Comments on the 2014 Guelph Organic Conference
I attended the Guelph Organic Conference at the University of Guelph on Saturday February 1, 2014. Jodi Koberinski, executive director of the Organic Council of Ontario, asked for my observations on the conference. Here are some:
1. Based on the large attendance (500+) and large number of exhibitors (170) this event must be judged a major success. If the weather had not been so nasty on the Saturday of the conference, the attendance would undoubtedly have been even higher.
2. In some ways it resembles the Ontario Plowing Match with many exhibitors selling/promoting just about anything and everything. However, the speaking program is much more important at the Guelph Organic Conference.
3. Both the audience and the exhibitors were highly diverse and included: profit-oriented farmers (a distinct minority, I believe), farm suppliers and farm produce buyers, organic food wholesalers and retailers, organic farm certifiers, book and publication marketers, educational/research institutions, advocacy and farm groups, some snake oil and trinket sales people, students, and a large number of gardeners and homeowners. My guess is that gardeners, homeowners and the exhibitors themselves represented the largest percentage of the conference attendees.
4. I could only attend a few of the speaker presentations since several of these occurred simultaneously. I am relying on written summaries of presentations I did not attend for some of my observations. In my opinion, the presentations ranged from outstanding to really weird – at least from a perspective of someone like me with a science and farm background. At one extreme was Essex County organic farmer, Roger Rivest, presenting excellent information on how to control pests (chiefly weeds) in organic farming. On the other hand, there was an organic consultant recommending phosphate soil fertility levels which were extremely (irresponsibly high in my view, 100 ppm phosphate if I heard him right) and telling the audience that 1) the sugar from GM sugar beets is less healthy than that from non-GM beets (100% sucrose in both cases) and 2) they should promote unpasteurized milk.