2017 Conference Summary

The EFAO 2017 Conference was like a family gathering for me. I arrived with my partner and farmer mentor, walked into the main room which was actually glowing with people who had gathered from all over Ontario ready for a full meal. Many were hugging and sharing stories of the closing season, some looking like they were a bit overwhelmed with all the options for activities, and then there was the amazing group of people, mostly women, who were the glue of the gathering—bustling around making sure everyone was welcomed and knew where they were going. It felt good to be there!

The first workshop I went to (Collaborative Farming), I was instantly drawn to the work of Sally Miller, as if a progressive aunt, she began with a land acknowledgement of the traditional territory of the Chipawaw Nation on Treaty 16 land with a poem by a local Indigenous author. Wow! I left with a warm buzz after hearing about the work on cooperatives by all of the speakers, taking with me some highlights that I am going to act on:

  • 3 members needed to form a worker co-op.
  • Co-op land ‘ownership’/trust is a way to maintain land for food and return or share land with Indigenous communities.
  • Sociocracy has many tools for consensus decision-making in groups.
  • The Local Food and Farm Cooperatives Network has a listing of social justice focused farms under “Co-ops For All”. Inspiration!
  • Cooperatives = democracy in action in the workplace. One member = one vote.

The next workshop reminded me of having dinner with an uncle who has different views than I do (to put it politely). The presenter encouraged capitalizing on opportunities, valuing certain people as customers (if they could pay), being authentic in our stories but not too authentic because customers may not like the truth. Like most dinners with my uncles, there were moments for clarification, larger group sharing that broadened perspectives, and room to walk to blow off steam (nice work self-empathy). Some important pieces that I took away from this workshop:

  • We need to remember that capitalism puts a lot of value on production and that can be very exclusionary, especially to folks who live in poverty and/or people who are homeless. How can we care about them and see them as people we want to serve?
  • Sliding Scale is a practice of setting a higher than average option for payment with a little note saying “Please consider if you have the means to share so that we can provide for the people in our communities who currently don’t have the means to access our amazing product.” Combine with a waiting list for a subsidized share/product or drop off at a food bank, community kitchen, refugee family, etc.
  • Surveys and 30-minute conversations with customers can be very helpful in guiding farm business practices.
  • Getting people to the farm is #1 way of building customer relations.

After dinner, there was a sweet gathering of ever-expanding young people and new farmers. 60+ people showed up to discuss issues on our minds. Topics came up around finding affordable land (matching with current land-owners as one solution!), wanting more people to join farming community in Northern Ontario, racism and sexism in farming communities, staying motivated while working solo, and many more. Half the group skadattled off to the pub to continue their conversations over drinks while the other half huddled in the workshop room, circled up mulling over shared ideas. It was really sweet, similar to the jokes and story telling time of my childhood beforegoing to sleep.

Many more events filled the 3 days of the conference. A strong story keynote lit up spirits, the annual general meeting comprehensively laid out the full picture of EFAO 2017, people shared why “healthy soil is important to them”, poultry was pastured(!), tree tricks were traversed, cost of production was preached as a savior of small farms (The Organic Farmers Business Handbook – Richard Wiswall as a resource) and now I’m a believer! People huffed and sighed with both relief and anguish as we learned about social media for diverse marketing of our goods, and, with delicious lunch awaiting, we learned of the changing landscape of “Organics in Canada…and Ontario”. Woof, what a gathering!

Overall, I had a blast seeing my farming family, I was inspired to make changes at the farm where I work and in my life. I’m looking forward to our next reunion at EFAO 2018 Conference and many thanks to all of the people who put this one together!

Summary by Paul Wartman