Agri-Food Innovations Recognized at Award Ceremony in Baltimore
The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates the agri-food producers, processors, organizations and rural communities, who through their innovative ideas and projects are helping strengthen our communities, support a sustainable environment, create jobs and boost our economy.
The following are regional award recipients from Durham Region, Hastings County, Kawartha Lakes County, Muskoka District, Northumberland County and Prince Edward County.
Belly Ice Cream Company Inc. - Huntsville
You won't find run-of-the-mill ingredients in Belly Ice Cream: this is a company that produces flavours like Woolwich chèvre with lavender honey. So it's no surprise that the Muskoka ice-cream maker doesn't use your typical milk. Instead, founder Shelley Westgarth opts for creamy, protein-rich Jersey milk supplied by Miller's Dairy in Creemore. It's the perfect business and culinary partnership. The milk gets converted to custard mix at the dairy, leaving Westgarth free to focus on blending her imaginative flavour mixes. The results are getting snapped up. Westgarth recently struck a deal with United Natural Food Inc. As a result, she is hiring more full-time employees and placing plenty more orders for local lavender, chèvre and - of course - Jersey milk.
Black Prince Winery - Picton
For most winemakers, vinegar is their worst nightmare. Not for Black Prince Winery. In partnership with Canadian Vinegar Cellars, Black Prince's Geoff Webb is using his grapes for two different purposes. Some go towards making wine, of course, but others are destined for a line of super-premium barrel-aged vinegars. His secret weapon? Reverse osmosis. Several years ago, Webb began experimenting with this process in order to reduce the acidity of his wine. When he teamed up with Canadian Vinegar Cellars' Pete Bradford, he discovered reverse osmosis could speed up vinegar production, oxidizing and dealcoholizing the wine much faster than conventional methods. The technology allowed them to remove water from the vinegar, concentrating the sugars and creating a beautifully balanced product that has chefs and foodies raving.
Brandneu Foods Canada Inc. - Cobourg
Health-conscious snackers can't get enough kale chips these days, so Brandneu Foods has designed a new kind of dehydrator to keep up with demand. Conventional tray-lined drying cabinets take 14 hours to churn out chips. In contrast, the massive machine - dubbed the Kale-O-Matic - can dry 250 kilograms of kale chips in just 60 minutes. The Kale-O-Matic is a natural-gas-fuelled conveyor-belt system, which continuously processes chips 24 hours a day. The $400,000 machine not only lowers production time, it also reduces labour, cuts operating costs and makes more efficient use of washwater. Plans are in place to add five more units, allowing more than six million kilograms of kale to be processed per year. That's great news for Ontario kale growers - and kale chip lovers around the world.
Durham Foods - Port Perry
To achieve food safety and traceability certification, food producers and processors have to keep a number of thorough records and manuals. And for small operations, that can be daunting. Durham Foods has just made it a whole lot easier with their new GAP App. The hydroponic spinach producer has taken the manuals from CanadaGAP - the national food safety program for fruits and vegetables - and transformed them into a user-friendly app. Bye-bye time-consuming paperwork. Instead, workers can enter information and document issues with a few swipes and taps on tablets strategically placed around the plant floor. The app prompts them with required activities for the day. It also generates reports and makes food safety audits a cinch, slashing the costs of the company's food safety program.
Fisher Farm - Janetville
Ivan and Kevin Fisher do not enjoy unnecessary repetition. Why trundle three times over the same patch of ground when once will do the trick? These vegetable growers cover their fields in plastic mulch to reduce the need for irrigation and pesticides. But using conventional equipment to get plants in the ground used to require multiple passes. That's before the Fisher's designed a frame that keeps the planter centered within the plastic mulch. Now a single pass is enough. As a result, the Fishers have boosted productivity by 75 per cent, cut fossil fuel use and input costs, and reduced the wear and tear on their equipment. The frame has already piqued the interest of local growers, and the Fishers are eyeing commercial sales this fall.
Haute Goat - Campbellford
When Debbie Nightingale and Shain Jaffe started raising Nigerian dwarf goats, they quickly realized there were plenty of other goat producers making milk and cheese. So the pair took a different route, partnering with a number of Ontario artisans to create the Haute Goat line of edibles and skin care products. Today, they sell everything from goat cheese chocolates and salted caramels - judged "divine" by the Toronto Star - to goat milk cleanser and cuticle cream. Chronicling their farming adventures via social media has proved a savvy marketing strategy. After all, who can resist photos of adorable goats? Meanwhile, the farm has become an agri-tourism hub thanks to a farm gate shop, farm tours and a bed-and-breakfast operation.
Prince Edward County Lavender - Hillier
For years, Rolande Leblanc and Derek Ryles have been growing lavender and distilling the blooms into essential oil. But when the Prince Edward County duo added peppermint, basil, lemon verbena and a number of other essential oil plants to their fields, their steam-distilling system couldn't keep pace. The 100-litre extractor took 16 days to distil a single batch of plants, and switching from one type of plant to another involved a laborious cleaning process. Their new 600-litre system changes all that. It can distil a batch in just four days, boosting production. Moreover, the system's straight condensing tubes are simple to clean, taking the headache out of switching from one plant to another. These days, things are smelling pretty sweet at Prince Edward County Lavender.
S and K Agro Solutions - Quinte West
Housing a group of calves creates tough choices. Indoor pens are expensive to build and hard to ventilate, while outdoor group pens can make for a damp and dirty environment. Kevin and Sarah Wolters found a clever middle ground with their calf canopy design. Using existing hutches, the open-air structure provides a covered area for calves to roam and socialize, while removable side shields and cloth panels control airflow and protect the animals and their feed from nasty weather. At cleaning time, a lever system allows each hutch to be raised and the entire shelter moved so a front-end loader can clear the area. The shelter has caught the attention of cow, sheep, goat, pig and hobby chicken farmers, and the Wolters are currently working with potential distributors.
Scarlett Acres Ltd. - Colborne
Pheromones are in the air at Scarlett Acres. A computer-controlled system is releasing carefully timed puffs of pheromone-laden aerosol at this Northumberland county apple orchard. The goal? To stop oriental fruit moths from breeding and wreaking havoc on the growing fruit and leaves. The orchard owner collaborated with a B.C. agri-tech firm to test out this new technology. It proved far more effective than traditional pheromone traps, which release pheromones when the temperature rises, rather than when moths are most active. The aerosol system reduces the need for pesticide applications, cuts labour costs and effectively controls the moths, creating a model for other fruit growers across Canada.