Learning, Debate, and Collaboration at our 2018 AGM & Policy Forum

Ontario's organic sector keeps on growing.

The Organic Council of Ontario's annual general meeting gave members a chance to learn from each other and to see how the organization works on their behalf. More than 80 people participated in the event held at the beautiful Country Heritage Park in Milton.

Changes to OCO's Board of Directors

This year, three new members were elected to the OCO board of directors, and the resulting board selected an all-new executive committee. A warm welcome to Catriona Ffrench, Krysten Cooper and David Cohlmeyer, our newest board members.

Rob Wallbridge was made President and Chair of the board, while Bill Redelmeier returned to his role as Vice President (he last held the role in 2016), Sarah Grant assumed the position of Secretary, and Joel Aitken became Treasurer.  We'd also like to thank outgoing Vice-President Sarah Bakker, Secretary Mary Wales, Producer Representative Derek Beishuizen, and Officer & Treasurer, Lindsay Derat for their service.

Members at the meeting also took time to acknowledge the contributions of Tom Manley, outgoing President & Chair, who provided excellent and much-needed leadership to OCO during a time of great change within the organization. 

Meet our new board.

Policy Forum

In addition to the formal Annual General Meeting of the Organic Council of Ontario, a number of informative and sometimes controversial panels were held throughout the day, offering members a chance to learn from their peers and to ask questions of thought leaders, politicians, and other organizations who are involved in some of the key issues facing the organic sector.

The Future of Soil Health

Our first session of the day saw an in-depth look at how to regenerate and enrich our soils. Sarah Bakker moderated the discussion by OCO board member Thorsten Arnold, Owen Goltz of Riverdale Farm & Forest, organic consultant Ruth Knight and Dr. Ralph Martin from the University of Guelph. Key points included building a stronger soil stewardship collaboration for farmers, getting a commitment for measuring soil organic content across the province every five years, and to replace dominance of corn, soy and wheat with diversified annual and perennial cropping systems.

What Retailers Want: Organic Demand from the Retailer's Perspective

Retail representatives offered advice and insight into how to build stronger relationships with consumers. Moderated by Roman Plawiuk, OCO Board Member & Owner-Operator Huron Sun Foods, the panel included Dave Meli from the Healthy Butcher, Cameron Dale from Evergreen, and Emmalea Davis from Mama Earth Organics. Our experts recommended that producers develop a stronger understanding of who buys their products, build their brand online, and learn to tell compelling stories about their products.

Hydroponic: A Soiled Reputation?

Rob Wallbridge moderated a lively discussion about the potential recognition of hydroponics in organic production. Participants included Marco deLeonardis of Freeman Herbs, Niki Bennett from Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Ian Adamson of Greenbelt Microgreens, and Brandon Hebor of Ripple FarmsFrom the discussion it was clear that the debate will continue as Canada's federal organic standards come up for review — and that organic businesses in Ontario are concerned about the enforcement of rules prohibiting importing hydroponic products certified as organic from the United States.  Some clear points for consideration in further discussion and next steps include:

  • Unfair competition for Canadian growers along the border: should they be allowed to sell hydroponic producer directly to the US under the NOP?  If not, they may just move operations.
  • Can there be biological activity in soil-less environments?  Is there a difference between aquaponics, bio-ponics and hydroponics in this regard?
  • Should there be a sub-category label: e.g. organic hydroponic?  Sustainable aquaponic?

Foodland Ontario Organic: How to Promote Local Organic

Barbara Smith from Foodland Ontario offered a number of insights into the provincial marketing initiative. To date, the organization has more than 50 agreements with organic businesses and Smith outlined steps producers can take to successfully work with the Foodland Ontairo Organic designation. Members of OCO and attendees of the forum were pleased to learn more about the program, and some were surprised to hear of its existence. They provided feedback about the branding initiative to date, which OCO will compile. 

Where's the Beef? Addressing the Lack of Organic Abattoirs

Sarah Bakker moderated this discussion on the challenges of getting organic meat to market. Participants included Ecocert's Joel Aitken, James Sculthorpe from Yorkshire Valley Farms, Ted Zettel of Zettel Family Farms and the Healthy Butcher's Dave Meli. They discussed the challenges facing organic producer in depth, such as access to cost-effective and nearby processing facilities, marketing strategies, the role of the organic label in face of consumer confusion, and the need to reassess financing options to strengthen organic meat supply chains.

Organic Products Act and Small-Scale Supports

John Saunders, OCO's Policy and Research Coordinator, gave a brief update on Bill 153 (the Organic Products Act) and discussed preliminary findings from this winter's small-producer survey. Overall, respondents supported regulation in theory, but had different perspectives on how to achieve certification for all producers and processor. Executive Director Carolyn Young outlined possible scenarios for introducing a check-off program for organic, with the aim of raising stable and adequate funding to represent the sector's interests.

Financing Organic Growth

Carolyn Young moderated this discussion on raising capital for organic production. Panelists included Lars Boggild from Vancity Community Investment Bank, Sally Miller of Local Food and Farm Co-ops, and Anahita Belanger of F2 Inc. Farm Fund. They each offered different perspectives on farm funding, from extending institutional support to smaller producers to coop development to long-term lease-to-own models via pooled capital.

Putting Organic on the Platform

Our final session saw representatives from Ontario's Green Party, Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party discuss how their party would support the organic sector. OCO Vice President Bill Redelmeier moderated the conversation, which saw Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin and Conservative MPP Sylvia Jones all agree on the importance of organic to Ontario, albeit with different approaches to helping it grow. One key result of this conversation was a commitment from McMeekin to support the bill, and even an offer to co-sponsor!

A Community Comes Together

The day concluded with a tractor ride/ tour of the Country Heritage Park and a Local Organic Tasting Experience. Food and drink samples were provided by Ying Ying Soy Food, Cookstown Greens, Southbrook Vineyards, Wagram Springs, Mapleton's Organic, Reimer Vineyards, Frogpond Farm Organic Winery, King's Lock Craft Distillery, St. Brigid's Dairy and the Olivar Corp.

Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant Review Team member Robert Maier was on hand at our reception to congratulate OCO’s members on receiving funding to examine how best to meet the needs of small-scale producers considering organic certification.

Thank You

Thank you so much to volunteers Kristen Howe and Julia Buchan for all their help in keeping the day running smoothly. We would also like to thank our sponsors: The Big Carrot, Mama Earth Organics, Pro-Cert Organic, OCIA, Local Food and Farm Co-ops, National Farmers Union - Ontario, Agricorp, Mapleton's Organic, Crofter's Organic, Pfenning's Organic, Greenbelt Microgreens, Yorkshire Valley Farms, Planet Bean Coffee, Organic Garage, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Harmony Organic, and Mike & Mike's Organics. We also offer special thanks to GTA Caterer for coordinating snacks and lunch for the event.

Comments are closed.