conference.


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Permaculture Market Garden Q & A

Homestead Diagram by Zach Loeks

Zach Loeks in fieldIn this Question & Answer, Zach Loeks provides insight on how he uses the concepts of permaculture on his farm, located in Cobden, Ontario just over an hour north west of Ottawa.

How would you describe permaculture?

Permaculture is about better design of whole systems. It is about considering more than the narrow objective of immediate production.

It’s about broadening the farmer’s point of view to include numerous possibilities that can continue to compound into the future for truly sustainable production. 

I don’t believe there is any one definition of permaculture. I see permaculture as anything that is working to improve time, space and/or energy productivity while considering continuity into the future. 

What are some examples of how you have incorporated permaculture concepts into your farm? 

Garlic in boxes from Kula Garlic FarmOur farm is the sum of several enterprises.

  • Currently we operate a CSA, sell our garlic across Canada, offer various educational workshops and a children’s summer camp, as well as consult, speak and write.
  • As a whole, all of these micro-businesses integrate holistically and allow us to balance our production. This makes us more resilient and improves our quality of life.

We have integrated yearly tree planting into the farm rhythm. 

  • Each year we allocate a percentage of our expenses to improving soil.
  • This is a long-term investment for the farm to produce timber, firewood and fruits/nuts. But it also serves the farm more quickly as windbreaks, wildlife habitat, and soil improvement.

We have focused on building soil rather than putting our crops on a nutrient IV. 

  • We want the soil to be a powerful home for our plants to grow into and interact with. 
  • Healthy soil can improve crop yields through enhanced nutrient cycling, stabilizing soil against erosion and improving plant root penetration and anchoring.

What is a Permabed?

A Permabed is a Permanent Raised Agricultural Bed that is reformed and never destroyed. Each bed holds a permanent place in space. 

This is not your cedar board raised bed. Nor is it a bed formed by a tiller fluffing the soil while tires pack the path to give the impression of a raised bed. 

Permabeds have an undisturbed core of soil life conservation.  They allow growers to develop a unique relationship with each beds’ natural ecology, hydrology and pedology. Maintaining records of crop rotations is also easier.

Photo showing garden patterning by Zach LoeksWhat happened in your life to make you draw these connections between permaculture, farming and Permabeds?

I was tired of starting over every year from scratch.  Going out in the spring and looking out across an undifferentiated field of plowed and cover cropped land became daunting. 

Faced with the job of reforming a pattern each and every year, I thought maybe there is a way to build on the pattern instead. 

Maybe we could have a system of beds that allowed us to integrate perennial diversity using patterns that:

  • wouldn’t interfere with annual productivity
  • conserve soil without loss of market garden efficiency, and
  • layer ecosystem services for resilience

Cover crops on Zach Loeks farmHow important is it to integrate permaculture practices in agriculture?

All agriculture needs to move towards an ecosystem approach to farming – an efficient model that allows diverse production within each season and in each field. 

Organized and efficient management of diversity allows ecosystem services to:

  • help reduce cost and increase yields
  • enhance soil health and plant protection
  • build agro-ecological capital in the form of improved soil life functions
  • increase future yields of perennial crops
  • conserve water

We need to better map the Environmental Character of the land to discover better uses for its natural diversity

Overall, permaculture improves the profit resilience of the farm.

Can a backyard gardener benefit from using a Permabed concept?

Permabeds can be adopted on all scales. 

It is the principles that are important, soil life conservation cores, organizational land patterning, garden character mapping, etc.




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Canadian Organic Grains – Opportunities & Challenges

Grain field with people in background

Published Nov 10, 2016

As demand for organic products increases in Canada, organics has become one of the fastest growing food markets in the agri-food sector.

“Since 2006, the value of the Canadian organic food market has tripled, far exceeding the growth rate of other agri-food sectors,” as noted in Organic Advantage – Transition to Higher Profits

In this Question & Answer with Aabir Dey of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, we look at the opportunities and challenges associated with the growing demand for organic grains.

What does the current Canadian organic grain situation look like?

Prairie organic grain production has been in a state of severe supply shortage for the past several years.

Canadian processors often have to reduce their organic product offerings, or source ingredients overseas where supply is more readily available.

What are the financial benefits to farmers growing organic grains?

Grain trials in ManitobaGross margins are significantly higher than conventional grain production.

In an example involving a grain rotation in the brown soil zone of Saskatchewan revenue was $180.49 per acre in organic versus $60.05 per acre in conventional. 

On the expense side, less investment is required per acre to grow an organic crop due to fewer input costs.

On the revenue side producers receive higher price premiums for organic crops.

