Author Archives: Fiona Campbell

To Certify or not to Certify… That’s the Dilemma!

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Many small-scale farmers are choosing not to certify their farms as organic. And it’s not going unnoticed. The Canadian General Standards Board of Canada wanted to know why and what could be done differently. So, a Working Group on Small-Scale Organic Certification (WGSSOC) was formed to focus on Small-Scale Organic Certification.

This working group is made up of organic consultants and farmers. All were familiar with some of the reasons farmers were choosing not to certify (while still being committed to organic agriculture in their production management) but they wanted to know more. A survey was created and sent out to farmers across Canada.

The group received nearly 200 responses from certified and non-certified organic farms.  A common concern was “one size can’t fit all” and that a certification process designed for international and national trade does not really work well for diversified small farms focused on local markets.  Other concerns were the cost, the amount of paperwork and the responsiveness of certifying bodies to requests.

Based on those survey results, the WGSSOC members explored possible systems that could suit small-scale (or direct-market) farmers better.

These options included a “virtual” process where the inspector would do a “virtual tour” of the farm rather than an in-person inspection, a group certification system, a peer certification process, a simplified certification and audit system by some or all of the existing certifying bodies, and a self declaration system.  After considering the different options, the WGSSOC will be developing the concepts of “Peer Certification” and “Self Declaration” further.

One benefit to the national organic industry to include these small-scale farmers is that they are the “face” of the organic industry. These farmers, who meet their customers every week at the farmers’ market, CSA drop-off, restaurant back-door, and through opening their barn doors with farm tours and on-farm events, represent Canada Organic’s image and brand. As any marketer knows, this added-value should not be taken for granted.

Shannon Jones, a member of the WGSSOC said,  “As organic farmers, large and small, we need to work together to strengthen our industry in order for our voices to be heard at a national level and to create the change we want to see in the world.”

The WGSSOC has  started a blog to facilitate the discussion. To read more and leave comments, visit here.

For more information, please contact:

Tony McQuail
Convener, Working Group on Small Scale Organic Certification
86016 Creek Line, RR # 1
Lucknow, ON
N0G 2H0
519-528-2493
mcqufarm@hurontel.on.ca

Conference Sneak Peek: Spotlight on Natalie Lounsbury, researcher, cover crops and no-till vegetable production

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natalie-212x201Natalie Lounsbury is the extension coordinator for a University of Maryland project on Low-Residue Winterkilled Cover Crops for No-till Vegetable Production.

She researched this system for her M.S. and is currently is continuing research and outreach from her family’s farm in (much colder) Maine. Prior to graduate school, she worked as an organic inspector and a vegetable farm manager.

You can keep up with her work at www.notillveggies.org.

Why do you want to join us Orillia?
I have been working for the past few years in Maryland and most of my work with farmers has been in the mid-Atlantic, but I’m excited to take my research on no-till vegetables and cover crops farther north!  

What can attendees expect to learn/take away from your workshop?
Some people have dubbed me “the radish lady” because I end up talking a lot about the primary cover crop we’ve used in our research: forage radish. Attendees will learn a lot about forage radish. But I also hope to present information that will help people start to think about tillage differently and how we can get cover crops to do some of the work for us in farming systems.

What do you enjoy/love about your work/research?
I love sharing a tool with farmers that really works and shows measurable advantages. I also just really love cover crops.

Are there any other fun or interesting facts or a story about your work that you’d like to share?
Even though forage radish is a cover crop, it is delicious and can be prepared many ways. In fact, I like it better than the cash crops like spinach that we work so hard to grow.

Natalie’s workshop:

December 6, 2014: No-till Vegetables: Harnessing the Power of Cover Crops
8:30 am – 10:00 am
Vegetable production generally involves numerous tillage events each season both for weed control and soil conditioning, but tillage has detrimental effects on soil quality. In some cases, cover crops can eliminate the need for tillage prior to vegetable seeding or transplanting. This workshop will give an introduction to both high-residue winter-hardy and low-residue winterkilled cover crops that can facilitate no-till production without herbicides. More detailed results and information on using forage radish as a cover crop prior to early spring vegetables will be presented. Topics of discussion will include: equipment, nutrient cycling, cover crop establishment, and soil quality.

