By Lilian Schaer
A new food hub in Eastern Ontario is opening for business and local officials have high hopes about what it might accomplish for the region.
The Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC) will boost rural, food-based entrepreneurship and offer local training opportunities to help keep people in the area, says Northumberland County’s agricultural manager.
The state of the art centre, which is available for rent by the day or half day, is fully equipped with the technology needed to add value to raw agricultural products – from flash freezing and cold pressing to canning, short term cold storage, and hot kitchen recipe development.
“Entrepreneurship is the backbone of rural Ontario, and we are looking for opportunities for the farmers and restaurants in our area,” explains Trissia Mellor. “The centre is creating a local launch pad for folks looking to start or expand a food business without having to mortgage their home to do so.”
The centre is also helping to facilitate post-secondary education connections in Northumberland, which the county hadn’t had before.
Partnerships have been established with Loyalist College and its food manufacturing technician program, as well as the Centre for Food at Durham College, where the focus is on nutrition and recipe scaling.
Conversations are also underway with George Brown College about a potential partnership focused on food packaging and graphic design.
“Now, not only do we have three of the best food-based colleges connected to our community, suddenly when we’re sending kids to college with the knowledge they can come back here to do their co-op or have a job,” says Mellor. “We’re creating a future for them in our region, as well as opportunities for farm succession.”
The centre came about as a result of a regional local food business and retention project launched by Northumberland County in 2012, and then expanded to include the neighbouring municipalities of Peterborough, Kawartha Lakes, Quinte West, Prince Edward County, Lennox-Addington, Frontenac, and Belleville.
The biggest common theme for all was local food infrastructure as a way of strengthening the rural economy, and bringing more jobs and tourism to the region.
“We have many restaurants, for example, who would love to sell their secret sauce or features off their menus for people to take home but don’t have the space or time in their kitchens to do that without affecting their front-of-house service,” says Mellor.
She adds the centre also presents opportunities for farmers to explore added product opportunities, such as creating fruit leather from by-products of apple cider production, for example.
Mellor credits Northumberland County with helping make the not-for-profit centre a reality by putting up half of the $2.5 million that went into building and equipping the facility.
The Northumberland Federation of Agriculture was also an early and enthusiastic supporter, as were the colleges that are now centre partners.
“This is an investment that acknowledges that agriculture is our number-one industry in this county and that we need to keep our farms and restaurants open and operational,” Mellor says. “Our agriculture, food and beverage businesses deserve an opportunity to work towards sustainability, to grow if they want to, and to help make our community a better place.”
The venture centre also received support from the Township of Cramie, the Local Food Fund, the Trillium Fund, the Community Futures Development Corporation network, and from federal regional economic development funds.
This article is provided by AgInnovation Ontario, a project of the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC). The ATCC is funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Photo courtesy of AgInnovation Ontario.