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Agri-Food Innovators Honoured in Thunder Bay

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Agri-Food Innovators Honoured in Thunder Bay

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.

The 2014 awards recognized 50 award recipients across the province, including the top Premier's Award, Minister's Award, and three Leaders in Innovation award winners.

The following are 2014 regional award recipients of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence from the Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming districts.

Boreal Birch Syrup - Murillo

Sales of birch syrup are rising faster than sap in the spring. But producing that sought-after topping is extremely energy-and labour-intensive. That's why Boreal Birch Syrup set out to slash its energy consumption in 2013. A newly-installed reverse osmosis filtration unit improved the overall quality of the syrup and cut boiling time in half. As a result, the company has reduced firewood consumption by 50 per cent. Meanwhile, specially built mobile tanks placed at central locations, have shrunk the distance sap haulers have to travel. The efficiencies aren't just good for the planet. They have also allowed the company to tap 25 per cent more trees with the same number of workers - giving sweet-toothed customers more of the syrup they crave.

Cloverbelt Local Food Co-operative Inc. - Dryden

When you're 350 kilometres from any major city, attracting the critical mass required for a farmers' market or farm gate sales presents problems. So Cloverbelt Local Food Co-operative took to the Internet, with huge success. Now, instead of driving all over the region to buy local food products, consumers can just click their choices from an online list. The concept is a hit with customers, who now have convenient access to fresh local food year round. Producers are equally happy. Launched in December 2013, the co-op is already benefiting farmers, bakeries, abattoirs, food processors and wild food harvesters involved.

Meekers Aquaculture/Blue Goose - Evansville

Hankering for a fish dinner? You can now pick up Ontario organic rainbow trout under the "Blue Goose" label. The catch comes from Meekers Aquaculture. For more than 30 years, Mike Meeker has been raising trout in the pristine waters off Manitoulin Island. However, becoming the country's first producer of certified organic rainbow trout required teamwork. Mike collaborated with an Ontario feed mill to produce an organic fish feed. He also worked with a local fish processing plant to ensure the plant met organic standards. In its own operations, Meekers uses no medicated feed and less crowded nets to ensure less stress and better health. Due to the increase in organic demand, Meeker's is actively pursuing an increase in production which includes potential partnerships with First Nations communities.

Rheault Distillery - Hearst

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.

Thornloe Cheese Inc. - Thornloe

In 2007, the future looked bleak for a small cheese factory in northeastern Ontario. The facility - which produced cheese curds and cheddar - couldn't compete with newer, more efficient operations. But when the multinational owner decided to shut the plant, local farmers banded together to save it. They installed three aging rooms and implemented an innovative production process that allows the small facility to produce an entire range of award-winning cheeses. At the same time, water and energy retrofits helped cut operating costs. In the past six years, sales have nearly tripled. The number of employees has leapt from eight to 25, and the plant supports 25 local dairy operations. Today Thornloe Cheese is 100 per cent Canadian, 100 per cent farmer owned and more successful than ever.

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