Don’t miss the ecological conference of the year!
To learn more about Natalie, the other presenters and workshops, and to register,
visit https://conference.efao.ca/.

Celebrating 35 years of Learning, Farming and Sharing!

Conference Sneak Peek: Spotlight on Abe Collins, grazier & keynote speaker

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abe-212x159Abe Collins is a Vermont-based grazier, educator and consultant with a passion for topsoil formation and farmer leadership in achieving grassland productivity and environmental security. He has milked cows, herded sheep, and finished beef cattle. Abe’s company Collins Grazing focuses on new topsoil outcomes for producers and communities. This is accomplished via farm design and construction, accelerated gains in soil, and grass, livestock, farm, and watershed environmental monitoring. Abe is the co-founder and a board member of the Soil Carbon Coalition, a board member of the Grassfed Exchange, and the Chair of the Soil and Water Task Force of the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative. He has helped clients on ranches and farms in the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia to grow more and better grasslands, improve topsoil health, design scientific research initiatives, design and build farm infrastructure and deploy advanced soil and environmental monitoring technologies. In his presentations, Abe offers clear windows into grazing management, topsoil creation, environmental monitoring and modelling technologies and the environmental security benefits of management for topsoil formation.

Why do you want to join us in Orillia?
The question of how to grow food, topsoil and water security at the same time has been the primary one in my life.  Graziers and farmers are the people who can do this, and our skillset for achieving a deep topsoil future is growing as our community experiments, learns and shares information.  Embracing our expanding job description and honing the skillsets needed to grow food, topsoil and water security is a significant shift that can bring new opportunities for our children and our communities.  Every grazier and farmer I’ve worked and visited with has taught me, and I aim to learn more and share what lessons have stuck at the Orillia gathering.

What can attendees expect to learn/take away from your workshops?
The needs of human nutrition, livestock, soil organisms, plants, watersheds and farm businesses are shared ones. We’ll drill into practical grazing and cropping management that yields meat, milk and crops while also growing the soil aggregates that infiltrate and purify precipitation.  Good grazing management, grazing and cropping integration and Keyline soil formation and landscape design will be our focuses.  We’ll also touch on opportunities for accelerating our learning as land managers, for tracking and quantifying our progress via environmental monitoring technologies and policy examples and suggestions that can help us to gain ground.

What do you love about your work/research?
I love everything about working with people who are fully engaged with each other and with soil, water, grasslands, croplands and livestock to grow great food and environmental health.  I’m continually impressed by the commitment, creativity and passion that farmers have for making their landscapes and businesses work to their full potential.

Are there any other fun or interesting facts about your work that you’d like to share?
I believe pure water and flooding regulation are some of the most important crops that we can grow.  That is to say, growing clean and regulated water at the watershed scale by growing topsoil on our farms is a prominent opportunity before us that we should work to reliably produce and profit from.  Society needs what we can offer like never before.    New technologies and methods for monitoring soil, water, weather, biodiversity and agricultural yield — relative to our land management — are key to increasing our ability to manage for topsoil formation and to providing a performance basis for payment for watershed services.

Besides being our Keynote Speaker in a presentation called “Growing Clean Water: Managing For a Deep Topsoil Future” (Friday December 5 from 10:30 – 11:30 am) Abe is facilitating the following workshops:

December 5, 2014: Curious Grazing 
8:30 am – 10:00 am
In this workshop Abe starts with the assumption that “by attending to the needs of plants and soil organisms we can achieve improved livestock performance, per-acre production and continual improvement of soil health.” Abe will review the basics of plant physiology and soil ecology and how we can meet the needs of forages and soil organisms. He will share grazing, cropping, and soil treatments that producers around the world are working with in their whole-farm systems and succeeding with, including cocktail cover-cropping and mob grazing.

