Neither rain nor snow or sheets of ice will stay Organicology 2017!

Winter 2017 hit Portland with a vengeance: multiple snow storms, repeated ice storms, and much colder weather than usual. Over about a five-week period from December through mid-January, six separate winter storms plagued Oregon’s largest city. That did NOT slow anyone down inside the Portland Downtown Hilton where spirits were high and coffee was hot!

Organicology – a “portmanteau word” meaning the study of organics – is the biggest conference/trade show focused entirely on organic seeds and produce in the country. This year more than 800 people attended the three-day conference, which included 5 day-long intensives, 25 workshops and listening sessions, and a trade show with 85 companies and organizations exhibiting.

The 2017 event, the 5th session of Organicology, has become the largest gathering representing the full length of the organic food value chain. Attendees represent every part of the organic trade: farmers, seed breeders, farm input suppliers, processors, certifiers, chefs, advocates & educators, policy makers & advocates, non-profits, producers, retailers, merchandisers, produce managers & staff, wholesalers & distributors, and consumers of organic food.

Keynote speakers included Mas Masumoto, third generation California peach farmer and author of 10 books; Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy; and Nikki Silvestri, co-founder and CEO of Silvestri Strategies, and mover/shaker focused on strengthening social equity for under-represented populations. Each brought a unique perspective, a strong sense of humor, and great compassion for the communities, economies, and natural environments that make up our food system. 

Highlight – Intensives

There were 4 “on-site” day-long intensives (the fifth was a farm tour that took place in 40º weather), each of which covered a wide range of business, policy, and management issues. The Case for Independence focused on the experience of organic companies that have held onto private ownership or have grown as co-operatives. One could not have asked for a more varied “cast of characters” describing their paths of independence:

Tony Bedard, CEO, Frontier Co-op
David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer, Dr. Bronner’s
David Lively, VP of Sales & Marketing, Organically Grown Company
George Siemon, CEIEIO, Organic Valley
Bená Burda, Founder & CEO, Maggie’s Organics
Arran Stephens, Co-Founder and CEO, Nature’s Path

Workshops

With so many workshops to choose from, it was simply impossible to dip into more than a few. Critically important was the workshop track focused on organic seed and seed breeding. Organic farming methods are very different from those of “chemical” farming, and organic seeds must be able to compete with weed and pest stresses from which conventional farmers protect their crops.

Fun Stuff

Organicology organizers know that building long-term relationships comes with sharing meals, enjoying a variety of music, and getting involved in seed exchange and varietal tasting.

This year a “sensory” test of 13 different varieties of winter squash challenged taste, smell, sight, and feel. Not exactly sure who was being tested – the squash or the taster!

Trade Show

The organizing wizards behind Organicology were able to turn a homely parking garage into a trade show venue full of color. And displays ranged from the exotic (lemon grass and fresh coconut water in the shell) to the familiar (the most amazing rainbow of beautiful bell peppers)!

Take Aways

  1. Good food – good organic food – is a treasure we must all nurture and protect. Big Ag and Big Food are doing their best to take us away from real food; food that our grandparents and great grandparents recognized.
  2. Organic seed is absolutely necessary to protect biodiversity and to allow farmers and gardeners to grow robust, good tasting fruits, vegetables, and grains using organic production methods that don’t use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
  3. A generation of dedicated pioneers have worked hard to make the world a better place by transforming agriculture; there is a new and passionate generation ready to take up the baton.
  4. If you live anywhere within reach, sign up for Organicology 2019 – it promises to be yet again educational, intellectually stimulating, and a rousing good time!

The “Virtual” Organicology 2017

If you didn’t make it – or if you did – enjoy the event without leaving your chair. There are 146 photos in this gallery. To start the slideshow, click on the first image on page 1. You’ll be able to click through as fast or slowly as you like.

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