The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (or ACORN) holds a conference yearly, moving through locations in NS, NB, and PEI. I think it has become the best farming conference in Canada!
This year’s conference was the biggest it’s ever been with attendees coming not only from within Atlantic Canada, but all across Canada and the Northeast U.S.
Here are some highlights from this year’s conference (held in Halifax….next year’s will be in PEI). Bryan and I typically attend different sessions and so our highlights are different.
- Visiting Off Beat Farm in Cow Bay. This technically happened outside of the ACORN conference but we stayed overnight with farmers Sarah and Jamie right before the conference (since they live pretty darn close to Halifax). We’d never been to their place and were so happy to see them and their farm. Their mushroom production is also really inspiring…perhaps we’ll try growing some mushrooms at some point down the road.
- Chris Blanchard. I’ve enjoyed articles by Chris in Growing for Market and reading the Fearless Farm Finances book that he contributed to and so was really looking forward to hearing him speak in person. He did not disappoint! All of his sessions were inspiring and useful. I took a ton of notes, especially in his session on Commercial Culinary Herb Production which is something we’re interested in expanding. (Check out this recent blog post he wrote about getting the most out of attending conferences!)
- Michelle Wolf (formerly known as Michelle Summer Fike) gave a number of marketing oriented sessions. I’d seen her speak at the Farmers’Markets of NS one-day conference held this past summer in Truro. She was an amazing speaker both times and I love absorbing her messages. Every business owner should hear her speak; regardless of the business they’re in!
- John Bliss and Stacey Brenner from Broadturn Farm in Maine. I’ve been following their blog for years and was super excited that they were speaking at the conference this year. Their ability to manage vegetable and flower farming is a huge inspiration for me. Their session on Flowers and Floristry was the only session in the whole conference that both Bryan and I attended (we typically divide and conquer) which I was so happy about because cut-flowers are a newer enterprise for us and it’s really important that we have a similar vision for the direction the flowers will take us.
- Seed Growers meeting. This was a meeting for people who have shown an interest in, and commitment to seed production (from beginners to experts). It was essentially a round-table meeting, discussing solutions and challenges in Atlantic Canada’s local seed industry. Bonus: Vandana Shiva shared lunch with us and then answered questions from the group! Check out Bauta’s website for info about the great seed work they’re doing all across the country. And read this interview-style blog post with Steph Hughes, Bauta’s Atlantic Regional Coordinator.
In this picture, I’m sitting on a panel next to Chris Blanchard and Michelle Wolf and we’re listening to Allison Grant from Southfield Organics speak about her approach to pricing.
- David Greenberg, from Abundant Acres: It is always enjoyable to see David at the conference and glean some of the information that he and Jen so generously give. His session on Following the Fortier Method was based on his successful experience this past season at their home farm and at Bethany Gardens (the showcase for trying out the Fortier Method). Key points were tighter carrot row spacing (4 or 5 rows in a 30” bed was optimal for yield), and the use of flame weeding following the use of silage tarps for weed control. What’s the Fortier Method? It’s based on the farming practices of Jean-Martin Fortier, farmer at Les Jardins de la Grelinette in QC, and author of The Market Gardener (read Shannon’s review of the book here).
- Tim Livingstone, from Strawberry Hill Farm: Season Extension and Equipping for Efficiency. I’m always interested to hear Tim talk and see what new information I can gather from his vast knowledge of organic vegetable production. Standouts from his Efficiency session included the use of a barrel washer for salad mixes and baby greens as well as using clear Bio360 for early cole crops to give them a better boost in spring when soil biota are still waking up. It was impressive to see the greens that they produce throughout the winter in their corner of New Brunswick with the use of minimally heated greenhouse structures.
- Lenny Levine: Growing Great Garlic. It was amazing to hear the process and procedures of garlic growing from someone who has focused on this one crop for 3 decades. Lenny is meticulous and methodical in his approach to garlic and the results show that what he is doing works. Use of green manures, and vigilance for disease control during all stages of growth, harvest, curing, and planting stock selection gives Mr. Levine a great looking crop (8000 bulbs averaging 55-60 grams).
- Rosalie Madden/Derek Lynch: Session on Green Manures. Rosalie is a Masters student at DAL AC who shared some preliminary findings from her research on growing cover crops to supply Nitrogen to subsequent crops. I look forward to hearing the results from her research. Derek Lynch presented some really great big picture aspects to sustainability in farming. I was interested to hear him say that research has shown soil with lower phosphorus levels in organic systems can perform just as well as high phosphorus levels in conventional systems. Both of these research topics are particularly important as providing these macro-nutrients in a smarter way is and will be necessary to produce good food now and in years to come.
Even though the ACORN conference is geared towards organic farmers, there are often some sessions or sometimes even full-day or half-day streams for organic eaters. So, whether you are a farmer, aspiring farmer or an organic eater, I encourage you to explore the ACORN website where you’ll find notes from conference sessions (throughout the years) and information about upcoming events (also keep in touch with ACORN by following them on facebook and twitter).