December 5, 2014: Keyline Design and Water Management 
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Keyline Farming is a whole-system approach to accelerated topsoil formation and broad scale farm design and management developed in Australia beginning in the 1940s by the late P.A. Yeomans and family. Yeomans’ innovations yielded conversion of infertile subsoil to topsoil within a matter of years via sequenced subsoiling and grazing management. His development of the Keyline Scale of Permanence included logical water-harvesting systems that stored water first in soils and then in large, linked dams that served as irrigation for dry times. This workshop will outline the Keyline soil improvement process and Keyline landscape design. Abe will cover Keyline through the outline of the “Keyline Scale of Permanence,” including the specifics of Keyline landscape design, earthworks management and soil improvement, with illustrations from his experience.

 Don’t miss the ecological conference of the year!
To learn more about Abe, the other presenters and workshops, and to register,
visit https://conference.efao.ca/.

Celebrating 35 years of Learning, Farming and Sharing!

Conference Sneak Peek: Spotlight on Adam Montri, hoophouse specialist & farmer

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profilephoto-MontriAdam Montri works with farmers around the US through his job in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Horticulture and with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.His focus is on year-round farming using high tunnels, storage crops, and outdoor production to increase small to mid-size farm economic viability. He and his wife Dru, and daughters, Lydia and Alison, own and operate Ten Hens Farm in Bath, MI, where they farm 12 months of the year and sell to restaurants, other farms, and one farmers’ market.

Why do you want to join us in Orillia?
I am so interested in joining everyone in Orillia because of the interactions I have had in the past with EFAO staff and members.  Everyone that I have interacted with through workshops in the past has been very positive and excited about the farms and work that they are a part of.  I am excited to meet new farmers, catch up with some old friends, learn from others at the conference and see a part of Ontario that I have never been to.  

What can attendees expect to learn/take away from your workshops?
My hope is that farmers take away straight-forward, easy-to-implement ways to increase their management, crop quality, yields and overall economics in their high tunnels.  This ranges from increasing soil health, choosing and planting the right crops at the right time of the year, and tracking costs and revenues for individual crops to help make pricing and labor decisions on their farms.

What do you love about your work/research?
I love that I am able to combine both real-life, hands-on business management and farming through running our personal farm year-round while at the same time working with farmers and other community partners through my university job.  I learn as much from the farmers that I have the great opportunity to work with as I hope they learn from me.  The ability to listen and understand their practices and experiences and share my farming experiences is a unique situation that I feel very fortunate to be in.  I also really love that my university work spans from very urban to very rural farms (and everything in-between).  Being able to talk with farmers in all of those different settings has really given me a broad perspective on people, places, and how food and farming fits into every location.

Are there any other fun or interesting facts about your work that you’d like to share?
We work with farmers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that have between 4 and 6 frost-free weeks each year.  When they talk about how they could never get tomatoes or peppers to ripen before they put up any high tunnels, it really shows the importance of high tunnels for season extension.

Adam’s workshops
Friday December 5, 2014: Long-term Soil Health, Pest Control, and Environmental Management in High Tunnels
8:30 am – 10:00 am
High tunnel production brings about new opportunities for increased product availability and sales potential for a longer period of the year. But, by extending our seasons we are also impacting soil health and pest and disease lifecycles. In this session we will talk about how to manage soils in high tunnels to maintain long-term health and production goals through the use of compost and additional inputs. We will also discuss crop rotation options to manage soil-borne diseases and over all environmental management to decease fungal diseases and pest pressure.

Friday December 5, 2014: Crop Scheduling and Profitability for Year-round Farming in High Tunnels
3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Profitability in high tunnels depends on crop scheduling to keep the high tunnel(s) in production and determining the right price to charge to make your business money. Join us as for an in-depth look at examples of successful high tunnel crop schedules and real, on-farm examples used to determine what price(s) to charge. We will also discuss some simple record-keeping techniques that you can use to decide when to hire employees and how much you can afford to pay them.

Saturday December 6, 2014: Successfully Managing the Winter High Tunnel 
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Successful year-round high tunnel production depends on a number of factors including crop selection, Fall and Spring planting dates, and management of an internal cover in the coldest parts of the year. Join us as we talk about those three topics and more in this session designed to increase your ability to produce fresh products year-round.

 Don’t miss the ecological conference of the year!
To learn more about Adam, the other presenters and workshops, and to register,
visit https://conference.efao.ca/.

Celebrating 35 years of Learning, Farming and Sharing!

