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ANATOMY OF A CHAPTER: COG OTTAWA

by Ann Cleary

 

 

It was due to the initiative of Sally Gray that COG’s Ottawa Region Chapter was founded in 1981. At the initial meeting, held at the Cleary home near Carleton Place, Sally was elected the first chairperson with the few members present (culled from the National Office) comprising the executive committee. From small beginnings we have come a long way, with a membership wavering between 450 and 500!

Covering such a large geographic area (Eastern Ontario and part of Western Quebec), it was not easy to develop a program suited to both city and rural dwellers and the diversity of interests in organics. We have always held to our objective of encouraging the adoption of organic food production and consumption. Education is also an important aspect of our chapter as well.

We soon found monthly meetings were not practical in such a large region. It was indeed difficult to hold monthly executive committee meetings and find a reasonably central point to hold them. Funding, of course, has always been a major problem, but we have solved this fairly well by holding a plant sale and a raffle each year as well as bake and craft sales at various events. When the proceeds from these are augmented by donations and the small amounts realized from sales of our Reference Series at fairs, conventions and so on, we manage to keep our heads above water.

Our main avenues of education are:

 

• The Reference Series: These inexpensive 4- and 8-page information folders, written by experts and sold to members and the general public, cover major functions of organic farming and gardening. They provide knowledge for both beginners and the more experienced.

 

• Farming & Gardening Workshops: We hold an annual day-long workshop for farmers in winter and for gardeners in spring. Professionals speak at both, often on a common theme for the day. We also have occasional lectures by persons of consequence and we have a roster of speakers who are members of COG Ottawa and who will speak to us and to other organizations. Orchardist Alvin Filsinger, grower David Cohlmeyer, writers Joe Smillie, Eliot Coleman, Jennifer Bennett, Patrick Lima, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, and Dr. Stuart Hill are a few of our speakers.

 

• Farm & Garden Tours: Each summer we arrange one of each so that members can see how things are done in real life. Usually a picnic is held during the tour to give participants a chance to socialize.

 

• Harvest Festival: In the early years of the chapter, we held a harvest festival/pot luck meal at members’ farms, where we first exchanged produce and later sold to each other. Eventually, this evolved into an annual public Harvest Festival and Fair at Almonte, followed by a pot luck supper. This popular event was a money-maker, but arranging it involved a lot of work. It has not been held for several years because of a lack of volunteers to organize it.

 

• Producers’ List: Each year we put out a list of our producers and encourage members to buy from them. Many now take part in CSA relationships.

 

• Organic Gardening Courses: Aimed at beginners, these courses have been offered for the past two years. They are given by chapter members who are experts in their fields.

 

Down to Earth Newsletter: The one thing that holds our membership together is our chapter’s informal and informative newsletter. This bi-monthly 8-page publication is also available to members of other Chapters for $10 per annum by request to the editor at (613) 257-1038.

We are especially proud of our membership’s input into the popular Ottawa Organic Market, held weekly on Saturday mornings at Kingsway United Church, 630 Island Park Drive, Ottawa, and on Wednesday evenings on a trial basis for the summer.

Our other achievement has been the introduction of an Organic Demonstration Garden at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm. Designed, laid out and maintained by local volunteers, the garden attracts visitors from all over.

Some COG Ottawa members have represented the chapter and the national organization at workshops on pesticides, sustainable agriculture and genetic engineering. Much of the momentum for our development has been due to a dedicated few to whom we owe a vote of thanks. We can always use more volunteers than we have!

Margaret Mead said, "A small group of citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Let us renew our determination to get organic agriculture out of the "niche" and into the mainstream, for our methods are sustainable and the planet needs us.

 

 

Copyright 1995. Ann Cleary.

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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