COG2012conf IMG_0346Tomás Nimmo

Organic Pioneer Award Presented February 2013

Tomás Nimmo started in the organic food business in the mid seventies simply from the back of a pick-up truck with a bushel of carrots.  As the demand and appreciation for organic grew, he found himself part of the pioneering companies, like Green Leaf Food in Waterloo, bringing organic food to retailers at a time when many of the retail stores like Noah’s Natural Foods, Baldwin Natural, and The Big Carrot got their start.  

 Tomás grew up in the city, eating a typical teenage diet and with no particular interest in food.  However, in his late 20‘s, as he moved onto a different, eco-spiritual path, and he saw food as a common way to help people.  Working with the budding organic sector fueled Tomás’s entrepreneurial spirit and his appreciation of meaningful work.  As he got into the business, there was a point of no return when he realized he liked working in the food business and making a living serving people and making change.  

 Tomás has been in on the start of many developments in the organic sector in Ontario.  He was at the founding meeting in 1983 of the organic certifier OCIA.  He was a presenter at the first Guelph organic conference put on by students in 1982, and in 1988, started helping with its organization and has been involved ever since in it’s tremendous growth.  He was also a key player in helping developCanada’s Organic Standards now passed into law.

 From helping businesses grow and working through the challenges and exhilaration of developing the organic sector to steering the Guelph organic conference to it’s current success, Tomás Nimmo is truly an organic pioneer and participant in the phenomenal success of the organic sector.

Mary Lou Morgan

Organic Pioneer Award | Presented February 2012

Mary Lou Morgan has been involved in the local and organic food movement for over 25 years.  She was one of the founding worker-owners of The Big Carrot, one of the creators of FoodShare’s Good Food Box, and currently is the Coordinator of Carrot Cache.

Mary Lou’s interest in food started when she was raising her young family on a small farm near Pickering.  She gardened and kept bees while working part time at a local health food store.  When they moved back to Toronto, she worked for a time at Baldwin’s Naturals, before joining with four others in 1983 to found The Big Carrot, based on the worker cooperative model.

In 1992, Mary Lou left the retail food business, and used her business acumen and social activism to help start Field to Table, a non-profit company helping communities access affordable, nutritious food.  After some trial and error, they came up with the idea of the Good Food Box, a box of fruits and vegetables purchased from local farmers and the Ontario Food Terminal.  Customers signed up and paid for a box delivered to their area as often as once a week.  Today this service is a major one of FoodShare, and over 4000 Good Food Boxes go out every month.

Retired from FoodShare, Mary Lou is still actively involved in creating a local, organic and sustainable food system through her involvement with Carrot Cache.  Carrot Cache receives funds from a percentage of The Carrot Common Mall’s profits and is dedicated to supporting, through grants and loans, projects involving organic agriculture and cooperative businesses.

It is safe to say that Mary Lou Morgan has touched many in the local and organic food movement.  She is much loved and respected by many who have benefited from her vision, dedication and inspiration.

Ontario Natural Food Co-op

Organic Pioneer Award | Presented February 2011

Ontario Natural Food Co-op is a member-owned and directed wholesaler for its members.  It was established in 1976, making this year its 35th anniversary of supplying organic, natural and local foods and products to natural food stores, retail co-ops, buying clubs, local independent community grocery stores, daycares, and non-profit organizations.  With a vision of living in a sustainable world from seed to plate, ONFC espouses values of ethical business practices, co-operative values, quality, education, innovation and financial responsibility.

One of ONFC’s innovations is a private label brand for local, Ontario grown and produced, healthy foods.  This Ontario Natural brand is their commitment to contributing to a sustainable food system that supports the local Ontario economy and organic farming community.

Another way ONFC supports organic purchasing and a sustainable food system is through their Buying Clubs.  These are groups of at least five adults and/or families who get together to buy directly from ONFC.

Canadian Organic Growers is proud to be awarding ONFC the 2011 Organic Pioneer Award at this conference for their contribution and commitment to organic food and agriculture and a healthy food system.

shapeimage_5ONFC logo copy

Wilhelm and Barnhild Pfenning

Lifetime Organic Hero Award | Presented February 2010

It’s not easy starting over.  It’s not easy starting over in a new country, in an industry that is stillnew, without knowing if enough people will share your vision to enable you to survive and raise your family.  But that’s exactly what Wilhelm and Barnhild Pfenning did when they came to Canada from Germany in 1981.

