The Growing the North conference at the ENTREC Centre over the past few days has been highly successful according to Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Dan Pearcy.
"The conference is always well received by the community," he said. "Yesterday, we had topped out at 475 attendees at the conference, so we're quite thrilled about that and that people are enjoying and listening."
Some of the highlights for Pearcy at the conference were speeches provided by tech companies.
"I'm a techie so Mark Saltzman is definitely one of my favourite speakers. Also, the Stantec presentation - talking about communities and the development and moving of people and creating an environment within our community - were two of the big ones for me," he said.
Saltzman discussed staying competitive and productive with technology.
Perhaps one of the most interesting speakers at the conference was Peter Ladner, author of the Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities.
Ladner discussed how the way Western cultures grow food today has changed so much and with an ever increasing global population, the world's farmer will have to increase production by 70% in order to meet demand by 2050.
"The world's food system is in crisis," he said.
And while the average age of farmers has increased to about 55 years old, Ladner noted young people and city dwellers, especially women, are building urban farms and gardens.
He also mentioned with every degree increase in temperature, crop production globally falls by about 10%, although in northern Alberta it might increase because of a more favourable climate.
The author and former Vancouver city councillor noted that 40% of the food produced is thrown out either by the producer because it doesn't meet a certain standard for size or shape, by the distributor as product that hasn't been bought, or by the consumer as household waste.
In light of these findings and the growing awareness of consumers, Ladner said the way people consume, treat, and regard food has changed with a growing movement towards the 100-mile diet and urban community gardens.
"As people say, 'I want to get more control over the food that I eat. I want to learn more about the food that I eat. I want to have some knowledge of how my food comes to me.' The result is people are building these gardens," said Ladner, noting an increase of farmer's markets and direct to seller markets by farmers.
Businesses have responded to this growing consumer awareness by advertising and selling local product, which can in turn increase sales by 40%, according to a quote Ladner attributed to Galen Weston of Loblaws.
Ladner said about 88% of consumers buy local because they want to support local producers.
The movement has also prompted local governments to respond by providing incentives, such as tax breaks to developers and residents who grow urban gardens and farms, reclamation of brownfield sites, and other things.
"The most popular thing that governments do to make all this happen is to help the farmers markets get established, get rid some of the red tape in the farmer's markets...Also, allowing people to buy and sell produce with their neighbours without licences and inspectors, and allowing people to grow on rooftops," he said.
As for next year's conference, Pearcy said the chamber will begin planning in about a month and deciding on who the speakers will be and he encourages anyone with a suggestion to contact the chamber office.