What do a soy bean farmer, a nurse who runs a community garden, an activist working to stop toxic chemicals, an environmental architect and a food writer all have in common? We all shared a table at the Canadian Organic Growers (COG) conference this past Saturday.

With a theme of “Growing Up Organic”, the various presentations focussed on how organic food compared to conventionally grown food and how that might affect children’s health, as well as looking at the various organic food programmes in daycares and schools that were encouraging parents and teachers to choose and promote organics at home.

Speakers included Thomas Pawlick, author of The End of Food, Dr. Rick Smith from Environmental Defence Canada, Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council and Kim Crosby of Real Food For Real Kids.

The event also featured the first ever “Organic Food Hero” awards, with honourees in various categories. For her series “Organic Goes Mainstream”, Jill Eisen of CBC Radio received the Organic Media Hero award. Chef Michael Stadtlander was a awarded the “Organic Supporter” award for his work championing organic food and farming. The Organic Organization Hero for this year was Anne Slater of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Bread and Roses Café in Hamilton, Ontario won the award for Best Restaurant Serving Organic Food, and The Canadian Organic Growers Volunteer award went to Anne Macey.

With the Canadian organics industry growing at a rate of 25% per year, organic growers have realized they are on the cusp of something big and extremely important. While the nutritional benefits of eating organics are still widely debated – even at Saturday’s conference, one presenter showed from his own experiments that the nutrient levels are comparable between organic and conventionally-grown produce – organic food is generally recognized as being an overall healthier option. Since organic farming bans the use of harmful toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, organic foods do not contribute to the miasma of synthetic chemicals the average human body now contains.

As Canada is still one of the worst pollution-producing countries, and many health concerns can be linked to chemical exposure, organic farming, both in terms of the methods and the end product that makes it to consumers, is an important step forward.

One issue that arose repeatedly in the question and answer sessions was the need for local organic food and more promotion for local organic markets. The bags of freebies handed out to participants were primarily full of items from the President’s Choice Organics line, and while President’s Choice must be commended for their extensive work in promoting organics, many of the conference participants, particularly the farmers, wondered why PC wasn’t sourcing more of their organic products and ingredients locally.

Besides the speakers, attendees were treated to an organic lunch buffet. There was also an organic marketplace with a variety of vendors and displays including the Toronto Vegetarian Association and Merchants of Green Coffee.

The day ended with a seminar discussing whether organics are worth the sometimes additional cost to the consumer. With more and more large corporations jumping on the organic bandwagon, it’s entirely feasible that we will eventually see organics either at par or cheaper than conventionally-grown foods. What we must all watch for and insist upon, however, is that the high standards organic growers must currently meet do not become watered-down to accommodate the business model of large quantities of food for very little money. When you look at the overall health benefits to both our bodies and the environment that organic food production creates, it’s easy to see that growing up organic is most definitely worth it.