Celebrating organic

By Susanne Martin, Managing Editor

What started over a couple drinks one night during the recession has turned into a nationwide celebration with an ever-growing number of participants from all walks of life, says Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA).

Canada’s National Organic Week, held from September 20 to 28, is the largest annual celebration of organic food, farming and products across the country. Organized by COTA, Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), the event’s popularity reflects the high regard Canadians have for organic, says Holmes.

“Organic Week started in late 2008,” he recalls. “A colleague from Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and I decided we needed a focus point for the brands and consumers that were behind organic and were driving the growth of the market.”

At the time, there wasn’t much data available, according to Holmes, who knew that the organic market was growing but didn’t have much information on who was buying organic. “Even while people were cutting back and penny-pinching, they were increasingly choosing to buy quality food for their families,” he says.

In the five years since the inception of Organic Week, the organic market has seen substantial growth. Thanks to the increasing demand for organic products, approximately 5,000 certified organic producers and manufacturers are now operating in Canada. Organic food sales reached $3.5-billion in 2012, three times what was sold in 2006, making Canada the world’s fourth largest organic market.

The numbers speak for themselves, says Ashley St Hilaire, COG’s acting executive director, who adds another statistic: while the numbers of total farms have declined by 17 per cent from 2001 to 2011, organic farms have grown by an impressive 66.5 per cent.

“Organic farming is helping to revive our rural communities,” she says. “It has attracted a whole new diverse generation of farmers in Canada, many of whom didn’t even grow up in rural settings. More and more people are choosing to farm organically because they want to be part of an amazing organic community and they have an unwavering belief in the principles of organic production.”

Another development worthy of celebration is the growing awareness that sustainably grown organic food benefits our environment, families and communities, says St Hilaire. “Canadians have become highly literate consumers, who are very conscious of what they feed themselves and their families.”

CHFA president Helen Long agrees. “Canadians can feel confident that when they purchase a product with the Canada organic logo, they are not only investing in their health, but also supporting sustainable environmentally friendly practices and animal welfare,” she says, adding that with over 1,000 members across Canada dedicated to natural health and organic products, CHFA is proud to once again support Organic Week and shine a spotlight on the important impact the organic industry has for Canadians.

The public’s response has been amazing, according to Holmes. “It’s incredible to see the amount of social media and support behind Organic Week on Facebook and Twitter. We love hearing from Canadians, who are planning events, telling us how they’re celebrating and what they’re cooking, or questions they have about organic farming,” he says. “In many ways, it feels like we’ve really broken through this year. With major retailers like Loblaw and Sobeys participating and hundreds of independent grocers and natural health food stores across the country, Organic Week is really going to touch Canadians in every part of the country.”

St Hilaire sees the enthusiastic endorsement of this year’s event as a testament to the strength of the Canadian organic market. “I think what people are looking for – and what Organic Week offers them – is a chance to connect with the people who grow and make their food, to know where the food came from and how it was made.”

Click to view the Organic Week report.