Conference Sneak Peek: Spotlight on Joel Williams, Agronomist

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joel-crop-127x212Joel Williams is an agronomist and director of BioLife Agricultural, a consultancy business educating and advising growers on biological farming systems.

He is currently based in the UK where he is a full-time grower at Roehampton University in London, creating an edible campus and growing organic vegetables to educate students on food growing.


Why do you w
ant to join us Orillia?

One of my biggest passions in life is education and I absolutely love presenting workshops and exchanging information and ideas with growers. I have presented in Canada twice before and have found Canadian audiences very open and receptive, but also feel there is a real need for information on more advanced eco-farming techniques.

What can attendees expect to learn/take away from your workshops?

Attendees can expect to learn how intricate and immense the nature of soil really is, but also how to work with that vastness on a practical level. They will take away applied and useful knowledge on soil carbon, nutrient and microbe interactions to manage their farms in a more sustainable way.

What do you love about your work/research?

As an educator, I love exchanging knowledge and informing farmers about better ways to manage their land. I enjoy empowering them with practical knowledge and also inspiring them with my passion for all things soil to help them feel enthused about achieving their own goals. In my current role, I love having the opportunity to expose young people to food growing and being part of a butterfly effect that will ripple outward increasing the number of people with an appetite for growing their own.

Are there any other fun or interesting facts about your work that you’d like to share?

In the market garden I manage, I love giving tasting tours making visitors sample a broad range of salad leaves – from the normal to the unusual. The look on people’s faces as they try some of the more unusual spicy and peppery leaves or even a typical lettuce leaf but when freshly picked straight onto the taste buds within seconds, they usually can’t believe the flavour explosion. I love the look on their faces.

Joel’s Workshops:

Saturday December 6, 2014 8:30 – 10:00: Advanced Soil Biology: Nutrient Release, Disease Suppression and Support with Teas
Get a glimpse of how soil microbes support your crops, how to help them and stop getting in their way. This session dives into the depths of your soil microbiome and how it cycles nutrients and suppresses disease. Practical uses of aerated compost teas and plant extracts will be discussed for small and large scale operations.

Saturday December 6, 2014 1:00 – 2:30: Increasing Soil Carbon and Getting Compost Right
Do the weeds grow as well as your crops? Are the bugs having a field day? Low soil carbon, compost quality and application are likely part of the problem. Find out how compost quality and careful application are key factors in crop health, weed pressure and building soil carbon. Learn cost effective methods to work with mycorrhizal fungi to grow soil carbon and make high quality compost while addressing soil deficiencies.

Saturday December 6, 2014 3:00 – 4:30: Making the Most of Your Soil — Getting higher quality and yield with fewer inputs
With the two million pounds of fertilizer in the top six inches of each acre, what really needs to be added? Learn how to leverage the fertility you already own and how to maximize the inputs you buy. We will look at some of the details of nutrient behaviour in soils and cover general programs for using soil and foliar fertility inputs.

More about Joel Williams
Joel graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science specializing in crop and soil sciences. He has worked back and forth between Australia and the UK for the past 12 years. He worked as a consultant on conventional and organic farms improving biological farming practices in Australia before heading abroad to the UK where Joel was integrating biological principles on a 1000 hectare organic farm. In addition to providing practical interpretation and recommendation of soil analytical results, Joel investigated the application of compost tea technology under European farming conditions. Joel returned to Australia educating growers on soil biology as well as working for Australia’s leading organic certification body. He has a keen interest in managing soil microbial balance and plant and soil nutrition to optimize plant immunity, soil health and carbon sequestration. Joel has a passion for education and sharing both scientific and practical knowledge on sustainable growing practices.

Don’t miss the ecological conference of the year!
To learn more about Joel, the other presenters and workshops, and to register, visit https://conference.efao.ca/.

Celebrating 35 years of Learning, Farming and Sharing!

New Report from CBAN: Will GM Crops Feed the World?

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New Report from Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN): Will GM Crops Feed the World? 

We are often told that we need genetically modified (GM) crops to feed a growing population and reduce hunger around the world. Although compelling, this claim is false, and ignores the many negative impacts of the technology.

