Top Five Agri-Food Innovation Excellence Awards Recipients
The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes innovations that improve existing products, create jobs and drive economic growth. The following five award winners were announced and recognized at the annual Premier's Summit on Agri-Food. They are also among 50 regional award recipients being recognized for their innovations this year.
Kaley's Acres - Castleton (Northumberland County)
These days, more and more nutrition-conscious consumers are reaching for kale. And what tastier way to enjoy it than in the form of chips? In 2009, Draupadi and Adrian Quinn converted 10 acres of former tobacco fields into kale production. The hardy crop has an exceptionally long growing season that extends right until December. The real magic however happens in the 5,000-square-foot on-farm processing facility. Here, the nutrient packed leaves are transformed into five different flavours of raw, guilt-free snacks. Annual sales have sky rocketed, and the operation employs 15 seasonal and year-round workers. With demand strong and growing, the Quinns are now planning to open a 20,000-square-foot processing plant down the road that will process 20 tonnes of kale a week.
A Driedger Farms Inc. - Wheatley (Essex County)
Tomato harvesting can be a messy affair. To make room for large tractors and transport trailers, producers have traditionally used mechanical vine trainers to push the plants out of the way. Unfortunately, the result is often entire trailerloads of split and squished product. Now, an innovation out of Essex County is helping farmers make haste without the paste. A Driedger Farms Inc. developed a self-propelled machine with a disc head assembly in front of the chassis. The system gently lifts and transfers entire rows of tomato plants to neighbouring rows with no damage to the fruit. Even better, it speeds up harvesting by 19 per cent. With potential applications in cucumber and other vegetable fields, the equipment could give farmers across Ontario a softer touch.
Leaders in Innovation Awards
Rheault Distillery - Hearst (Cochrane District)
Northern Ontario and Russia have more in common than just long, cold winters. They also have alpha vodka. In the town of Hearst, Rheault Distillery uses a recipe from the Romanov Empire to create a quadruple-distilled wheat-based alcohol. And while the distillery won't give away all its secrets, it will reveal its use of milk in its final stage of distillation. The result is a smooth, subtle taste with a silky finish. Rheault believes northern wheat is particularly well suited to vodka production: the long hours of summer daylight create a grain with higher sugar content. With LCBO sales growing rapidly this year, the small-batch artisan distillery is creating a new market for local wheat producers -- and a taste of Russia half a world away.
The Garlic Box - Hensall (Huron County)
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?
Truly Green Farms - Dresden (Municipality of Chatham Kent)
Inside Truly Green's 22.5-acre Chatham greenhouse, the ripening tomatoes aren't just fresh and flavourful. They're also carbon neutral. Truly Green was established next door to the GreenField Ethanol plant to take advantage of the carbon dioxide the plant emits. Not only does using the CO2 promote tomato growth, it ensures that 15,000 metric tonnes of planet-warming gases stay out of the atmosphere each year. That's the equivalent of taking 3,000 cars off the road. Over the next ten years, Truly Green plans to expand to 90 acres of greenhouse production, sequestering even more CO2 from its neighbour. By taking advantage of the ethanol plant's waste heat, Truly Green also keeps its own energy use to a minimum. Now that's a tomato you can feel good about.