Organic yields tend to be lower than conventional yields, but the price premiums compensate for this.

All this being said, the quality of the grain must be high and the market needs to be monitored carefully to ensure that the market is not flooded which can lower prices and cause price instability.

Which grain crops are most profitable to grow organically?

According to a study published by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) the most profitable crops to adopt while transitioning into organics are winter wheat, hemp (for oil production), hard red spring wheat, oats, brown flax, and spring spelt.

Visit here for organic grain price updates. 

You emphasize that organic grain quality is important. Why?

Organic wheat field.The higher the quality the more profitable it is for the farmer. Higher quality allows farmers to access more markets.

Organic grain goes to food, feed and seed and each has its own quality expectations. Also, high quality grain means high quality seed for farmers to replant.

Canada’s grain quality standards are high, and understandably so, as some of the best grain in the world.

Subsequently it is essential that organic growers implement soil, weed, pest, fertility, and nutrient management strategies that maximize grain quality.

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative has consulted with grain buyers and found that there can be some concerns about the quality of organic grain.

Some of these quality issues are related to weather, however, many of the quality issues could potentially be addressed by changes in crop management practices.

Good quality grain can definitely be achieved under organic farming conditions, but there needs to be support on training and knowledge transfer for farmers to do so consistently.

Are there any Canadian programs that are helping increase the supply or organic grains?

Farmers in grain fieldThe Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is a good example. It is a partnership of the three provincial organic associations, with funding from the industry-supported Prairie Organic Development Fund, matched federal funding and partnerships with several industry stakeholders.

It has three main objectives:

  1. increase the numbers of new organic producers
  2. improve the quality and quantity of existing organic grains
  3. increase markets for Canadian organic grains

Actions being taken to achieve this include:

  • Providing educational resources and on farm supports for transitioning producers
  • Developing and distributing organic research
    Conducting market research
  • Promoting organic brand awareness

More dedicated support programs for organic production are needed in Canada.

How are organic growers supported in other markets?

Both the European Union and the United States – two of Canada’s main organic trading partners for grain – regularly invest in domestic organic production.

Programs help existing, and transitioning growers through research and market development programs.

For example, there was a recent $56 million dollar investment in organic from the USDA. Since 2014, in the EU Common Agricultural Policy, there has been mandated support for organic farming.

How is organic seed availability?

The current market value of purchased seed for organic and transitioning operators is estimated to be $30 million according a Canada Organic Trade Association Research Study. This value is expected to increase accordingly over time.

Currently, organic growers have the following options to procure field crop seed for their operation:

  • purchase double certified organic seed
  • purchase conventional untreated certified seed
  • purchase common seed, or
  • save their own seed.

Producing good quality organic seed is challenging for many organic growers due to the increased responsibilities for nutrient, fertility, weed, pest, and disease management under organic conditions.

The University of Manitoba has been developing knowledge transfer programs to produce good quality organic seed, but more training programs are needed across Canada.

What kind of impact are “natural” and “GMO-free” products having on demand?

Many see these types of products as a threat to organics, and they do undermine the organic brand. However, it’s also important to note that they are a response to the lack of organic supply.

Having a good quality supply of organic grains would help processors focus on the organic brand, as opposed to market substitutes.

Why is diversity important?

It is not enough to merely replace monocultures of conventionally grown wheat, with organic wheat.

If we truly want to build an organic farming system that is resilient, we need to ensure that we are growing a diversity of field crops. Doing so allows us to

  • cater to different markets
  • mitigate our ecological impact on the land, and
  • diversify both economic and ecological risk.

Each year at the Guelph Organic Conference there are many opportunities to learn about Organic Crop Production.

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Composting and Vermicomposting for Farmers

A simple vermicomposting pile in a farmer's barn.

Worms from vermicomposting“Compost builds soil organic matter faster than the application of raw manure,” says Glenn Munroe, composting and vermicomposting expert, avid student of soil health, and proprietor of Worms and Associates.

With many years of experience, Glenn feels that farmers and their crops have lots to benefit from when adding compost and other related options into their soil health tool box.

“The composting process kills weed seeds and pathogens, a significant benefit from both agronomic and health perspectives,” he notes.

“Compost also boosts soil health by feeding the soil food web: parasitic/pathogenic fungi and root-feeding nematodes are serious pests. With healthy soil, beneficial micro-organisms such as saprophytic fungi, mycorrhizal fungi and predatory nematodes can help control these.”

