We attended the annual organic conference in Guelph this past weekend! It's been an annual end of January tradition and highlight for us for the past 10 years, and each time we look forward to reacquainting with so many friends and familiar faces in the Ontario organic growers community. We also love touring all the booths selling seeds, as this is THE source for purchasing heirloom and organic seeds if you want to meet the growers in person. As usual, we came away with no less than a dozen new packs of heirloom tomatoes, our pockets filled with brochures about intriguing organic projects and organizations we want to follow up on, and our heads swirling with new ideas for garden ventures and community initiatives!
Dispite this being an organic farming conference with the emphasis on rural farm production, we were surprised by the number of conversations we had with urban farmers. We seem to be a growing sector of the organic farming movement in Ontario! From small-scale homesteaders like ourselves, urban SPIN-farming market gardeners, rooftop gardeners, city wildharvesters, urban-based seed saving businesses (like Urban Harvest in Toronto - www.uharvest.ca), urban hen keepers networks, beekeepers, community gardeners and food educators, city folks are trying to find a meaningful place for themselves in the sustainable food movement - creative, innovative, exciting! There are so many directions to take urban agriculture/urban sustainability, and we are always inspired by the varied projects we see out there.
Of note, we met a couple who have a new project called "All Sorts Acre" ("real food, real life, real small" - nice slogan, that says it all!), who have one acre just outside of Guelph and are beginning to see themselves as a resource for others in their neighbourhood and city! There was also Sustain Ontario ("the alliance for healthy food & farming"), who are a cross-sectoral provincial alliance in Ontario working for a sustainable food system that is ecological, equitable and financially viable (quote from their brochure). They are organizing a large conference in Kitchener in early March, called "Bringing Food Home", to connect Ontario farms and food networks (farmers, growers, consumers, producers, etc). More details at: www.sustainontario.com
Then there was FarmStart, and FarmLink - a booth we have stopped by in other years. The idea of FarmLink is a "match-making" system to link potential farmers with those who have available land, through on online database (www.farmlinkontario.ca) FarmStart is also teaching a 4-session course across the province related to "exploring your new farm dream", looking at opportunities and realities of starting a farm business. Our friend Angie from Fertile Ground CSA will be teaching the course here locally (www.FarmStart.ca).
We dropped by Mycosource, a gourmet mushroom cultivation supplier, from whom we had purchasedour shiitake logs last year. He gave some helpful advice on how to promote bountiful fruiting of the logs, which seemed to have slowed down last season (they are supposed to fruit for several seasons). He suggested they had possibly gotten too wet - they need soaking to get started initially, but should be stored in a partially covered area to prevent too much rain from continuously soaking them. We are very keen on harvesting more mushrooms this season... (www.mycosource.com)
As for seeds, we always stop at Greta's Organic Gardens first (www.seeds-organic.com). Her booth, in the farthest back corner of the exhibition hall, has the widest selection of heirloom tomato varieties and we have our favourites that we go back for every few years (when we haven't been able to save our own - a limitation of our city property). Tomatoes we'll be starting soon from Greta's seeds include: Yukon Red, Green Zebra, Green Tomatillo, Stupice, Gold Nugget Cherry, Yellow Pear, Manitoba Red, Sub-Arctic Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Old Flame Bi-Colour, and Gardener's Delight Red Cherry...all of these will be available as seedlings at our annual Seedling Sale in May!