Highlights from the 2013 ACORN Conference

From November 20th to the 22nd three of my colleagues and I had the pleasure of attending the 14th annual Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) conference. The four of us piled into the smallest rental I’ve ever seen and made our way to Moncton, New Brunswick. The conference was three jam packed days of workshops, discussions, movement building and celebration. It draws farmers, foodies, academics, activists and business people all under one roof. I really enjoyed my time there and wanted to share five highlights from the event with you.

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Positive Energy

One of the most immediate impressions I got from the conference was an overwhelming sense positivity and optimism. Conversations about the food system can often careen towards the morose – with so many challenges ahead of us, we often lose sight of the amazing things going on around us. ACORN did an exceptional job of highlighting the enormous amount of work being done around local and organic food in Atlantic Canada. Those in attendance radiated their hopefulness and enthusiasm. Rather than leaving the conference feeling slightly concussed by a wallop of grim projections (as I have after other conferences), I left feeling energized and full of new ideas.

The Workshops

The workshops were challenging and very well done. I must admit that some of them were a bit beyond me, but they pushed me to think harder about how I integrate more detailed information into the workshops I provide. In particular, I found the workshops on season extension, seed-saving, and soil health of particular value. The season extension workshop with Paul and Sandy Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farms taught me things about root cellaring I would have never imagined. With years of experimentation, and precise environmental controls, this power duo are able to preserve delicate vegetables such as lettuce, radish and spinach for 4 to 6 weeks and beyond! And with more traditional storage veg, they’re storing well into their next growing season. It seems that I’ve got some experimenting to do.

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The Food and Drink Providers

All of the food for the meals was procured from local producers and demonstrated the wealth of vegetables and grains we have available to us here on the Eastern seaboard. To get us through those long stretches between meals, we also had a delicious selection of snacks and bevvies to choose from. Just Us provided fair trade organic coffee and chocolate – of which I indulged generously. And just as the coffee and chocolate jitters set in, Speerville Flour had fresh made breads on hand, baked in their portable wood-fired oven. As the afternoon chugged along into the evening, Picaroons kept us well lubricated with delicious seasonal brews. I suspect that their generosity may have contributed to the convivial feel of the event, but who knows.

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The Presence of Dudes

In my day to daywork I often find myself meditating on the question “where are all the dudes”? As much as I love the work I do, and the colleagues I do it with, in the non-profit world there is a serious lack of fellas. Well, at this event, my quintessential query was answered. The fellas are farming, and thank god for them! Plenty of beards and plaid adorned the conference canvass. The audience had a refreshingly equal gender balance that restored faith in lost souls like myself, that men are also interested in food issues. Also, refreshing was the amount of young female farmers too. At least in the field of farmers, the scales are leveling out. Now all we have to do is convince more gents to jump on board the non-profit wagon.

Seedy Friday

Always a favorite the Seedy Friday event was a blast. As the Bauta Family Initiative demonstrates, the importance of locally adapted seeds is essential to the food security/sovereignty conversation. In attendance we had a variety of vendors selling regional, open-pollinated, organic seed. Some of the local favorites included Annapolis Seeds and Hope Seeds, offering many common and not so common seed varieties. I purchased with abandon a slew of beans to experiment with next season including: Cranberry, Dragon Langerie, Goose Gullet and Mennonite Purple Stripe. All new to me!

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Concluding Remarks

Overall the event was a great opportunity to meet fellow comrades in the food movement, to learn more about the craft of ecological farming, and to gather and celebrate the important work that we’re all doing. I would recommend the event to anyone interested in local food and sustainable agriculture. If you’re interested in attending next year, the ACORN conference will be taking place right here in Halifax. If that’s not exciting enough for you, it will be taking place in conjunction with the national Food Secure Canada (FSC) conference. Stay tuned for more information!

Author: Will Hill. Community Food Programmer, Ecology Action Centre.

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