Agri-Food Innovators Honoured in Guelph
The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes the innovative contributions of producers, processors, agri-food organizations and rural communities in Ontario. Their innovations improve existing products, create new jobs and grow Ontario's economy.
In 2014, 50 award recipients will be recognized, including the top Premier's Award, Minister's Award, and three Leaders in Innovation award winners.
The following are regional award recipients of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from Huron County, Perth County, Waterloo Region and Wellington County.
Erbcroft Farms - Stratford
While Ontario consumers turn to lamb roasts and leg of lamb in the cold winter months, come summer they want quick foods and barbeque-friendly choices. In Perth County, one sheep producer rose to the challenge. Erbcroft Farms began producing lamb bacon, burgers, curry pies, mutton sausages and more. To ensure that no part of the carcass goes unused, Erbcroft Farms also sells soup bones and tanned hides. Erbcroft Farms is growing thanks to products that entice consumers to choose lamb year-round.
Everdale Farm - Hillsburgh
Urbanites, meet agriculture. Agriculture, meet urbanites. Since 1997, Everdale has operated a successful farm and environmental learning centre in rural Wellington County. In 2013, however, it took sustainable agriculture into the big city. By converting eight acres of unused conservation land into commercial-scale vegetable production, Everdale created Toronto's largest urban farm. The 60 varieties of organic veggies it produces at Black Creek Community Farm reflect the diversity of the surrounding community. As well as onions, carrots and other standards, you'll find callaloo, okra, Thai chili peppers, tomatillos and long eggplant. The farm is bustling with interns, staff and local volunteers. Meanwhile, an on-site store sells the harvest to a community hungry for fresh produce and the taste of home.
FarmStart - Guelph
There are many urbanites and new Canadians excited to work Ontario's soil. To foster this new generation of farmers, FarmStart was born. The Guelph-based organization runs dozens of workshops, tours and courses each year. It also gives would-be farmers tools and access to affordable land. To date, FarmStart's two "incubator" farms - one in Brampton, the other in Hamilton - have served as a launching pad for 56 new farmers from 20 different countries of origin. Many go on to establish thriving farm businesses that create jobs, contribute to local economic development and breathe new life into Ontario's rural communities.
The Garlic Box - Hensall
In the 1990s, less expensive, imported garlic almost wiped out Ontario's commercial garlic production. In 1998, The Garlic Box pushed back. It developed a range of value-added products such as oils, salts, condiments and seasonings, all made with locally grown garlic. The processor also began experimenting with flash-freezing whole peeled cloves. After much trial and error, the Garlic Box now offers convenient packages of frozen cloves that provide customers with Ontario garlic year-round. In the process, the company has transformed a low-value crop into a premium product. It's an innovation that's sure to open the door to new markets for local growers. Who doesn't love a good comeback story?
Heeg Dairy - New Hamburg
Sytse and Anita Heeg don't have any hired hands to run their 110-milking-cow operation. However, they do have help: an on-farm automated milk sampling system. They'll tell you it's worth every penny. Installed in 2011, the system can identify potential udder infections, metabolic problems and reproductive disorders, as well as determine the best time for artificial insemination. As a result, the Heegs can detect and treat conditions before clinical signs of illness, speeding up recovery. They can also ensure their cows are pregnant and producing sooner. A year after installing the system, the Heegs have saved nearly $36,000 in vet bills, medications and insemination costs.
Ontario Independent Meat Processors - Guelph
It started with a Facebook contest organized by Ontario Independent Meat Processors that offered consumers a chance to win local meat and poultry. The competition was a hit. But after one winner wanted to donate her prize to a local food bank, the organizers decided to go one step better. The group started running the giveaways in conjunction with the Ontario Association of Food Banks, providing great, protein-rich food for those who couldn't afford it. That's when social media really lit up. The recurring campaign raises the profile of local meat producers and retailers, fosters support for local food banks and drives tens of thousands of visitors to the Ontario Independent Meat Producers' member database.
Shady Grove Maple Co. Ltd. - Guelph (Waterloo Region)
Currently, only four per cent of Ontario's viable sugar bushes are tapped. Why so little, when the province imports millions of litres of maple syrup from Quebec and Vermont each year? Processing maple sap into syrup requires large amounts of labour and energy. For many farmers, it simply doesn't make sense. Shady Grove Maple Co. has the solution. It teams up with woodlot owners willing to install a pipeline system on their property. Come sugaring-off season, the company transports clients' sap to its high-efficiency, state-of-the-art facility and then splits the finished product 50/50. The arrangement means minimal work for woodlot owners and more Ontario syrup for your morning pancakes.
Troll Bridge Creek Inc. - Arthur
If you're looking for hydration, look a little closer to home than coconut water. Maple sap offers half the sugar, half the calories and a whole heck of a lot fewer food miles. Lorraine and Keith Harris started developing the unique beverage in 2009, experimenting with harvest timing, pasteurization processes and natural shelf life enhancers. The result - KiKi Maple Sweet Water - boasts a nutrient-dense profile, along with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Today, you'll find Kiki beverages across Canada. A new distribution deal is expected to grow sales in the Greater Toronto Area. Meanwhile the duo is also pursuing export opportunities in China and Korea. By driving up demand for unfinished sap, Kiki could create jobs in underused sugar bushes across the province.