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Agri-Food Innovations Recognized at Award Ceremony Kingston

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Agri-Food Innovations Recognized at Award Ceremony Kingston

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 Leeds & Grenville County, Prescott & Russell County and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry County.

Bluegrass Farm - Jasper

Even in the depths of February, you'll find salad greens growing at Bluegrass Farm, thanks to greenhouses with a twist. As well as heat from the sun, Leela Ramachandran's and Bradley Wright's four greenhouses use radiant floor heating to keep greens growing throughout the harsh Ontario winter. Fuelled by a wood-fired boiler, the energy-efficient system heats the soil, not the air. Within 10,000 square feet of greenhouse space, the pair grow cold-hardy crops like spinach, arugula and lettuce. Insulation around the perimeter and under the floor helps keep the heat in, while insulating fabric laid over crops on cold nights provides extra protection. For just $15 per million BTUs, the system gives Bluegrass Farm customers their fix of fresh, local veggies - all winter long.

Derks Elevator Inc. - Chesterville

For decades, Martin and Gary Derks ran a successful soybean processing business. In 2014, however, a fire destroyed their soybean roaster and oil expeller. Out of the ashes, something even better emerged. The company invested in a new roaster and designed a better steeping process. The result: better soybean meal. While standard soybean meal is 44 per cent soluble protein, the Derks have achieved 49 per cent. Not only that, the new system uses less water and eliminates the need for solvents to extract oil. Finally, it can handle multiple streams of soybeans, which allows Derks to process identity-preserved beans - organic beans, for example, or high oleic acid beans. As a result, the Derks have found new markets, boosted their revenue and added two full-time jobs.

Groupement de gestion agricole de l'Ontario - St-Eugene

They say it's a dog-eat-dog, everybody-for-themselves kind of world. Groupe de gestion agricole de l'Ontario thinks a little differently. Each member of the 26-year-old farmers' co-operative provides their farm financials and production data, which is then fed into the organization's in-house software. The resulting reports allow everyone to compare their costs and ratios with similar operations in similar growing areas. Members can choose to keep their analysis confidential, although the benefits from trust, open sharing and discussion vastly outweigh short-term privacy concerns. The collaborative approach makes it possible to track performance over the years, identify opportunities and problem-solve with other producers, proving that membership really does have its privileges. The successful model, which was adopted from Quebec, has now spread to Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Smart Greens - Cornwall

For a pair of Cornwall entrepreneurs, fresh greens are in the box - a 320-square-foot box, to be precise. The two have converted a shipping container into a hydroponic "farm" complete with LED lights, a closed-cycle irrigation system and a cloud-based mobile app that lets them monitor their crop remotely. Inside the insulated, climate-controlled container they produce more than 3,000 leafy greens, herbs and peppers each week - without the use of pesticides. And because the container is located in downtown Cornwall, they have dramatically shrunk the distance between their produce and their customers. Now they're franchising the Smart Greens brand, with the goal of seeing 50 similar shipping containers popping up across Canada over the next five years - giving urban Canadians access to fresh, local greens 12 months a year.

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