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Farmer-researchers in Iowa!

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By Rebecca Ivanoff and Greta Kryger

A week after our amazing EFAO conference and Farmer-led Research Symposium, we had the opportunity to travel to Ames, Iowa for the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) annual farmer-researcher gathering. This event is called the Cooperators’ Meeting, as cooperators are what they call their farmer-researchers. For those of you who are not aware, PFI’s mission is to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities. PFI is a broad and inclusive organization representing a diversity of farmers, with folks who raise corn and soybeans, hay, livestock, horticultural crops from fruits and vegetables to cut flowers and herbs, and more. Their members have conventional and organic systems; employ diverse management practices; run operations of all sizes; and come from a range of backgrounds. These farmers come together, however, because they are committed to moving their operations toward sustainability and because they believe in rigorous experimental design as a method of gaining insight into best practices to achieve this.

Held over two days, the Cooperators’ Meeting is where farmer-members of PFI gather to discuss past research and plan on-farm research for the following year. The Cooperators’ Meeting is an annual event rooted in the Practical Farmers philosophy of farmers generating independent solutions to on-farm challenges through farmer-led on-farm research and demonstration projects — and then sharing that knowledge freely with other farmers. It is the central place to ask new questions for future projects and set research priorities, with support from PFI staff. All farmer members of PFI are welcome to become participants, suggest research projects that they are interested in conducting, and join their peers to help decide the list of on-farm future research Practical Farmers will carry out over the next year.

While we have our Farmer-led Symposium on the Monday before the full EFAO conference, the PFI Cooperators’ meeting runs from noon on a Thursday to noon on a Friday. Folks arrive for lunch and are welcomed during the meal, and the afternoon begins with a joint session with one researcher reporting from the horticulture, field crop, and livestock sectors. This way the whole team gets an idea of the types of research that are being done by others in the whole group. This is important because the rest of the afternoon has concurrent breakout sessions by sector (Horticulture, Livestock, Field Crops). This latter part of the day was used for reporting from the previous years followed by generating new questions and finding the knowledge gaps.

The two-day-long event is punctuated by a dinner open to all members, as well as to academic and other institutional folks who work closely with the Cooperators on research. During our banquet dinner we were led through a Year-in-Review and then went around the room answering the question What are you curious about?, followed by a Keynote by a fellow researcher.

After a good night’s sleep with the ideas and questions running through our heads, we started the day with a Research Conversation Café where we were split into groups of folks from across the sectors as well as those who had been involved with PFI for differing lengths of time. Some folks have been doing research together since 1985! In these groups, we discussed on-farm research in small groups getting to know the challenges and opportunities that had presented themselves to farmer-researchers involved in this work in different ways.

The rest of the time, we were back in our concurrent breakout sessions working on the 2019 project design drafting and then reporting and critiquing these designs  & consensus. By the end of the session, many Cooperators had finished research designs submitted!

The closing Lunch and Remarks was a lovely way to end the event.

We appreciated the large number of Cooperators who were able to meet together and with the help of staff to answer questions, make critiques, and have a finished draft of a proposal by the end of the event. When we asked about the schedule for the Meeting, many cooperators emphasised that have it split over two days was very helpful.

PFI records many of the sessions during the Cooperators’ Meeting. You can find recorded sessions of the Cooperators’ Meeting here.

As part of the EFAO’s FLR program, we took our responsibility to represent the whole team as best we could. Though most of our time was spent with the Horticulture group, we both took a bit of time to check in with the other groups and ask questions you had sent along with us! We felt very welcomed and were encouraged to share our experiences, especially around areas that PFI has not been working in such as plant breeding. We have been asked to continue fostering the link between our groups as we all continue our important work.

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EFAO’s collaboration with PFI was made possible with a grant from George Weston Limited and Loblaw Companies Limited. EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program is made possible with funding from Ontario Trillium Foundation, an Agency of the Government of Ontario, George Weston Limited and Loblaw Companies Limited and Robert and Moira Sansom Ideas Foundation, a fund within London Community Foundation.

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Introducing the 2018 EFAO Conference Art

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Caitlin Taguibao
“I am an illustrator, graphic designer and mural painter based in Toronto, Canada. I enjoy working with people who share similar ideas and interests in food growing, environmental stewardship and community engagement, and have spent time working in urban gardens and organic farms across Canada. I use flat colours and bold linework to create colourful compositions based out of plant lore and personal stories.”

Visit Caitlin Taguibao’s Website

What inspired this piece?
“In response to the theme of “Regeneration: Seeds, Soils & Community Connection”, I wanted to reflect on the cyclical nature of growing while highlighting soil life and soil diversity. Various characters interact with a spinach plant shown at different stages of life: from seed to sprout, to first leaves, growing upwards and then flowering to produce seed. All the while, a community of soil bacteria and critters actively exist below the ground; mycorrhizal connections are made under a waxing moon; a butterfly searches for late summer blooms. No human character is shown so that viewers may find themselves reflected in any of the living beings that are depicted, at any stage of the cycle, so that no role may be seen as more important than another but rather equally acknowledge and celebrated.”

