Guelph, Ont. – The province of Ontario has announced the winners of its annual Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
The awards recognize innovations that improve existing products, create jobs and drive economic growth.
This year the program recognized 50 regional award recipients across Ontario.
From among those recipients, the province selected a Premier’s Award, a Minister’s Award and three new Leaders in Innovation award winners. The winners were honoured at the annual Premier’s Agri-Food Summit.
The winners are:
• P R Short and Son – Vineland Station (Niagara Region)
Philip Short is a tender fruit grower from the Niagara region. He wanted to add value to the fruit products sold in the marketplace, and landed on a simple idea: build a better basket that keeps fruit fresher longer, with less damage from transport. His research told him that retailers needed something that would be stackable, extend shelf life, and require less handling for display. The end result is a recyclable, clear plastic container that comes in different sizes.
It’s the first time the tender fruit industry has offered a plastic container with a lid and easy pick-up handle. This basket helps raise the standards of product quality. It transports product easily and is more attractive to consumers, who can see what they are buying. And it’s good for food safety; because the fruit is sealed with a lid, no hands touch it as it moves from the packing shed to the consumer’s home. It even stores well in the fridge, since the lid helps keep the fruit fresh. The company supplies all of Niagara’s tender fruit growers. In fact, almost half of the peaches grown in Ontario in 2010 and beyond were packed in these containers. The baskets are now used by Loblaws vendors in Ontario and nationally, including in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia.
• Burning Kiln Winery Inc. – St. Williams (Norfolk County)
What happens when a former tobacco grower with 40 years experience, a steel company owner, a dentist, an accountant, an entrepreneur and two lawyers get together? They pool their expertise and form Burning Kiln Winery, which produces internationally acclaimed Ontario wines. They planted high-quality French vinefera varietals on 23 acres of land that previously grew tobacco. But what do you do with displaced tobacco kilns? If you are Burning Kiln Winery, you convert them into high-tech, award-winning wine-making machines.
At Burning Kiln Winery, grapes are handpicked into pallets and stacked in the kilns; the air flowing through the kilns allows for even drying and reduces spoilage. This ancient Italian process of drying grapes before fermentation is called “appasimento.” It intensifies the wine’s flavour profile and increases the sugar content.
Leaders in Innovation Awards
• Mariposa Dairy Ltd. – Lindsay (Kawartha Lakes County)
Separating curds and whey used to be a tough job at Mariposa Dairy Ltd., a producer of soft goat cheese. Workers had to hang bags on a stainless steel tree and flip them every few hours for proper drainage. The whole process was time-consuming and physically challenging until a new innovation was introduced. The dairy worked with community partners to design the “MegaPress,” a machine that separates curds and whey so quickly and efficiently that it has reduced the separation time cycle from four days to 24 hours. That makes it a lot easier to produce nearly 18,000 litres of cheese each day to meet market demand. The energy-saving press can also be preset for different moisture content levels, helping the dairy create new varieties. The MegaPress has increased production and created new jobs, and is helping introduce Ontario goat cheese into the global market.
• Nicholyn Farms – Phelpston (Simcoe County)
The Van Casterens looked at the traditional pizza and hot dog fundraising lunches at their local school and thought, “we can do better than that.” They now offer daily nutritious and tasty local food lunches that are healthier for kids. A pilot that ran for 20 weeks at one school has now expanded to serve five schools in the area, as well as staff at the local Ministry of Natural Resources and Public Health Unit offices. On average, the Van Casterens prepare 600 lunches weekly for these clients. The family has expanded its own vegetable crop by five acres, and draws from the production of several other farmers in the area.
• Victory Organic Inc. – St. Catharines (Niagara Region)
The Bob Wash is an affordable, small-scale system for ensuring salad greens and root vegetables are washed and packaged safely. The system contains a washbasin that agitates the vegetables and moves them along a conveyor belt into a drying machine. It is able to handle a variety of vegetables, costs a fraction of industrial scale washing systems, and can be set up right on the farm. With the Bob Wash, the product contains fewer insects and debris and has a longer shelf-life, which has increased the bottom line.