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Agri-Food Innovations Awarded in Richmond Hill

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Agri-Food Innovations Awarded in Richmond Hill

The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes the success of rural communities, farms and food processing sectors and agri-food organizations in Ontario. Their innovations improve existing products, create jobs and grow the economy. 

The program recognizes 50 awards, including a Premier's Award, Minister's Award, and three Leaders in Innovation.

The following are award recipients of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from Durham Region, Halton Region, Hastings County, City of Toronto, and York Region.

Geissberger Farmhouse Cider Inc. -- Hampton, Durham Region

When the nights get cooler, the leaves start to turn and apples weigh down the branches in orchards across the province, the Geissbergers' mobile cider mill hits the road.  The first of its kind in Ontario, this cider press on wheels travels to the apples, rather than the other way round.  With top-of-the-line technology and computerized pressing equipment, the customized trailer can process 500 litres of cider an hour.  And because the Geissbergers use bag-in-box packaging that keeps the cider fresh for up to a full year, growers can press all their apples at the peak of their flavour, rather than storing some for later processing.  It all adds up to fewer costs for producers and tastier cider for their customers. In October, Geissberger Farmhouse Cider Inc. also received a "Leaders in Innovation" award for their innovation. 

WindReach Farm -- Ashburn, Durham Region 

At WindReach, everyone can enjoy a day in the country.  The 103-acre barrier-free farm welcomes over 20,000 visitors each year who come to feed the cows, learn how to shear a sheep or navigate their way through the fall corn maze.  And that's just the beginning.  WindReach offers wheelchair-accessible wagon rides, therapeutic horseback riding lessons, educational resources in braille and much more.  Meanwhile, its volunteer and work placement programs give people of all abilities hands-on experience and the chance to develop valuable social and vocational skills.  A leader in agri-food education, WindReach Farm continues to expand its services to people living with mental and physical disabilities and make important contributions to the agricultural sector in Ontario.

Sheridan Nurseries -- Georgetown, Halton Region

When you're the biggest nursery grower in Canada, you go through a lot of water.  And if you're Sheridan Nurseries, you do all you can to minimize that water footprint.  The company started by installing drip and spray stick irrigation, which cut their water use by up to 80 per cent.  That wasn't enough to satisfy Sheridan, however.  It then installed a $1.3 million system to capture rainwater and overspray.  The first stage is a settling pond designed to remove sediments.  Next comes a man-made wetland that filters out more sediments, as well as nutrients.  The purified water is then stored in a 1.4-hectare pond until it's needed for irrigation.  The system proved its worth during the 2012 drought, keeping nursery plants green and healthy during a 19-day watering ban.

Ontario Water Buffalo Company -- Stirling, Hastings County

In 2008, Martin Littkemann and Lori Smith established the first water-buffalo dairy in the province.  The duo found eager buyers for the milk, which is crucial to making authentic mozzarella.  But to ensure a consistent supply, they needed to ensure their buffaloes got pregnant at scheduled intervals.  That can be tricky when standard artificial insemination methods for water-buffalo have a success rate of just 25 per cent.  So Littkemann and Smith did some research, ran trials and developed a unique breeding system that has boosted conception rates to 80 per cent.  Not only does this create the steady flow of milk they need, it has cut the cost per pregnancy by 50 per cent and allowed them to produce more calves each year.  For lovers of made-in-Ontario mozzarella, that's good news indeed. 

EcoSpace Engineering Ltd. -- City of Toronto

Each year, livestock manure around the world generates millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.  But Ivan Milin thinks he has the solution...fly larvae.  Milin's invention, aptly named the "Milinator", uses larvae to break down manure to produce organic fertilizer and protein-rich animal feed.  A prototype at the University of Guelph Research Station currently produces approximately 40 kilograms of high-quality fertilizer a day, but the real impacts are still to come as Milin scales up operations.  The Milinator avoids the powerful greenhouse gases created when organic waste breaks down anaerobically.  On top of that, it eliminates the unpleasant smell of raw manure, the need for storage lagoons and the need for extra land to spread manure.

Evelyn's Crackers -- City of Toronto

Dawn Woodward and Edmund Rek are helping endangered heritage grains like Red Fife wheat make a comeback.  The husband and wife team that founded Evelyn's Crackers rely almost exclusively on Ontario ingredients for their popular lines of handcrafted crackers, cereals, pancake mixes and shortbread cookies.  The whole grains used are full of natural flavour and contain an easily digestible form of gluten.  Add the fact that they are high in vitamins, nutrients and protein and you've got a recipe for success.  Today, Rek and Woodward sell their products at five farmers' markets and more than 50 retail stores in three provinces.  Bringing back ancient grains and supporting Ontario farmers are all in a day's work for the artisans at Evelyn's Crackers.

FoodiePages.ca -- City of Toronto

Pickled beets? Click. Birch syrup? Click. Basil pesto? Click. Since August 2012, FoodiePages has been connecting consumers with more than 80 farmers and small-scale food producers around the province and across the country, offering hundreds of high-quality products.  For producers, selling through this virtual marketplace gives them access to customers across Canada.  FoodiePages creates efficiencies in shipping, payment processing and marketing.  Consumers can browse recipes, check nutritional information and read about the people behind the products.  But the biggest draw is convenience: FoodiePages lets them buy from dozens of different artisanal producers with a single transaction, any time of day, any day of the week.

Yorkshire Valley Farms Ltd. -- Etobicoke, City of Toronto

When health-conscious, environmentally minded consumers reach for organic chicken at their local supermarket, chances are the cut they choose comes from Yorkshire Valley Farms.  Since selling its first bird in December 2010, the booming company has become Canada's largest producer and marketer of organic poultry, supplying an average of 38,000 kilograms of fresh chicken each week to mass retailers like Loblaw, Sobeys, Metro and Ikea.  Yorkshire Valley Farm's chickens and turkeys are raised on 100 per cent organic grain without the use of antibiotics.  Because they enjoy natural light, ventilation and access to outdoor pastures, the birds experience less stress and lower mortality rates.  With sales expected to surpass $20 million this year, Yorkshire Valley Farms is now eyeing export markets in China and Hong Kong.

Ontario Lamb Company -- Newmarket, York Region,

Fire up the barbeque! Ontario Lamb Company's mini-kebabs are an ideal way to turn consumers on to lamb.  The kebabs, known as "spiedini" in Italy where they are a popular appetizer, consist of small, tender morsels of lamb on a skewer.  Because they are made from smaller cuts that don't sell as well as bigger ones, spiedini allows the Ontario Lamb Company to extract more value from each carcass.  The company has branded their latest product with a new logo that promotes lamb as a local, healthy choice that's quick and easy to cook.  And that message is resonating.  Sales are up, prompting Ontario Lamb Company to expand its facility, hire more staff and source more lamb from Ontario farmers.

Top Tomato Foods Ltd. -- Markham, York Region

Ontario-grown artichokes? You got it.  Vegetable producer Dominic DeFilippis dreamed of growing this Mediterranean perennial in Ontario.  After a decade of trial and error, he's done it.  DeFilippis starts by seeding his exotic crop in the greenhouse in late February or early March.  Five weeks after germination, he moves them outdoors to harden off.  Then comes the key step: vernalization. By exposing his artichokes to 2°Celcius conditions that mimic a Mediterranean winter, he tricks them into dormancy. Finally, the artichokes are planted out in the field, where they start to flower.  Today, Top Tomato Foods dedicates 20 acres to artichoke production, enough to meet the lion's share of domestic demand and create five to 10 seasonal jobs.

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