Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ACORN - It's not Just for Farmers

My veggie garden is a lot smaller than your average farm
Over the last year or so the name ACORN has come up a number of times in my blog travels.  The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network seemed interesting but I must admit I wrote it off at first as something just for farmers.  I dated an organic farmer once but I don't think that qualifies me to join a farming network.  However, I saw another post recently advising the annual conference was coming to Charlottetown and I decided to take a closer look.

Three days of workshops from November 22 - 24 covered everything from debates on tractors v. hand tools, to seed collecting, fruit trees, starting a grass farm, and permaculture.  Some of the workshops were clearly geared toward organic farming operations but there were a number of workshops that intrigued me enough to buy a ticket.

I took a Friday afternoon off from work and made my way down to the conference centre, finding a seat in a presentation by Dr. Andrew Hammermeister titled The Origin of Soil and its Properties.  Soil science is noted to be a relatively young field of study but as most of us gardeners know, soil is our most important commodity.  Although the technical terminology of this session bogged my brain down at times I must say it was a joy to listen to a presenter who was so clearly enamoured with his topic.  My only complaint with this session was that it should have been twice as long.  Dr. Hammermeister's interest in soil was infectious and he clearly had a lot more to say on the subject, even having to skip over parts of his talk as he was running out of time.  Soil ties into everything we do, whether we have a farm or a flower garden.  It's such a basic stepping stone in our human survival and I would have loved to spend more time discussing it.

Cilantro gone to seed in my garden
One workshop wasn't enough for me so back I came on Saturday to hear presenter Dan Brisebois talk about seed collecting.  Although I'm quite familiar with collecting seeds, due to my work as a seed collector for Van Dusen Gardens, there's always room to learn more about a subject and this lecture was no exception.  It was interesting to hear about collecting seed from a farming perspective and I picked up a few pointers on cross pollination and growing organic seed.

One thing that struck me during the conference was the amount of academics involved in farming now.  Back when my mom lived on a farm in Saskatchewan you had a lot of kids who helped out.  Farming was primarily taught, hands on, generation to generation.  When the kids grew up you parcelled off some land to them and you all kept working.  At this conference I was hearing about the struggles for new farmers trying to acquire land to farm, money to purchase tools for the job, and school loans for degrees in agriculture and sciences.  It takes a lot these days to be a farmer.  You need a working knowledge of economics, agriculture, machinery, and animal husbandry just to name a few.  The result though is that the people who are farming are really passionate about what they do.

Unfortunately two workshops only proved to be a teaser for me and now I'm thinking about next year.   ACORN conferences are held each year in the atlantic provinces.  If you have the time to attend I would highly recommend them.  Despite my trepidation that I would feel out of place at the conference I found instead that all of us were there because we share the same basic principles of caring about our environment and our food.  That sort of setting isn't such a bad place to hang out.

18 comments:

  1. I would have loved the soil talk. In architecture soil composition and structure is very important and very governed by science. Also, in the MG program they look at soil as per nutrients and pH. I like the nerdy parts of soil and would really loved to hear his talk. You should do a post on what you learned.

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    1. Donna, that would be a great post - if I could remember half of what he said or explain it all! I really needed that extra hour to absorb all that was being said and process it.

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  2. Sounds like you are hooked! What a great resource for you, farmer or not, you love to garden. I think listening to any topic, given by a person who is passionate about that topic, is interesting.
    We had a soil chapter in our Master Gardener class in VA, it wasn't a fun class. Think the topic could have been narrowed to amending the soil and its properties would have been better than just clay, loam, sand.

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    1. Janet, I'm not sure the soil lecture would have been half as good were it not for the presenter. Lucky I was able to attend this as now I'm interested to know more. Wish I would have had the time to attend more of the workshops but that darn day job gets in the way sometimes.

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  3. Sounds very interesting. My work has brought me in contact with a lot of young farmers and they certainly are an impressive bunch. It is fascinating to here them speak about something they are passionate about.

    ps. Love the acronym. :)

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    1. Ms.S - the excitement in the air was palpable and couldn't be missed. If we all loved our own jobs half as much the world would be a better place I think.

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  4. Hi Marguerite, You make an excellent observation about farm knowledge being passed from one generation to the next- it does not seem to happen in the same way that it used too. Running a farm is as complicated as running a mid-sized business. New farmers have so much to take on it is a wonder that they can be so brave. I admire such determination.
    I would have loved to go to the workshop on seed collecting. My knowledge of cross pollination and organic seeds is limited.

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    1. Jennifer, the revelation that there are young farmers looking for land and finding it hard to attain should have been obvious to me but I was really surprised. There are just so many hurdles to taking on this occupation, it's little wonder that small farms are dying out.
      p.s. I plan on doing a Seed Collecting post in near future. not quite as good as a personal lecture but perhaps there'll be some info you can use.

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  5. Both of those talks sound wonderful! I would love to hear a talk about collecting seeds. But to hear a talk about soil that is not boring must have been thrilling. I love speakers that are enthusiastic about their subjects. I worry about the information that's being lost by people not passing down through the generations how to grow things. I often ask my Dad for advice, but sometimes all he says is, "Well, my father knew but I don't remember how he did it." :(

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    1. I know what you mean about parents not remembering. My mom grew up on a farm and yet when I ask her questions she often cannot remember much anymore. I think enthusiasm about a topic is almost more important than the subject itself. If the speaker isn't interested why should the audience be?

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  6. Sounds like you got a lot out of the sessions you attended. Having a speaker who is passionate about their subject makes all the difference. Unlike Janet, I had a great instructor (Walter Reeves, a gardening celebrity in the South) for our Master Gardener soils lessons. My son, who is just 9, wants to be a farmer. I am not sure he understands the studies he would undergo. :)

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    1. What a wonderful thing that your son wants to farm. He must have gotten the bug from his mom!

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  7. I find it fascinating that the problems you describe Canadian farmers experiencing are so similar the ones here in the UK.

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    1. Janet, I'm sure these issues must be affecting countries around the globe. Land is becoming scarcer and more expensive as our population grows. Farming is now more of a large business than just feeding a family so there are numerous skills to be learned. The world has just gotten more complicated hasn't it?

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  8. I love reading your blog Marguerite - I always learn something new :) Other than transplanting seedlings from our little forest I haven't done any gardening because I don't know what type of soil I have yet! Soil is the basis for everything gardeners do - it's so important!
    I've never heard about the Acorn conferences before - thanks for the info! I have SO MUCH to learn...sigh!

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    1. Hi Jane!! I've missed you! Hope you're enjoying your holidays. Maybe we'll attend Acorn together when you finally move out. Next years conference is in Moncton and I'm already thinking about the possibility of attending. I have a lot to learn too. :))

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  9. I wish I'd been there! Understanding soil is the most important part of gardening. :o)

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  10. I have a friend with a degree in soil science- At the time I thought it was a strange thing to focus on but after moving to The Peace, taking up gardening and sheep farming I changed my mind. If I went back to university ....... or maybe I should attend ACORN or the western Canadian equivalent.

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