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Celebrating Innovative Recipients of the Premier's Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence

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Celebrating Innovative Recipients of the Premier's Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence

The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates agri-food producers, processors and organizations who are helping create jobs, boost our economy, strengthen our communities and support a sustainable environment through their innovative ideas and projects.

Premier's Award:

Greenbelt Microgreens - York Region

Looking for fresh, local arugula sprouts in February? Greenbelt Microgreens has you covered. The greenhouse operation has developed an eco-friendly process for growing organic microgreens such as lettuce, arugula and wheatgrass year-round right in Ontario's Greenbelt.

The company's state-of-the-art facility uses several green features. For example, cisterns collect rainwater used to irrigate the crops, and each evening ceiling curtains automatically close to keep warm air inside while a glass roof opens up to release excess hot air on sunny days. Biomass heating, solar power and other energy-saving approaches also help to reduce the operation's environmental footprint.

Since 2010, the producers have experimented with growing mediums, seed types and mechanized harvesting equipment. Those efforts have paid off. Thanks to their innovations, Greenbelt Microgreens is 80 times more efficient than open field production.

Supplemental LED lighting has decreased growing time by 30 per cent, while a unique soil mix that includes organic fertilizers, fish emulsion and coconut fibre also helps to maximize yields. The results are nutrient-dense sunflower sprouts, pea shoots, wheat grass and other microgreens that can be produced on an average 10-day growth cycle and boast a shelf life of 13 days - the longest in the industry. Today, the company has become the largest grower of organic microgreens in Canada, supplying fresh produce to hundreds of retailers such as Longo's, Sobey's and T&T Supermarket.

Minister's Award:

SunPillar Inc./Two Bridges Vineyard - Peel Region

SunPillar Inc. was created by working with students from various post-secondary institutions across the province to help commercialize their projects and really bring their ideas to life.

Their latest project will soon have beekeepers buzzing about a new product that monitors bee health. Designed to fit into a standard commercial hive, Hive Health gives producers all the essential information they need, without having to disturb their bees.

The software used in the device was designed by a student from the University of Waterloo and uses sensors installed in the top and bottom of the hive to collect data on hive weight, the number of bees entering and exiting, temperature, humidity and other important indicators. Powered by a solar battery, Hive Health stores all that data on a secure digital card. Once the beekeeper comes within range, the data is uploaded to an app. And because that information can be digitally archived, beekeepers can establish baseline data and track changes over time.

New sensors are in the works, including a carbon dioxide monitor that indicates how many bees are breathing in the hive, and another sensor to detect infectious diseases such as foulbrood, which forces beekeepers to burn the entire hive to prevent infection from spreading.

With field trials on the horizon, beekeepers across the province and beyond have a powerful new tool coming their way. And potential applications don't end there. The sensors can be easily adapted to monitor plants for growth and disease so that crop producers could also benefit from this innovative Ontario technology.  

Leaders in Innovation:

Fresh Air Media - Middlesex County

Fresh Air Media's Andrew Campbell is on a mission to help urban populations learn more about where their food comes from and how it's produced. Campbell's passion project sees him hitting the road armed with a smartphone, microphone and drone, creating videos of different Ontario farms each week to share across social media.  

His unique "Dinner Starts Here" series takes viewers on an interactive journey through barns and onto fields, showcasing everything from robotic milking machines to greenhouse pepper operations.  Leveraging the power of modern technology, he is sparking important conversations on food production, animal welfare and environmental sustainability - and helping to establish trust from gate to plate. 

Campbell's efforts are helping break down the urban/rural divide by bringing the farm to the city and highlighting the innovation and hard work that goes into agriculture. The initiative is a true labour of love, with Campbell volunteering his time to shoot and edit videos as well as covering the costs of travel and website maintenance right out of his own pocket. Campbell's efforts to share stories are also being adopted by other business. A popular rural hardware store "TSC" features Campbell's videos on their website. Campbell's innovative, trendy approach has had as much impact as many paid messages used in traditional marketing.

His work is a hit. Since the start of 2017, his videos have racked up 400,000 views across the province and around the world. Campbell also has a powerful social media presence, with more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 5,000 Facebook fans.

Freshwater Cuisine - Kenora District

Would you like a side of pickerel cheeks with that? In northwestern Ontario, the folks behind Freshwater Cuisine began experimenting with fish cheeks and pectoral muscles, creating tasty appetizers incorporating all aspects of freshwater fish.

Today, stores and restaurants in the area can't get enough of their product line, which includes Walleye Wings, Pickerel Cheeks, Whitefish Cakes and Northern Pike Cakes.

To extend the environmental benefits even further beyond reducing waste, the company teamed up with the global conservation organization Ocean Wise to ensure the fish stocks they use are caught sustainably. They are partnering on a study of fisheries in the region to ensure that fish stocks being utilized are healthy and that the lakes will be healthy for future generations. Their craftiness in the kitchen earned them the 2016 Innovative Small Business of the Year award from the Kenora District Chamber of Commerce, as well as high praise in the community.

Freshwater Cuisine reinvests a portion of their revenues into fishing projects in the region. Over the past year, the business has established relationships with more than 50 harvesters in nearby First Nations communities, who supply them with 100 per cent wild-caught fish. Their first three months of operation generated more than $80,000 in revenue, and plans for nationwide distribution are underway. By reinvigorating the region's fishing industry and creating jobs for First Nations communities, Freshwater Cuisine is reeling in big benefits.

Moyers Apple Products Inc. - Niagara Region  

Thanks to a new sanitizer pioneered by Moyers Apple Products, consumers can now reach for fruits and veggies with even more confidence. The caramel apple producer has developed a cleaning process for produce that's even more effective than water-based systems.

Moyers teamed up with Vineyard Manufacturing and a food microbiology expert at the University of Guelph. Together, they created a prototype that has delivered impressive results. Their waterless system takes cleaning to the microbiological level, using ultraviolet light, vaporized hydrogen peroxide and high concentrations of ozone gas to kill 99 per cent of pathogens.

The process also increases shelf life by up to 25 per cent. The chemical-free sanitizer leaves behind only oxygen and water, making it a safe option for both employees and customers. The system is easily scaled, so it's suitable for small and large enterprises alike.

Today, the patent-pending breakthrough has moved from the lab to the market, with farmers, food processors and retailers keen to get their hands on the sanitizer. These include companies like Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc., which supplies sliced fruit for Starbucks and Subway outlets across North America. The new process has also helped Moyers increase sales to more than 2,000 grocery stores. Moyers is now looking at applying the sanitization system to other fruits and vegetables, as well as dry goods and grains. The innovation takes cleaning to a higher level and positions Ontario as a leader in food safety technology.

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