Learn more about the 2018 EFAO Conference!

Towards Farmer-led Research

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EFAO recently published a review and summary-to-date of farmer-led research. Towards Farmer-led Research: A Guidebook is written by EFAO and graduate students with the Food from Thought program at the Arrell Food Institute, University of Guelph.

The guidebook is a culmination of the students’ internship with EFAO during which they collected data about farmer-researchers’ experiences and learned about the capacity of farmer-led research as a mechanism for grassroots change in agriculture and rural communities.

It describes what farmer-led research is and why it is important; and summarizes four other farmer-led research programs to show the diversity in program structure and support. Finally, it dives a bit deeper into EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program. It is by no means comprehensive or complete – more of a first summary of lessons learned from starting EFAO’s program in 2016.

The capacity required for a farmer-led research program has EFAO staff exploring the model of EFAO’s Farmer-led Research Program helping other organizations provide support for farmer-led research, like a hub of networks.

Please feel free to share with your networks and don’t hesitate to get in touch with Sarah (sarah@efao.ca) with any questions.

Trade Show & Sponsorship Opportunities

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Sponsorship opportunities for the 2018 EFAO Conference are now available, as well as registration for trade show table space!

  

In previous years, the EFAO Conference has seen more than 300 ecological farmers in attendance. With the Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers’ Network holding their biennial conference in conjunction with EFAO’s 2018 conference, we expect to see the biggest turnout yet – making this a great opportunity for your farm-related business or organization to reach new customers.

Sponsorship gives your brand high visibility at the conference, as well as other perks depending on type of sponsorship. A presence at the trade show provides 2 days of direct personal interaction with conference attendees. Both sponsors and trade show vendors appear in the conference program.

Register today! View the 2018 Trade Show & Sponsorship package

Call for 2018 Conference Art!

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This year’s 5th annual Ecological Farmers of Ontario Conference will be held in London from December 4 – 6, 2018. We have started building another exciting program, inviting inspiring speakers, and planning a delicious menu!

Each year, the EFAO conference program and promotional materials showcase a work of art from an artist in the ecological farming community. Each piece reflects the conference theme, and also the diverse creative abilities of ecological farmers and their supporters.

We’re seeking artwork to illustrate this year’s conference theme, Regeneration: Seeds, Soils & Community Connection.  We invite artists and EFAO supporters to share a new or existing piece of art that might fit with the conference theme.

The selected artist will receive a full conference pass, and monetary compensation for their work.

Please be in touch with katie@efao.ca if you are interested in this opportunity.

Deadline for artwork samples is June 15, 2018.

Art, clockwise from the top left: the selected piece for the theme of “Our Living Soils” by Andrea Peplinski (2015), the selected piece for the theme of “Rebuilding Rural Economies From the Ground Up” by Jenna Kessler (2017), the selected piece for the theme of “Resilient Agriculture: Our Soils, Our Systems, Our Selves” by Bree Rappaport (2016), and the selected piece for the theme of “Celebrating 35 Years of Learning, Farming and Sharing” by Jessica Weatherhead (2014).

**Deadline Extended** EFAO is hiring a Training and Resource Assistant

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EFAO Training and Resource Assistant (Summer Student)

Position: 30 hours/week, offered through the Canada Summer Jobs Program (eligibility criteria listed below). *Pending receipt of funding.

Duration: 14 weeks, April 30th – August 3rd, 2018

Compensation: $14/hr                                                               

Location: Guelph, Ontario

Job Opportunity:
The EFAO is looking for a motivated and organized individual to help deliver training, mentorship and peer-to-peer networking for ecological farmers. This includes training on business management, marketing and new product development, as well as environmentally sound agricultural practices (i.e. cover cropping, crop rotation, planting green manures, composting, soil conservation, timely and appropriate tillage, good livestock management, promoting biodiversity, and avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides). Training for farmers will include workshops (in person and by webinar), farm tours and networking meetings. Some webinars will be offered in French.

This position will also provide opportunities to connect with Ontario’s ecological agriculture community and take part in a dynamic grass-roots organization dedicated to supporting farmers!

About the EFAO:
The Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO) is a farmer-led charitable organization that has been supporting ecological farmers in Ontario since 1979. We strive to provide practical farmer-to-farmer training in ecological farming and to build community and support for our member farmers. Our main activities include workshops, farm tours, kitchen table meetings, an advisory service, farmer-led research, an annual conference and a bi-monthly newsletter. To learn more about EFAO please visit efao.ca.