The Pfenning family had been farmers in Germany since the late 1600’s.  In the early 1900‘s, like so many other farmers, they embraced the new chemical farming.  However, Wilhelm began to question the benefit of this modern agriculture on his own health and that of the crops he was growing.  At a time when expert advice on chemical free farming was lacking, he had to educate himself through reading, particularly the writing of Rudolph Steiner, and finding like-minded farmers.

Finally, in 1965, Wilhelm and Barnhild made the commitment to farm organically and have not looked back.  Then a further difficulty arose.  The new A7 Autobahn was going to be built through their farmstead.  Wilhelm and Barnhild were forced to reconsider, and they made the difficult choice to relocate to Canada in 1981.  They found property near Baden, Ontario, and immediately started farming.  Over the years, the business has steadily grown.  Pfennings is now one of the most well-known and trusted suppliers of organic products to health food stores, small grocers and supermarkets in Ontario.

This is all due to the hard work and dedication of Wilhelm and Barnhild Pfenning, and their commitment to the ideals reflected in their motto “Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy People”.  They are truly organic heroes, respected and esteemed in the Canadian organic sector.  We are happy to honour them with the Lifetime Organic Hero Award. 

Ann Clark, Ph.D.

Organic Pioneer Achievement Award | Presented February 2009

Who is a pioneer?  Someone who takes the risks of the adventurer and the insight of the visionary and combines them with perseverance and determination to make change happen that opens up the road for others to follow.

As a professor at the University of Guelph, Ann stepped forward to research, publish, teach and support organic agriculture at a time when organic was at best ignored and at worst denigrated.  As she says about the university, “There’s a lot of resistance to change and a lot of resistance to kicking over the traces, in doing something that’s not ordinary and in particular things that challenge the values of the place.”

One of the areas where Ann has chosen to take a stand is genetic engineering of crops.  Even though this puts her at odds with some of her colleagues at the University of Guelph, she feels strongly enough to add a well-reasoned but strongly critical voice to the debate around this controversial issue.

As she approaches retirement, where she will join the ranks of the organic farmers she learned so much from, she says, “I personally see organic is the future.  I don’t see how we can continue farming the way that we have been farming.  It’s not necessarily for reasons of purity or toxins.  I really think that conventional farming, just energetically and resource-wise, is not going to continue.  We’re going to have to do things differently – more food secure, more local food, less resource intensive ways of farming.  Coupled with the fact that society is increasingly unwilling to keep paying the externalized costs of agriculture, I really think all of the indicators are a future that’s increasingly organic.”

Ann is a worthy recipient of the Organic Pioneer Achievement Award.  We are grateful to her contributions that have benefited us all. 

Alvin Filsinger (1925 – 2010)

Lifetime Organic Hero Award | Presented February 2008

Alvin Filsinger is one of Canada’s organic pioneers.  His Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors settled on an 85-acre property in Ayton, ON, in the early 19th century, after migrating from Southern Germany via Pennsylvania and Kitchener (then called Berlin).  The orchard was planted to apples in the 1940s and 50s, and is a library of heritage varieties on old standard-sized trees.

In the 1950s, Alvin was supplying bagged apples to the Great Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) supermarkets.  He shipped them by rail to just about every state in the USA until 1972.  Through those decades, he became a peer to founders of the organic and biodynamic movement, such as Rodale and Pfeiffer, and built the home farm into a major apple growing, packing and processing business.

Between 1964, when the on-farm Filsinger Health Food Store was built, and 1999, the business expanded to include a cider press and bottling plant, cold storage, vinegar production, and a fresh apple sorting and packing facility.  During the rise of commercial organics, Filsinger’s apple business was a major supplier to the emerging health food sector.

Alvin sold the home farm to a local family, who will continue supplying OCIA-certified apples to the Toronto area, under the name “Filsinger Organics”.  He continues to farm on a reduced scale at his new orchard in Tiverton, ON, under the old name “Filsinger Natural Foods”.  He is still growing fresh organic apples for the Ontario market, and has been accredited by the biodynamic certifier Demeter.

Alvin will continue to play a role in the organic movement, but is passing on the job of marketing to a younger generation.  These changes create opportunities to learn about organic foods and farming from a true elder with a wealth of wisdom.  During 2008, an apprenticeship program will give knowledge-seekers a chance to barter their labour for lessons in life, high-brix organic gardening and fruit farming.