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Agri-Food Innovators Honoured in Innisfil

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Agri-Food Innovators Honoured in Innisfil

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 Bruce County, Grey County, Simcoe County:

Barrie Hill Farms - Barrie

Frozen vegetables are heating up the local economy in Simcoe County. A few years ago, Morris Gervais discovered the value of having a local processor freeze his blueberry surplus. Spurred by that success, he has now turned his sights to asparagus. Using a variety that maintains a tight tip at longer lengths, Gervais started a trial of frozen 8.5-inch asparagus spears - a big jump from the industry standard of 5.5 inches. Longer spears mean less trimmed waste and more tips in every package. Freezing surplus asparagus allows Gervais to sell it throughout the year, rather than fighting for a share of fresh sales when the market is swamped. Meanwhile, the product itself has received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from on-farm customers and local retailers.

Carron Farms Ltd. - Bradford

Customers love the beautiful red, purple, black, white, yellow and orange heirloom carrots grown at Carron Farms. But hand-sorting those veggies so each bag contained the full range of colours and the right sized carrots was becoming a real headache. To remedy those bagging blues, Carron Farms tracked down equipment in Europe that could be adapted to meet their needs. The first of its kind in Canada, the stainless steel system uses advanced computerized scales and sensors to ensure each retail-ready bag contains the right weight and colour combinations. Thanks to the efficient set-up, the farm's multicoloured carrots have made inroads into larger markets - a big win for heirloom food grown close to home.

Dornoch Hops Ltd. - Durham

Until now, growing hops has meant starting with a rhizome: the horizontal underground section of the plant's stem. The problem? There's only a 60 to 75 per cent success rate and growers have no way to judge which rhizomes will produce healthy plants. Meanwhile, rhizome producers face their own issues. An adult hop plant can make only a limited number of rhizomes, which are cut in spring. So it's no exaggeration to say that Dornoch Hops has revolutionized the industry when co-founder Cherie Swift used cloning and root-cutting techniques to produce low-cost living plants for hops growers. Now, she can generate hundreds of plants from a single parent and do it year-round with 100 per cent success. For hops growers and beer brewers, that's an achievement worth toasting.

Hoity Toity Cellars Inc. - Mildmay

When life hands you lemons, the old adage goes, make lemonade. Or, in the case of Gary and Diane Fischer, grape cider. In 2013, a long winter and cool growing season meant 45 per cent of their grapes failed to meet wine production standards. So the duo started experimenting. The result is a completely unique grape cider, made from frozen grape juice and fermented using wine production equipment. The low-alcohol beverage is fruity, refreshing and ready to drink in just four weeks. Because the Fischers start with frozen juice, they can make it year-round. The Fischers still produce wine from the grapes that measure up, but those that don't now bring in revenue and create a homegrown alternative to imported ciders.

Peace Naturals Project Inc. - Stayner

When you need medication, you want to be sure you're getting a safe, high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade product. And that's just what Peace Naturals delivers. When the federal government issued new, stricter regulations on marijuana production, the Simcoe County producer rose to the challenge. Peace Naturals worked with a team of experts to create operating procedures, security guidelines and safe production practices that have now become standard across the industry. Gas chromatography analysis in the HACCP-rated facility's on-site lab determines the metabolic profile of each lot of cannabis, while each step of production is carefully tracked. The 20-person operation is exceeding revenue expectations, creating local rural jobs, setting industry standards and providing a reliable supply of alternative medicine to Canadians with chronic medical conditions.

Summitview Farm - Clarksburg

When orchard owner Lance Burnham started making cider in 2013, it didn't take long to win over the taste buds of local customers. There was only one problem: the mishmash of apple varieties on his 40-acre orchard made it impossible to deliver batches of consistently flavoured cider. Where some might see weakness, Burnham saw opportunity. He started producing a variety of different ciders, embracing the eclectic mix of colours and tastes his apples offered. Each different batch came with its own unique name and label. Before long, the public was lining up to try the new products. Sales grew, and in the first four months of operation, the seasonal ciders of Summitview Farm found their way into more than 40 markets.

T&K Ferri Orchards - Clarksburg

When you grow apples for a living, your income comes from fruit, not wood. So when T&K Ferri purchased an orchard in 2007, they went high-density. Really high density. While the industry standard is 1,200 trees per acre, T&K Ferri planted roughly 3,000 per acre using a "super spindle" system - the first Ontario orchard to do so. This tightly packed approach creates uniform, hedge-like rows of trees that make mechanical pruning and harvesting possible, which in turn reduces labour costs. It also cuts down on pesticide use and takes just three to five years to achieve full production. As land costs keep rising, producing more fruit on fewer acres makes good financial sense. No surprise, then, that so many national and international groups come to tour and learn from this Grey County orchard.

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