The Pfennings Organic booth at GOC.

A\J teamers attended the 32nd annual Guelph Organic Conference & Expo to meet other pro-organic folks, enjoy some organic grub and introduce the new A\J. There were also many opportunities to learn about the difference facets of developing organic agriculture through seminars and workshops. Of particular interest to me (and hopefully to you!) was the community workshop stream.

All four community workshops touched on enhancing community resilience through organic agriculture. Even though the speakers approached the theme differently, storytelling was a vital component weaving organic food and communities together.

During Learning from the Past, Richard Hill of the Deyohahage Indigenous Knowledge Centre discussed the philosophy of Haudenosaunee cultivation practices. After realizing his PowerPoint presentation was not working, he quipped, “Traditional knowledge is meant to be shared orally.” Hill was the most compelling speaker of the day because he fully embraced the storyteller role.

Hill stated that storytelling is essential to sharing the inherited knowledge and common experience of producing food and nutrition across generations. He commented that the cause of the current health crisis “is because we’ve gotten so far away from this inheritance.”

Presently, Angie Koch of Fertile Ground, a certified organic CSA here in Kitchener, is using storytelling to create context around her produce, sharing her trials and tribulations with her patrons. During From the Ground Up, she explained that this communication fosters economic resilience because her patrons become invested in the social experience and are more willing to invest their food dollars in the CSA. “It’s about drawing more people into their food story,” she remarked.

During Building a Sustainable, Local Organic Food System in your Community, Parks Canada naturalist, Jenna McGuire of the Bruce Peninsula Environment Group, emphasized the importance of creating resource banks and places for sharing, especially amongst youth. More is learned, she explained, by interacting with members of your community than by simply reading – especially when it comes to composting and canning.

On the other hand, the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO) is tirelessly working at gaining more members. Campaign coordinator Elizabeth Stewart said this is made difficult by the complexity of their message. Most of the Co-Farmer Movement workshop was used to brainstorm new and different ways to get OCO’s voice heard.

The community workshops made clear that storytelling is relevant to the past, present and future of food culture, and this affects the sustainability of our food production and consumption. Above all, the workshops demonstrated that one of the best skills to have in your activist toolkit is the ability to create and share a compelling narrative. Those working the A\J booth at the expo over the weekend will also agree.

A\J would like to thank Guelph Organic for organizing such a fantastic conference. We’re already looking forward to the 2014 Guelph Organic Conference.

Stay tuned for more stories and lessons from the conference. For more on great storytelling, visit TED Talks’ Master Storytellers channel.

Julie is a full-time editorial intern at A\J. As a recent UW graduate with a double major in ERS and Geography & Environmental Management she is looking to promote active modes of transportation and other sustainable urban planning practices.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

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