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There was a fairly good turnout at the Annual General Meeting, with 75 to 80 members in attendance. About 18 to 20 children took part in the children's program and by all accounts, they enjoyed their day. The potluck picnic lunch was as great as anticipated. The dishes contributed by members complimented the soup and bread provide by the organization very well, and greatly enhanced the sense of sharing a meal. The keynote speaker was Nancy Matheson the Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) in Montana.
LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS NETWORK
THE AERO EXPERIENCE
During her talk Matheson covered the initial impetus and ongoing concerns of AERO, as mentioned in the last newsletter. She emphasized AERO's concern is not just for developing sustainable farming practices, but for creating sustainable rural communities as well - a subject of increasing importance. Another goal of the program is to share newfound knowledge with interested individuals outside of the organization.
Matheson outlined the functioning of the Improvement Clubs, some of which were prompted by the start-up funding offered by AERO since 1990. Clubs must have at least four members, one of which acts as the group's contact. They must provide an annual work plan, plus regular updates on activities.
AERO's remarkable appeal is evident from its cross section of club members. They range from conventional to organic, from small-scale diversified to large grain growers and livestock ranchers. Operations involved vary in size from one to 6,000 acres. A measure of AERO's success is the enthusiasm members have for attending their annual meeting, some travelling as much as 400 miles, just to hear what the other clubs have been doing.
During her talk Matheson outlined a few of the projects members were tackling. Many grain farmer clubs were investigating various legumes (i.e. black medic, lentils) as alternatives to summerfallowing. Another cash grain club is looking at kamut as an alternative to wheat. A group of Native Americans pursued using sheep with a guard llama to control leafy spurge on range traditionally grazed by cattle. One group of fruit and vegetable growers, both conventional and organic, joined forces to create a farmers' market. Another club was formed to grow a superior strain of garlic (selected by a member of the group), and are currently developing markets in Japan.
The paid staff at AERO help the clubs get underway, and provide the communication network for the group - an essential task considering the vast distances involved. The staff keep records of the club's updates, help prepare their annual summaries, publish a quarterly newsletter and organize an annual conference.
As with any organization, AERO has some difficulties to overcome. Still, with its obvious success to this point, AERO offers an impressive example of what can be achieved through cooperative effort.
Rita Stoller, an EFAO member from Seely's Bay, addressed the crowd after lunch. Prompted by Lawrence Andres, Stoller began organizing a local group last spring. Her first step was to send out invitations, welcoming potential members to drop in for a lunch at the Stoller farm. (Names came from a list of nearby farmers who has taken the EFAO Introductory Course.) During this first meeting the time was spent simply finding out about each other.
The informal setting worked well, and interested farmers agreed to host farm visits and tours on a rotating basis. Meals became potluck, to reduce the work on an individual. Finding time during the hectic days of summer was a problem. Once time constraints eased up in the fall attendance improved.
For farmers bucking mainstream agriculture these gatherings fill a big gap, since few take in events such as "Crop Days" anymore. Stoller sees a lot of value in the socializing, viewing each others' farm, and sharing each others' problems and successes .
During the year's experience she found there was a need for a `leader' to help keep things on track. For the most part, members found the group very rewarding, and plan to continue.
As Stoller finished, Ted Zettel outlined how the central organization of the EFAO could help local group get underway. It could help initially by identifying potential members within certain areas. (See separate article.) At later stages Directors can help in locating or acting as advisors, suggesting other resources, and coordinating communication between groups. Admittedly, its role will evolve as the needs of local groups become clearer.
A short Report from the Directors was given. This included a financial report, plus summaries concerning the library, newsletter, memberships and questionnaires.
As a small sign of appreciation for their years of service, presentations were made to Lawrence Andres, Mike Pembry and Phil Beard. In keeping with the EFAO's focus on food, Mike and Phil received cherry cutting boards and bread knives. In recognition of the extensive efforts of both Lawrence and Mathilde Andres, without whom there would be no EFAO, Ted Zettel presented them with a roll-top bread box and a cutting board. This presentation was somewhat overshadowed by the last gift - a beautiful little goat - intended to inspire a new, easier direction for the Andres.
The last item of the day was the election of Directors. To help introduce all directors to members, we have a separate article.
Copyright © 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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