GUELPH, ON – The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario is marking their 40 year anniversary with special events, a documentary film and archiving of historical documents. Celebrations will culminate with a 40th Anniversary dinner with keynote speaker and documentary film screening as part of the 6th annual Ecological Farmers of Ontario Conference in Belleville, taking place December 2nd to 5th, 2019.
The EFAO was established in 1979 by farmers driven to share their knowledge of ecological farming with other farmers; thus forming a supportive community amongst those who found themselves on the fringe of conventional agricultural practices.
“Being able to walk each other’s farms, talk about what was working and what wasn’t working was a completely novel experience because in the conventional industry it was all very competitive and you didn’t want to share what worked for you – trade secrets – whereas in the organic or ecological movement people were happy to share what worked for them and what didn’t work for them so you didn’t have to make the mistakes they had.” describes Fran McQuail, one of EFAO’s early members.
A small group of about 20 farmers in southwestern Ontario decided to form a group to help each other improve the health of their soils, crops, livestock and the environment, while at the same time running profitable farm businesses. The group’s charter meeting took place at the Linwood Community Centre to talk about soil and crop rotations – there was no agenda, no program, no minute keeper, and people brought bagged lunches. At the end of the day everyone in attendance agreed that they should create an association that would provide opportunities for farmers to share and develop their knowledge about ecological farming practices – the Natural Farmers Association (NFA) was born. The membership fee was $5; there was an annual meeting and conference, quarterly newsletters, and at least one field day that covered practices such as soil, green manures, composting, cover crops, livestock management, conservation practices, and others.
“Back in the 80s and 90s there weren’t a lot of sources of information about organic growing, so field days were huge. The first field days would attract over 300 people, and that was because they were the only source of information. ” says Ken Laing, longtime EFAO member.
By 1984 the associations’ membership had grown to 145 farmers, and the Natural Farmers Association changed its name to the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Today, the EFAO serves over 500 members across Ontario – from Thunder Bay to Windsor to Ottawa. Over the last 6 years alone, EFAO has had nearly 5,700 farmers, aspiring farmers and supporters participate in workshops, farm tours, kitchen-table meetings, advisory consultations and conferences.
This year EFAO will host its 6th annual Ecological Farmers of Ontario Conference in Belleville from December 2nd to 5th. This 4 day gathering has become a flagship event – bringing together over 400 farmers and supporters from across Ontario for high-calibre, advanced-level workshops, idea-sharing, networking and celebration.This year’s conference will include special celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary milestone. A documentary film that highlights EFAO’s work and impact over the past 40 years, including interviews from founding members, will be screened for the first time. In addition, a celebratory evening on December 3rd will include a keynote address by Katrina McQuail, an inspiring second generation farmer whose parents were founding members of EFAO, and a very special dinner featuring locally-grown ecological and organic ingredients.
“Not many organizations make it to 40 years. This is real milstone that speaks to the importance of the work of farmer-led education and research in ecological agriculture, and to the strength of this movement and its community of farmers.” says Ali English, Executive Director of the EFAO.