Healthy soil also improves overall immunity. “For example, plants produce certain substances that help them resist disease organisms. Recently, scientists have discovered that mycorrhizal fungi in healthy soil will transport a chemical alarm to all plants in an area if one of them is attacked. This allows the other plants to start producing their defensive arsenal ahead of actual infection.”

Only for Small Farmers?

Glenn suggests farm operations of all sizes could benefit from increasing their use of compost, vermicompost, compost extracts and teas.

“These tools are more often utilized by those with small acreages, such as market gardeners or small livestock operations. However, there is no actual limit of the number of acres, so operators of larger farms could also significantly benefit from using these tools.”

Vermicompost – Thinking Beyond Compost

Composting is just one solution Glenn recommends. “Vermicompost is compost on steroids – it typically has more readily available nutrients and beneficial microbes.”

One downside of vermicomposting is that the process does not kill weed seeds. “For this reason, most vermicomposting operations pre-compost their feedstocks for a few days before feeding them to the worms,” notes Glenn.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is another option and can accomplish a couple of objectives. “It allows a limited supply of compost or vermicompost to go a lot farther. It also can be used as a foliar spray to apply beneficial micro-organisms to leaves,” says Glenn.

A simple vermicomposting pile in a farmer's barn.

Above is a simple vermicomposting system in a farmer’s barn. This was an experiment and not a full-scale system, but it can be this simple if you have the right space.

Getting Started

Simple vermicomposting system using cinder blocks.

On-farm composting (or even vermicomposting) can be done without a lot of work if you have the right equipment and the space to do it, says Glenn. “Generally, the equipment needed is typical farm equipment. Larger farms may find it more effective to invest in specialized equipment.”

Glenn advises that farm-scale worm bins can be any size, as long as farmers have the space. “Small farms can fairly easily build a basic bin that uses manure and/or crop residues. It’s normally not very expensive to build a vermicomposting bin, depending on what materials you choose to use, as well as what you might already have on hand.”

One type of bin construction farmers can consider is using straw bales. “Using straw bales for walls is one fairly straightforward option. A floor of some kind is a good idea to protect the bin from burrowing animals,” says Glenn. “Red wigglers or compost worms typically already live on farms in manure piles, meaning that these often do not need to be purchased,” he notes.

Protein Perk for Chickens

In Nova Scotia, Glenn helped a farmer build a vermicomposting system with cinder blocks. She fed the worms to her chickens by forking the compost with worms onto a flat wheelbarrow and letting them eat the worms from the compost. This provided the chickens with a good protein source as organic egg layers. Production went up significantly when worm protein was substituted for grain. The remaining worm castings were used for seedlings in the spring.

A chicken eating worms from vermicompost.


Learn More

For over two decades Glenn has focused on soil, helping growers and turf managers fine-tune their soil biology, as well as researching and writing on soil and agricultural issues. Currently, he owns and operates a composting worm farm – Worms and Associates, as well as consults on outdoor vermicomposting design and installation for schools, institutions and farmers.



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Promotional Opportunities for Speakers, Exhibitors, Sponsors

Ivan Chan Blue Oyster Fruitings - Blog Feature Photo

Guelph Organic Conference 2017
Promotional Opportunities for Speakers, Exhibitors, Sponsors ONLY

Step 1 – Review the following
Step 2 – Email all requests to Susan at [email protected]
Step 3 – Be sure to start your subject line with “GOC Promo Request – [topic]”

Promotion via Facebook

The main goal of posts is to generate interest about the conference through eye catching, interesting posts.

*Your post should tie back to your workshop, or conference involvement in some way.


If you feel you have a terrific post from your own Facebook page, drop Susan a quick email and she will consider sharing it. (Maximum one share every 2 weeks.)

Example, “Hi Susan, please visit our Facebook page at

We just did a post about [topic] and wanted to mention it to you.”

Facebook Post Explanation Diagram


This option takes more work but is likely to reach more people via the conference Facebook page.

Every speaker, exhibitor and sponsor is welcome to submit content for one post via our Facebook page. Specific workshops, and higher level sponsors can submit more.

*We will be promoting this opportunity more this year. We hope to do as many posts as possible, but if volume is high it is at the Communications Coordinator & Conference Managers discretion which posts will be done.

To be featured in a Facebook post provide the following.

  • at minimum 2 different photos (as large a file size as you have so I can crop to specific sizes for the post)
  • 2 to 3 sentences that relate to the photos
  • your website link (will be used if needed)
*Deadline for submitted content is December 1, 2016.
Allow 4-12 weeks for content to be worked into the schedule.

