Dinner-table discussions at The New Farm near Creemore are taking on a heightened significance for Ontario’s organic farming community in 2019, as both members of the farm’s husband-and-wife management team have taken on key leadership roles in separate organic sector organizations.
Brent Preston is now president of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) following an annual general meeting in Ottawa on June 20. Gillian Flies now fills the same role for Canadian Organic Growers (COG).
Why it matters: As the federal government works towards building policy to counter climate change, organic farmers should have a unified voice promoting their potential role in environmental rejuvenation.
Their New Farm sits on 100 acres, about 25 of which are under cultivation for organic salad greens, cucumbers, potatoes and beets destined for restaurants. The balance of the land since the couple purchased it almost 15 years ago has been planted to more than 12,000 trees and serves as pasture for about 40 cattle.
Flies says their change of both career and home base was undertaken in response to their concerns about climate change. She and Preston were living in Toronto and had both worked overseas and in Canada in international political development issues ranging from human rights to democratic institutions.
“And the further we got into this, we realized that regenerative agriculture is what we need to be working towards. And we believe that organic farmers are already the closest to regenerative agriculture that we have in Canada.”
Flies, who grew up on a sheep farm in Vermont, became a member of the COG board of directors in 2018. She says its strengths include its cross-Canada membership base, library of resources for transitional and organic growers and the governmental and non-governmental connections it had built up through its head office in Ottawa. A significant part of her motivation at the time was to help COG find alternative sources of income beyond membership dues.
Now over a year later and after agreeing to step in as president, she identifies an expanded goal. In addition to building financial stability through expanded membership and strengthened fundraising channels, she wants COG to have increased influence as Canadian politicians and policy-makers address climate change.
“I see COG playing the role of building a strong coalition of organic farmers nationally,” Flies says.
While several strong organizations represent organic farmers on a provincial or local level, Flies says she would like to see COG serve more effectively than it does now as a representative voice in Ottawa for these and other groups of organic and regenerative agriculture proponents.
She says it has become increasingly important that policy decision-makers are exposed to information about the environmental impacts of conventional agriculture, and about the value that can be brought by regenerative practices.
“Government, right now, is really focused on developing policies that respond to climate change, and I don’t think organic farmers have, collectively, a strong voice.”
Flies took over as COG president from Rochelle Eisen, a B.C.-based specialist in certification, inspection and organic extension.