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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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).
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!