Research, policy and farm tours were on the agenda as the Certified Organic Associations of BC gathered in Richmond for its annual conference on February 28-March 1.
A key theme running through the conference, however, was how to explain organic agriculture to a new generation. With the title, “The Future of Organic,” several speakers touched on the challenges facing organic agriculture as it becomes mainstream and production increases.
Keynote speaker Dag Falck, organic program manager with Nature’s Path Foods Inc., warned listeners against carpetbagger corporations lacking a complete picture of what organic production is about.
“These companies are riding on the wave,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities for greenwashing, or what I call fraud.”
Organic agriculture is about more than not using pesticides or chemicals, he said, but about soil health. While a growing number of initiatives talk about engaging in regenerative agriculture – a term whose popularity peaked in the early 1990s, and found a place in the names of groups such as the BC Association for Regenerative Agriculture – Falck said organic producers need to reclaim the term.
“Stand up for organic and put us on the map in this regenerative conversation,” he urged. “We’re going to lose if we don’t start telling out story.”
Soil health was the focus of Pemberton potato farmer and Country Life in BC columnist Anna Helmer’s presentation on biodynamics. Kickstarted by Austria’s Rudolf Steiner in a lecture 1924, the movement developed a series of practices now certified by Demeter. However, it also has its share of skeptics who question its more esoteric aspects. Helmer was one, but was won over by the effects she saw in her fields.
“The soil gets it, and that’s what matters,” she said.
Practical lessons in organic agriculture were showcased during tours of demonstration farms at UBC and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
A highlight of the conference was a Saturday evening banquet, which extended thanks to former executive director Jen Gamble as well as Carmen Wakeling, who stepped down after five years as president. DeLisa Lewis (right), who farms near Duncan, won the Brad Reid Memorial Award for her service to the industry as both a mentor and an accreditation board member, while Jon and Sher Alcock of Sunshine Farm in Kelowna received the Bedrock Award for their work as seed suppliers to the organic sector in BC and community builders who provide meaningful work to people living with mental health issues and other challenges.
“Sunshine Farm is an invaluable resource to the entire farming community,” said Rebecca Kneen in presenting the Alcocks with their award.