One of the best ways to learn about new or interesting practices in agriculture is to talk to someone face-to-face.
Reading about farming can only take you so far; inspiration and detailed information can come from great human resources. Talking to expert growers or researchers at on-farm workshops, tours, and conferences like the fabulous ACORN conference (coming up in Dartmouth NS in November 2011!) is great, but what do you do when you can’t leave the farm?
High gas prices combined with too much to do during the growing season make traveling impractical for most of the year. Fortunately, the Internet comes to the rescue!
This winter, I’ve become a lover of webinars – online seminars. They have become popular as a way to discuss agricultural topics, driven (in Canada) by the Agriwebinars offered by the Canadian Farm Business Management Council. A computer with highspeed Internet is all that us necessary to get started.
There are two ways to experience a webinar: live and archived. Attending a live webinar is great if you have questions for a presenter. There is usually a ‘chat’ mechanism where you can type in or email your questions to the presenter to get answers – an amazing chance to talk directly to resource people. Archived webinars don’t allow this interactivity, but are great when you can’t attend the session ‘in person’. I sometimes set up a webinar to run while I am doing something else (like laundry) and feel much smarter after that hour is up!
So what’s out there for organic growers?
Agriwebinar.com – the Canadian Farm Business Management Council site
This site has a ton of webinars on business, marketing and financial topics useful for both organic and non-organic growers at a variety of scales. There are also some covering more practical techniques. You will be asked to register before you view a webinar, but it’s a simple process that you only need to do the first time you visit the site.
This spring, an Ontario grower (Tarrah Young) presented a cool one on Root Cellars, discussing a variety of different styles and showing how they transformed their swimming pool into a root cellar! There were also several webinars presented this year by the Canadian Organic Growers based on their publications: these are interesting and definitely useful for new farmers.
- Transition to Organic Livestock Production
- Making the Transition to Small Scale Organic Produce Farming
- Recordkeeping for Organic Growers
You can also check out two sessions that were cosponsored by ACORN in 2010:
- Creating a Successful Farm Apprenticeship Program with Rowena Hopkins
- The Organic Plan for New and Established Growers with Rupert Jannasch
Also, there are some presentations sponsored by the Certified Organic Association of BC – a worthwhile one to watch is Jane Morrigan’s Using Grandin-like Principles in Livestock Production: Small Things Sure Can Make a Difference
The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada presented some Seminars in 2008 for organic practitioners that are now posted online. Principles of Organic Horticulture was presented by Frédéric Thériault from Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm (the same farm as Dan Brisebois, a popular presenter at this year’s ACORN conference) and covers different options for rotations and different fertility amendments.
US Extension: eOrganic
Looking further afield, I was thrilled to discover a portal for US organic agriculture extension information. Called eOrganic.info, it connects educators, researchers, and farmers and presents recent news, extension articles, and links to webinars and research presentations on You Tube. As the topics are specific to the US context, there is some variation from what we do up here but the production information is pretty relevant. They have a big list of available Webinars, including…
- Cover Crop Selection
- High Tunnel Production and Low Cost Tunnel Construction
- Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production
- Transitioning Organic Dairy Cows Off and On Pasture
- Third-Party Audits for Meat Processors
This winter, ACORN offered three workshops using this format, covering topics like Changes to the Organic Standards, Including Livestock on your Vegetable Operation, and Preparing Potting Soils. They aren’t archived online, but the presentations can be emailed to you if requested. We used a combination of telephone conference call and slideshow so that attendees could ask questions over the phone. This led to some great discussion among growers across the Maritimes.
Are there any disadvantages to webinars? Although the technology is pretty advanced, you may encounter technical difficulties. I have a Mac, and in some webinars the slideshow panels are cut off so I can’t see the whole slide. Someone more tech-savvy than I could probably figure out a solution. You may start a presentation only to find it is not to your liking (although it’s easier to turn off a webinar than to sneak out of a workshop early)! Finally, the biggest disadvantage is that it keeps me indoors in front of a computer when I could be putting my newly learned skills into practice. On that note, I’m logging off now.
Written by Roxanne Beavers, ACORN Extension Specialist. Have an organic question on certification or transitioning? Email Roxanne (Roxanne @ acornorganic [dot] org)