Guelph Organic Conference Attracts Huge Crowds

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Written by Scott Gilbert

This past weekend the University of Guelph hosted the 26th annual Guelph Organic Conference. The conference has been steadily growing for years, and now attracts delegates from across North America. Over one thousand people were expected to attend the conference, and with the Environmental Science Symposium being held on Saturday, that number was likely surpassed.

Filling the basement and main level of the University Centre, hundreds of exhibitors gathered for a chance to spread the word about their organic products, projects or campaigns. Exhibitors ranged from a publishing company that makes “books for a new society” to the Ban Terminator Seeds campaign. Students, community members and organic keeners from across the country milled through the crowds Saturday and Sunday for a chance to taste some organic chocolate milk, Jamaican style vegetable patties and fair trade/organic coffee.

Workshops throughout the weekend focused on horticulture, making a career in organics, the detrimental effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sustainability and organic agriculture, seed saving and much more.

The keynote speaker was Michael Ableman and he truly had a story to share. He is the founder and executive director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens; a not for profit organization, based on one of the oldest and most diverse organic farms in southern California. Ableman farmed there from 1981 to 2001.

In 1981, an international undergraduate student in the OAC named Ignacio Villa, along with his roommate Ricardo Ramirez, developed the idea for the conference. The students shared a strong interest in alternative agricultural methods and international agricultural issues. They decided to host a “one time” event, which was held in room 103 of the University Centre on the afternoon of March 18, 1982. That event attracted 30 participants and ended at 5:45pm with a buffet supper. The students gained financial support for the event from several departments with Peter Cameron and Tom Kleinbeernik from OPIRG-Guelph even offering office space to assist in the planning of the event.

The group of students and faculty continued to use OPIRG’s space for another three to fours years and eventually moved to an Aggie club space in the University Centre. The first event was so well received that planning for the next event began in the fall of 1982. It is clear that these students had the right idea when coming up with this idea. The conference has progressed into a spectacular event that is widely anticipated.

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