by Abra Brynne, Executive Director
I started attending Kootenay Organic Growers meetings shortly after a group of farmers came together to form it in the mid 1990’s. The idea was to create a farmer-run organization that would allow local access to certification, keep the costs down, and allow farmers to distinguish themselves from other claims in the marketplace. Among those early visionaries were: Jules Delaney, David Bromley, Gregoire Lamoureux, Bonnie Baker, Habibe Gonzales, John Johnson, Carol Ross, Dan Ferguson, Yana Maltais, Pat Armstrong, Ed Heide, and Park Cowin.
At the time I was the Manager of the cashiers and customer service at the Kootenay Coop. More and more customers were coming in asking about organics and wanting to know what we had in the store and if the label meant anything. I wanted to be able to answer truthfully so I tracked down and read the standards and then started attending KOGS meetings.
It did not take me long to realize that I could put my laptop and administrative skills at the service of KOGS, taking minutes and writing letters, for example, to the Ministry of the Environment to try to curtail the spraying of pesticides near organic farms. I also created a seasonal produce guide for KOGS, using my then Co-op co-worker’s artist in residence, Gordon Seward’s wonderful art. I am pleased to know that this guide is still in use and readily available.
I championed the Coop supporting this fledgling group of farmers who were committed to farming in a way that is respectful of the earth. I felt that KOGS would grow stronger if the Coop made a point of privileging certified organic produce from area farmers and the Coop agreed. And I continued to show up and to volunteer with KOGS: over the years I have been on the Board many times, I was the KOGS rep to the provincial organic organization (COABC), I was the KOGS representative on the Standards Review Committee, and I have been a member of the certification committee on and off for many years. If you really want to understand what it means to eat organic foods, I highly recommend a course of study that results from hanging out and working alongside organic farmers.
I have also observed heartening changes over the years. At one point the membership dwindled and those of us on the Board had to do double duty on the Certification Committee. In more recent times, we have seen a consistent increase in the number of farmers joining KOGS and volunteering on its Board and Certification Committee. I have also seen an increase in younger farmers, many of whom have succeeded in passing that vital 10 year mark in business that indicates a level of stability for their business and a vital contribution to our local food economy and collective food security.
In the years that I have been working with KOGS, I have developed many deep friendships with some truly wonderful farmers in this region and across the province. And I know that I am privileged to have done so – the volunteer work has been a small price to pay for the relationships and knowledge that I have gained.
So on a Sunday in February, I joined my farmer friends and Rachael Roussin of Kootenay Boundary Farm Advisors at yet another KOGS Annual General Meeting. It is truly worth celebrating the vision of its founders and the tenacity that has brought about the success that KOGS is: in our little part of the province, a region often overlooked as a farming area, for a quarter of a century, we have provided services, supports and certification to area farmers for the benefit of our region’s food culture and economy. I am in awe of and so appreciative of the countless hours of hard work that farmers have been putting in to KOGS over the years, on top of all that they do to bring us precious food.