CBAN’s new report Will GM Crops Feed the World? examines experiences with GM crops and exposes the many ways in which they threaten the environment and farmers’ livelihoods, and overlook the real causes of hunger. Using case studies from around the world, the report shows that there is no place for GM crops in an ecologically sustainable and socially just food system.

For the report, and a two-page summary, please visit www.cban.ca/feedingtheworld

About Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN):  CBAN’s mission is to promote food sovereignty and democratic decision-making on science and technology issues in order to protect the integrity of the environment, health, food, and the livelihoods of people in Canada and around the world by facilitating, informing and organizing civil society action, researching, and providing information to government for policy development.

To achieve this CBAN works to:
– Facilitate collaborative campaigning at the local, regional, national and international levels
– Enable individual Canadians to take strategic and effective action
– Research and monitor new technologies and provide credible information
– Challenge government to transparency, accountability and democratic process

CFO’s New Specialty Breeds Chicken Program

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Chicken Farmers of Ontario Launches New Specialty Breeds Chicken Program to Support Growing and Diverse Consumer Markets

BURLINGTON (Sept 11, 2014) – 
Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) has approved a new program to support the increasing Ontario consumer demand for alternative breeds of chicken. The new program will create exciting opportunities for the specialty chicken value chain – hatcheries, farmers, distributors and retailers of specialty breeds of chicken – to support current and emerging consumer markets.   

CFO’s Specialty Breeds Chicken Program was developed to bring Ontario into alignment with the national Chicken Farmers of Canada specialty breeds policy.  The new program specifies that two common breeds of specialty chicken will now be included under this program: Frey’s Special Dual Purpose chicken and Silkie chicken. After processing,these birds have their “head and feet on” and are popular with many of Ontario’s growing ethnocultural consumer communities.

“We are extremely pleased to offer this innovative specialty breeds chicken program which will provide a significant growth opportunity for the Ontario chicken industry,” said Henry Zantingh, Chair of CFO.  “Ontario’s demographics are changing rapidly and the demand for different types of chicken has been growing as well.”

“While Silkies and Frey’s Special Dual Purpose chicken breeds have been available for sale in Ontario for some time, the market for these products has been underdeveloped,” noted Rob Dougans, President and CEO of CFO.  “Providing business opportunities for those interested in meeting these markets will better serve specialty breed consumers and create new growth opportunities for the Ontario chicken industry.”

Under the new system, those interested in becoming a specialty breeds chicken farmer will submit an application to CFO for the opportunity to grow a certain allotment of chicken.   Farmers and processors and other value chain partners involved in marketing specialty breeds chicken will receive the benefits of operating under a new regulated system.

CFO will be holding information briefing sessions for individual farmers and industry value chain participants in communities across Ontario in the near future and applications for growing specialty breed chicken are now being accepted for 2015.

For more information on eligibility, as well as the application process and deadlines, please click here.

For information and dates for information sessions across the province, please click here.

About the CFO
Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) provides supply management leadership to an evolving and growing chicken industry in Ontario which includes the largest number of chicken farmers and the most diverse consumer base in the country.  CFO helps develop and expand opportunities for Ontario businesses that are innovating in existing and/or emerging consumer markets. CFO ensures consumers enjoy a reliable supply of high quality, safe, locally grown Ontario chicken.

Two New Reports: Towards Wholesale Success and Exploring Cooperative Enterprises

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The Ecological Farmers of Ontario and The West End Food Cooperative recently released the following two reports on opportunities for small- and medium-scale farmers to access various retail markets.

“Towards Wholesale Success: Stories and Strategies from Producers, Distributors and Retailers who are Growing Ontario’s Local Food Economy”:  Longer value chains—including distributors, restaurants, and retail— present opportunities for small- and medium-scale farmers in Ontario. Drawing on the experiences of those involved in these markets in Ontario, this report identifies both challenges to successful partnerships between small- and medium-scale producers and wholesale customers, and best practices for success in wholesale marketing to distributors, processors, restaurants and retail outlets. Indepth interviews were conducted with ten participants from southwestern Ontario’s local food sector, including: distributors, retailers, and small farmers.

