Is Organic Farming That Different?
Prairie Organics Tradeshow Aims to Educate, Facilitate and Engage with Local Market

Brandon First is pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the Prairie Farm Organics organizers to bring their Prairie Organics – Think Whole Farm conference and trade show to Brandon.
Not only does it generate new economic activity in Brandon, but it aligns with the city’s agricultural roots and provides residents and visitors to Brandon with an opportunity to learn about organic farming practices and how that results in healthier food

By now, most people are aware of the concept of the Organic food movement. Like many, my understanding of this movement really has come from social media, online articles and word-of-mouth experiences from friends and family. And while that’s all well and good, it also tends to lead to misinformation and misunderstanding about what exactly “organic” means.

As of 2009 any food labelled “organic” must be thoroughly scrutinized and certified meeting certain high standards and criteria. But what does that mean exactly?

In order to meet these strict requirements growing systems must not use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. But organic is not just about what you can’t do – in other words, producers can not be organic by neglect. Organic standards require producers to demonstrate that they are actively building soil health in cropping systems and building healthy immune systems in livestock. The theory is that this leads to a more natural growing environment and healthier food for not only us, but also benefits the natural flora and fauna of the area.

“Organic” doesn’t always mean higher prices at the grocery store, or that if you don’t own a set of hipster glasses and a plaid shirt you can’t walk a healthier path. That sort of awareness is precisely what the organizers of the Prairie Organics – Think Whole Farm Conference and trade show are trying to spread to the wider community.

Admission to the tradeshow is free and open the public, but registration is required for the conference program. 

The 2018 Prairie Organics – Think Whole Farm conference and tradeshow will take place at the Keystone Centre from February 23rd to 24t

“The event is targeted primarily to producers, especially organic and transitioning producers,” says Laura Telford, Organic Sector Development Specialist of Manitoba Agriculture, “The tradeshow will also be of interest to the general public and we hope that Brandon residents will come out.” Exploring the specialized equipment used on organic farms as well as presentations by speakers on  the Ag Innovation Stage will help allow the uninitiated to gain a better understanding of these environmentally-friendly farming practices. Getting this information out to the wider public is the best way to change the preconceived notions some people may have developed about organics, and will give residents the knowledge base we need to make informed decisions about the produce and agriculturally related products we are purchasing. Additionally, awareness is a great start to dispelling some of the misinformation that is out there about the organic agricultural industry.

Prairie Organics organizers started this event with help from the Manitoba Agriculture in 2016 and their inaugural run took place at the University of Manitoba. After evaluating success of that event they found they had outgrown their location which prompted a move 200 kilometers down the road to Brandon. That is when Pat Pollock, a local connection to the Organics industry, came on board.

“Most of the organic producers in Manitoba are based in Westman. Hosting an event in Brandon also gives us access to a much larger group of organic producers in the rest of the Prairie Region” says Telford.

While the event started humbly with a few interested parties coming together, the dream, says organizing team member Pollock, is to grow to the size of an Ag Days type event, but solely focused on the Organic sector. She points out that Ag Days started as a one room Weed Fair, and hopes they will see similar growth and success in years to come.

Laura Telford adds “We think this is the beginning of something big in Brandon. We hope each year the event will grow and attract more area producers and members of the public.”

Creating an event from the ground up has both its benefits and its challenges, Telford and Pollock explain.  While it allows you to craft an event that is tailored to exactly what you want it to be, it requires quick thinking, long-term planning, and a willingness to adapt and change as your event does.

“Even though we ran this conference once before in 2016, changing venues means you are essentially starting over. You are dealing with new vendors and suppliers for the first time,” Telford says, but she adds “Almost all aspects of planning the event have been rewarding.  Seeing the response and level of interest in participation from mainstream ag suppliers has been surprising and rewarding.”

Their advice to anyone wanting to create an event like this is to have a good plan in place and the right people recruited to help you execute your vision. Communication is probably the most important part of the planning process. Once Prairie Organics began to generate some social media attention and “buzz” around the event they really started to see an uptake in interest in not only booth purchases but potential attendees.

They followed a step by step process by which they evaluated their first conference and realised that they needed a larger venue. The second phase was to send members of their planning committee to familiarize themselves with the potential venues in Brandon.  From there they hired a summer student to review the data and work out the logistics once the Keystone Centre was chosen as the venue. Upon the return of the student to school they hired a conference planner to iron out the final details regarding booth sales and venue communications. “Everything is in place,” says Telford, “we’re just dealing with the details. We’re now entering the final lap.”

As one of their first points of contact Brandon First was thrilled to provide support to the re-creation of this event in our city. We did this through both a brainstorming session on volunteers and promotion as well as with assistance on an application for an Event Hosting Grant through the city’s Accommodation Tax program. “Brandon First was awesome. We had a great meeting to talk about how they could help and they gave us a lot of great ideas about how to attract volunteers, reach the public and get the word out about the conference,” Telford says. Pollock adds, “Their enthusiasm was great and they were very helpful in facilitating our application for the Accommodation Tax program”.

The 2018 Prairie Organics – Think Whole Farm conference and tradeshow will take place at the Keystone Centre from February 23rd to 24th and will include the conference featuring over 25 speakers who are experts in their respective areas of study, a tradeshow featuring 60 exhibitors, as well as pre-conference tours of the ACC sustainable greenhouse on their north hill campus and of Shape Foods, a local organic flax processor. They also plan to facilitate business-to-business connections through pre-arranged private meetings between producers and purchasers, allowing for some unprecedented one on one access between two key parties in the organic supply chain.  

Admission to the tradeshow is free and open the public, but registration is required for the conference program. A list of the speakers and breakout sessions available are profiled on their Facebook page and additional information can be found on their website at Brandon First looks forward to seeing the success of this event and working with Prairie Organics on future Brandon based events.