Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
ALFRED — With COVID-19 still in the air, Ontario’s French-language agricultural rights lobby group has organized an elaborate series of online sessions this week which, when taken together, comprise its 2021 conference and annual meeting.
Under the banner “United and Connected”, several panels and speakers will be discussing everything from organic farming to female leadership in the industry. All sessions will be in French.
And high-profile guests will be in the mix, including federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, Ontario Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman, and Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney who doubles as Francophone Affairs Minister. Canada’s Taxpayers Ombudsman Francois Boileau is also on the speakers list.
Another highlight will be awarding Friday, 6:30 p.m., of the Pierre-Bercier Prize for Agricultural Excellence to someone who has shown exceptional support to the industry and to rural Franco-Ontarian communities. Some of Eastern Ontario’s most prominent Francophone farmers and activists are previous winners.
Based at former Alfred Campus of the University of Guelph, l’Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens (UCFO) kicked off the week of interconnected information sessions Monday with a presentation in conjunction with Boises Est – Eastern Ontario’s association of French-language woodlot owners – on strategic forestry to protect crops, followed by one on rehabilitating marginal farmland under the ALUS program.
UCFO general manager Danik Lafond said about 50 people registered for Monday’s conference opening, a number he expects to grow as the week goes on. Registration is through the UCFO website which includes the conference agenda and details; registration fees are based on topics selected, with no requirement to enroll in the entire event.
Hardeman and Mulroney addressed delegates as part of the annual business meeting which will include financial reports, president’s report and an election to replace board members Alexandre Chabot and Mireille Leroux whose terms are up.
Among other things, president Nicholas Dessaint referred to the “great upheaval” caused by C-19 over the past year including cancellation of many traditional events, causing UCFO to discover different ways to communicate with its members such as the online conference now underway.
In his remarks, Lafond underlined the surge in interest in local food and new business opportunities for farmers which have occurred among the challenges of dealing with the pandemic. He’ll suggest it’s time to prepare for agriculture’s resurgence as a driving force in the Ontario economy.
The conference will continue Wednesday through Friday with sessions in collaboration with the Eastern Ontario Food Network on promoting small agricultural businesses, with Canadian Organic Growers on transitioning to organic practices, and on female leadership in agriculture featuring Boileau and Mulroney.