Our research reveals that wholesale marketing can be a profitable supplement or alternative to direct marketing for small-scale producers, and strategies for success. Wholesale farmers are specializing to concentrate on products that are best suited to their farms and to create a distinct reputation. They are meeting the specific size, shape, condition and quality standards for their market, and are being rewarded financially for their efforts, particularly by restaurants.

“Exploring Cooperative and Social Enterprises as Potential Retail Outlets for Ecological Farmers: Lessons Learned from Three Community Enterprises in the U.S”:  Ontario has seen some pioneering efforts in the aggregation and distribution sector in recent years, including a number of Local and Organic Food cooperatives such as the West End Food Cooperative. The province is also home to a number of fresh, new organizations that connect smaller-scale farmers with urban markets; some of these share their stories in our report titled “Towards Wholesale Success: Stories and Strategies from Producers, Distributors and Retailers who are Growing Ontario’s Local Food Economy.”  However, the community of practice that has emerged around the challenge of getting local food to market is not limited to our region.

This backgrounder report looks beyond the southern Ontario foodshed, to provide an account of best practices developed elsewhere. We focus on three organizations in the U.S., each of which has innovated different models for aggregating, distributing, and marketing source-identified, locally-produced and processed foods.

Both reports are available for download on our Educational Farming Resources page.

Letter from the GBCAE: Squash Bee Count Project

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Dear EFAO Members,

This summer the Grey Bruce Centre for Agroecology Cooperative (GBCAE) is embarking upon a pilot program to observe the diversity and abundance of bees, butterflies, and other native plant pollinators across ecological farms in southern Ontario.

Given the alarming decline in honeybees, monarch butterflies, and insectivorous birds documented in our region in the recent years, we are hoping to raise awareness about the important and largely unstudied diversity of our native pollinators. Our native pollinators provide invaluable services to our farms and farmers, and often many ecological farms take extra efforts to provide areas in the landscape to enhance pollinator presence. Thus, these farms provide ideal locations to examine pollinator abundance and diversity. Furthermore, participating in pollinator observations on your farm will provide data that allows you to compare the status of pollinators relative to other similar habitats in different geographic locations.

beeOne quick-and-simple project that we would love your help with is our squash bee count. The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, specializes on pollinating squashes and other Cucurbits. As such, presence and abundance of this bee can dramatically improve crop production for these plants that require pollinator visitation for successful fruit set. The goal of this project is to survey the abundance of squash bees on ecological farms, as well as to investigate whether landscape-level or other geographic factors associated with squash bee abundance.

To determine the presence and abundance of squash bees, we are organizing a squash bee count to be conducted on all participating farms in early August during peak squash flower production. All it requires is about one hour of your time from 8:00-9:00 am on a sunny, warm and wind-still morning. We ask that you will walk five transects along flowering squash plants distributed throughout the overall planting area, and observe 100 flowers for each transect. For each flower you will determine squash bee presence and abundance. We also recommend a practice run at an earlier day, to familiarize yourself with squash bees.

The complete project description with image and protocol can be found here.

In addition to the squash bee count, if you are interested, we would love your participation in conducting a brief habitat assessment for your farm. This would provide us with additional site information that would prove helpful for our comparative analyses, as well as provide you with useful information about pollinator habitat on your farm. The Habitat assessment form can be found here.

Please send filled-out protocols to the following address:
Grey Bruce Centre for Agroecology Cooperative
RR3,Allenford, ON
N0H 1A0

If you have any questions, please call (519) 935-3005.

Thanks very much,
Thorsten Arnold & Jeri Parrent

(Photo source: http://www.gbcae.com/pollinators.html)

New Educational Resource: Getting into Restaurant & Retail Sales

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Market photo Over the past two years the EFAO has partnered with the West End Food Cooperative, a multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit co-operative that includes eaters, producers, workers and community partners located in Toronto, to highlight opportunities and challenges for building positive relationships between small-scale retailers, restaurants and farmers.

During that time we held three workshops and conducted interviews with a number of farmers, retailers, restaurants and distributors. We are now happy to release this new guide — “Getting into Retail and Restaurant Sales: Guidelines for Ecological Producers” — to help you consider diverse market opportunities. You can find it on our Ecological Farming Resources page.