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Guelph Organic Conference highlights growing demand for organic foods and products (10 photos)

'Over the years, organics have become much more mainstream'

About 1,500 visitors from across Canada and the United States descended upon the Royal City over the weekend for the 37th annual Guelph Organic Conference, one of the largest annual organic food events in Canada.

Held at University Centre, the conference featured four days of workshops, as well as a free weekend trade show open to the public that connected a diverse crowd of families, home gardeners, health food buffs and natural health enthusiasts with farmers, manufacturers and other businesses or services.

“The organic sector in Canada is experiencing tremendous growth. Over the years, organics have become much more mainstream,” said Susan Ratz, communications coordinator for Guelph Organic Conference.

“Individuals are keen to make healthy choices for their family and the environment. For farmers, there is significant demand for organic crops and price premiums.”

Exhibitor booths saw lineups form during peak times as consumers took advantage of a myriad of certified organic products catered for them.

“There's a real buzz and energy to the trade show. The offerings are very diverse - from food samples to racks of seeds to small farm equipment,” Ratz added.

Parents, children and other attendees stood side-by-side, enthusiastically taste-testing samples of the five varieties of kombucha on tap from local brewery Live Kombucha, which has operated from its Victoria Road South location since 2013.  

Live Kombucha’s owner and brewmaster Lorman Ip was on-hand to chat and answer questions from the crowd as he rang sales through. Ip said he’s found there’s generally a good awareness within Guelph of kombucha and its health benefits, unlike other places where he needs to highlight it a bit more.

The Organic Meadow booth was another favourite of the crowd, lured in by samples of tasty organic cheese and chocolate milk, an eye-catching display of their product line and organic yogurt debut, and a friendly, smiling staff.

“We’re proud of growing the organic movement from the ground up, and playing a small role in helping make organic food accessible to Canadian families,” said Kathy Ecclestone, office administrator and marketing assistant at Organic Meadow.

The company is headquartered in Guelph and recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Ecclestone said they watched with excitement as demand for organic dairy continued to grow.

“Organic is what we’re all about. We were one of the pioneers in organic – the first to market organic milk in Canada over 25 years ago. Not many people realize that. And so for us, it’s important to support organic from the ground up, and we enjoy engaging with consumers and farmers alike at this great conference.”

Organic clothing has been slow getting onto consumers’ radars, but Grey Rock Clothing Co. hopes to change that.

The owner of the downtown-based shop, Lynda Baker, and sales associate Courtney McCarthy were on hand to raise awareness about the benefits of fair trade, organic clothing and to help people make conscious clothing choices.

“Despite a boom in natural, organic products, consumers tend to have confusion about the high price-point of fair trade, organic clothing,” McCarthy said.

'Permaculture Realty Specialist' John Gaida’s booth featured a family photo album filled with idyllic images of smiling children, green grass, chickens and beehives snapped on his 3.5-acre farm just outside of Guelph.

It’s all part of “selling the lifestyle.” Gaida specializes in finding large, rural properties for urban dwellers looking to set up a homestead. He has seven years of experience as a sales representative with Home Group Realty (Guelph) and is certified in permaculture design.

Gaida said that demand for farms and rural properties is growing.

“As the world wakes up to the realization that there are limited resources, political uncertainties and possible food and water shortages ... more and more people have been turning to permaculture as a solution,” Gaida wrote in an email.

“I came from the city, with no experience in farming and homesteading, and took the leap into the country. If I can do it, I can help others do the same.”