Eligibility:

This position is being offered through the Canada Summer Jobs program. To be eligible for the program, students must:

  • be between 15 and 30 years of age at the start of the employment
  • have been registered as full-time students in the previous academic year and intend to return to school on a full-time basis in the next academic year
  • be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or person to whom refugee protection has been conferred under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for the duration of the employment
  • have a valid Social Insurance Number at the start of employment and be legally entitled to work in Canada in accordance with relevant provincial or territorial legislation and regulations

 

Responsibilities:

  • Assist with promoting training activities through e-newsletter, social media, posters, outreach at events, etc. Attend training events when possible/interested and compile workshop feedback to inform future training activities.
  • Assist with gathering content for EFAO’s “Ecological Farming in Ontario” printed newsletter, including outreach to new potential newsletter contributors. Assist with archiving past issues (including scanning older issues) on the EFAO website as an online resource for ecological farmers.
  • Assist with planning for the annual “Ecological Farmers of Ontario Conference” including conference promotions, logistics, speaker organization, etc.
  • Assist with developing content for social media and blog posts.
  • Assist with the execution and development of member research packages.
  • Assist with member outreach.

 

Skills & Assets Required:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Experience with social media platforms and online file-sharing platforms (i.e. Google Drive)
  • Basic graphic design skills an asset
  • Timely and attentive to details
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Self motivated, creative problem solver with the ability to prioritize and see tasks through
  • Familiarity with the broader ecological farm community in Ontario
  • Experience working or volunteering with non-profit organizations an asset
  • Access to a car and valid driver’s license an asset
  • Ability to occasionally work on weekends

 

To apply please email the following in a single PDF document to jobs@efao.ca:   

  • A cover letter describing why you would be a good fit for this position
  • A resume outlining relevant experience
  • 3 references

 

***Deadline Extended***: Please apply on or before April 18th, 2018

Please note that only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.

 

EFAO Membership: Farm size and products

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The second in our Membership Month blog posts (if you haven’t already, check out the first blog post),we offer some more insights into the types of farms that are a part of the EFAO community.

Membership by farm size

EFAO represents members of all sizes, even though the majority of farmer members (63%) operate farms between 20 and 250 acres. EFAO has several farmer members and aspiring farmer members with very small farms, or even backyard gardens. But it also represents operations of 500 acres and bigger – the largest one operating a dairy with 1000 acres.

Membership by farm size

EFAO members offer a large variety of products. These range from vegetables as the most listed product, over fruits, grains, a variety of meat products, to niche and specialized products – seeds, fibre products, or nursery stocks.

In more detail, of those members who reported their products,

  • two third of members (63.1%) offer produce of some type (veggies or fruits).
  • almost two third of members (57.3%) offer animal products (meat or dairy).
  • one third of members (32.8%) offer grains or other field crops.

Half of all producers of vegetables or fruits also offer animal products, and half of those offering field crops as well. It is thus fair to describe the EFAO membership as highly diversified, and EFAO represents integrated crop-livestock operations.

Products offered by members. Members reported that they offer, on average, 2.1 product categories.

EFAO is thus not a typical commodity group that would focus on optimizing the production and marketing of a single product. Instead, EFAO represents farmers with complex production and marketing strategies. Typical problems  that our members face center around managing diversity, e.g. combining wholesale and direct marketing, integrating livestock into field fertility management, multi-species grazing, intercropping in vegetable fields, and complex crop rotations that include “exotic” crops (not corn, beans, wheat, canola) with limited commodity markets. Such management tasks tend optimize trade-offs among multiple income streams, rather than maximizing the benefits from a single activity.

EFAO Membership: Spatial representation

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In the spirit of Membership Month at EFAO, we would like to share some information about who our members are.  This is the first of two posts to tell you more about the EFAO community.

Regional representation

As of March 7th, EFAO had an active membership of 368 farms (plus 88 which recently expired and may be in renewal).  With 274 members or 61%, the region with most members is Western Ontario – an area from Niagara to Hamilton, Dufferin and Grey Bruce all the way to Essex.  The second-largest membership is in the East, with 97 members or 21% – basically the counties of Kawartha Lakes and further east. Central Ontario has 69 members or 15% – the region between Halton and Durham all the way north to Muskoka. EFAO has lowest representation in the high north (Nipissing to Rainy River), with only 11 members (2.5%).

The 10 counties best represented (with the most members) are, beginning with the most, are Wellington, Grey, Bruce, Elgin, Hamilton, Simcoe, Huron, Waterloo, Oxford, and Frontenac.

Membership categories

EFAO currently offers 6 membership categories: Farmers, Aspiring farmers, Friends of Farmers, Businesses & Organizations, Educators, and others. The vast majority of EFAO’s members are farmers (70.0%) or aspiring farmers (20.2%). The new category of Friends of Farmers make up 6.6% of all membership. We welcome this group of supporters – it connects our farmer membership with the broader population! The remaining 3.2% are educators, organizations/businesses, or “others”.