Manitoba is forging forward with an umbrella organization to represent its expanding organic sector.
Over 60 people met at Headingley this month to launch the Manitoba Organic Alliance (MOA) electing a 13-member board of directors.
This is about creating a representative voice for the entire organic sector in Manitoba, said MOA’s interim secretary Donna Youngdahl, also organic marketing manager with the Canadian Wheat Board.
“There are other organizations working on behalf of organics in Manitoba,” she said. “But we don’t really have one organization that comes together democratically to bring together all players in the value chain.”
The group will encompass Manitoba certifier Organic Producers Association of Mantioba (OPAM), the Organic Food Council of Manitoba (OFCM) plus other organic stakeholder groups in the province.
“We hope that MOA will give all members of the supply chain a unified voice on burning issues,” said Lori Ann Regnier, who operates an organic greenhouse at St. Francois Xavier. “And we do have burning issues.”
Government needs this kind of unified voice in the organic sector, said Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) president Ted Zettel who spoke at the Headingley meeting. They’re a far cry from a few isolated farms who saw themselves as “voices in a wilderness” 25 years ago. The organic industry needs to be well organized if it wants the ear of government, Zettel said.
“We are no longer a fringe group that people don’t notice,” he said. “We are noticed. By government. By researchers. By media and by big business.”
There are also many pressing challenges and issues facing the sector unheard of a few years ago. The sector can get issues addressed only if it’s prepared to interface with government in a highly organized way, Zettel said.
“We need to be able to speak with one voice.”
MOA will now elect and begin sending a representative to OFC, which meets regularly with federal officials on organic concerns.
MOA’s new stated mandate is “to be a representative body of the Manitoba organic value chain, providing a collective voice on issues affecting the sector.” It was pursued after a series of discussions, initiated by MAFRI staff, began last winter. Looming new federal and provincial regulation on the organic standard prompted the group’s formation.
Other organizations do exist in Manitoba but the need was there to form one that brought them all together, said Youngdahl. MOA won’t replicate other groups like the Organic Food Council of Mani toba (OFCM) which does educational work, nor Organic Producers Association of Manitoba (OPAM), which is this province’s primary certifying body.
Those two groups, plus representatives from processing, research, retailing and trading will now fall under the auspices of MOA.
They’re a diverse group and a large board and they wanted it that way, said Priscilla Reimer, an independent organic farm inspector and interim treasurer for MOA. “We’ve tried our best to cover the entire sector,” she said.
Tabitha Langel, co-owner of Tall Grass Prairie at The Forks in Winnipeg praised the formation of MOA. A group that works well together will get things done for the benefit of all, she said. “I was born and raised in a Hutterite colony and I think embedded in my DNA is the knowledge that we can do very little on our own.”
MOA will start to address issues facing the sector such as how to accommodate small-scale farmers who remain non-certified after June 30, what else should be included on the national standard’s permitted substances list, Youngdahl said.
This group will also represent sector concerns around issues such the potential commercialization of Roundup Ready alfalfa.
“MOA is an opportunity to gather people together to look at these challenges to our sector,” she said
The group will meet again April 8 to elect an executive.
For more information contact Donna Youngdahl at 983-5799, John Hollinger (MAFRI organic specialist) at 745-5643 or Marc Boulanger (MAFRI business development specialist) at 483-0458.