Promotion via Twitter

  • Include the conference account name in your own tweet.
  • Our Twitter account name is @guelphorganic
  • Visit our Twitter account and retweet or quote tweets.
  • Use the conference hashtag #goc17

Promotion via our Enewsletter / Articles / Releases

Space in our enewsletter is very limited. If you would like something to be considered please provide

  • a website link where the full article or information can be found
  • at minimum you must provide one image.

There is no guarantee of publication.

Promotion via the Guelph Organic Conference Website

  • Opportunities are limited.
  • Sponsors receive logo recognition as per their level of commitment.
  • Exhibitors are listed.


Workshop Descriptions

Make sure to provide the following to promote your workshop…

  • An interesting 1-2 sentence summary.
  • 75-100 word description. Use bullet points to organize your description and make it easy to read.
  • An extra 2-3 sentences to describe key points from your background and/or why you will be a great presenter.
  • 1-2 photos related to your presentation (ie. garden photo, produce photo)
  • 1 close up photo of yourself (shoulders & head –selfies acceptable)

(all photos should ideally be jpegs and be as large in file size as possible)

Updated Nov 7 2016 sr

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A Day in the Life of an Audio Visual Assistant at the Guelph Organic Conference

A few of the speakers 2016 Guelph Organic Conference

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.

Trade Show Guelph Organic Conference 2016


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.

Attendees listening to speaker 2016

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.

Speakers at Guelph Organic Conference in 2016

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.

Speakers Guelph Organic Conference 2016

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!

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What do we see? 2016 Keynote Forum

Crowd at Guelph Organic Conference panel discussion

Article & photos by Mary Wales

This past weekend it was that time of year again: the time of gourmet organic chocolate samples from Giddy YoYo and Coco Camino, washed down with a cup of fresh organic carrot juice from Pfenning’s Organic Farm.

This past weekend was the Guelph Organic Conference!  

2016 Organic Dinner

On the Friday evening of the conference I was thrilled to attend the keynote forum along with about 100 others. It took place, as I’ve always known it to, in Thornbrough Hall, a University of Guelph building about ten steps away from the University Centre, the location of the trade show and most of the other conference events.

The panel was cheerfully moderated by Sarah Dobec of The Big Carrot, Toronto’s famed organic retailer.

Four speakers took their panelists seats: Dag Falck of Nature’s Path Foods, Pat Kozowyck of BabaLink Organic Farm, Ekk Pfenning of Pfenning’s Organic Vegetables and Gillian Flies of The New Farm.

Some of the panelists at the 2016 Organic Forum

The overall topic of this year’s panel was “innovation, vision and change”, and with a wealth of experience at the panel table, the discussion got off to a great start and began with the topic of “change”.

While one of the panelists displayed a certain amount of concern over the fact that the organic sector and organic food today may be experiencing what was termed “conventionalization” (organic food going mainstream and potentially losing its integrity), there was consensus among the panelists that organic food becoming more of a norm is certainly a success worth celebrating.

Moving forward, Dag Falck of Nature’s Path Foods stated how the organic sector should continue to speak “honestly and ethically” with consumers.  

Next was the topic of innovation.

As three of the four panelists were operate organic farms, this part of the discussion naturally centered upon the farming side of things.

Gillian Flies pointed out how she’s been proud to see her farm grow to include an upcoming local food education centre and commercial kitchen.

She also spoke of her farm’s philanthropic vision — as of last year The New Farm has donated over $250,000 worth of produce to The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto. For Flies, innovation has always been at the core of her work.

The next topic of discussion encompassed visions for the future.

All of the panelists agreed that more government support and programs are needed for Canada’s organic sector.

Currently, any Ontario grower selling in the province can call their produce “organic” whether their products are certified and grown in line with the Canada Organic Standard or not. This raised considerable concern among the panelists, with one panelist in particular calling for stronger provincial support as well. 

The panel also proposed an awareness campaign to educate the public about organic food and agriculture, as well as mandatory labeling of GMOs. 

“Resources for conventional agriculture need to be shifted towards organic agriculture,” said Flies.

The audience for this year’s panel discussion broke out into enthusiastic and lengthy applauses a number of times over the evening; the panelists sure undoubtedly inspired the room and brought up ideas that a rang true with much of the crowd.

Crowd at Friday Night Forum

By question time, the two microphones on either side of the room had lengthy ques and the moderator just wasn’t able to get to everyone. From teenagers to grandparents, the panelists sure gave the diverse audience some new food for thought and challenges to be solved in the future.

And like with most issues, it was also clear that we may need to challenge our basic assumptions if we are truly going to get anywhere, which was summed up perfectly by Pat Kozowyk quoting a native elder when speaking of innovation: “’We only see what we’ve been taught to see’”, she reminded us.