Funding Opportunity Q&A with Franco Naccarato

Are you thinking about applying for funding to the Local Food Investment Fund? If so, you may want to read this Q&A with Greenbelt Fund Program Manager Franco Naccarato on what makes an application stand out, tips and tricks on improving an application, and more! 

1) What makes for a successful application?

As with any investment program, we are looking to invest in successful projects. In our case, we assess the likelihood of success using six criteria: economic return, increased innovation, creating systemic change, strong leadership, long term viability or sustainability of the projects, and knowledge sharing. Here are some things to consider when applying::

  • Economic Return - how much more local food will be sold as a result of the project? For local food literacy stream we recognize that they may not have economic impact, so we look for the REACH of the project. What is the reach (number of people the project will reach) and depth of engagement the local food literacy activities will achieve? 

  • Innovation - we look at things that are changing the way local food is reaching the marketplace through innovative new ways. Is your project setting the path, creating new ways for farmers to access markets, or is your company making new internal processes to make it easier to buy from local farmers?

  • Systemic Change - what is your project doing to permanently change the way local foods are making their way to the market place or are being used in the market?

  • Leadership - tied closely to the previous point, what are your past successes that show you have the capacity to affect change? How likely will your project influence others to change?  
  • Demonstrated Sustainability - we are looking for projects that will live on beyond the funding period without continued support.

  • Knowledge Transfer - how are you going to share what you’ve learned? Our grantees are part of a community that is collectively looking to improve our food system. This is your chance to give back to the community that supported you. Think outside the box on how others can benefit from the knowledge and information you have gained through this project.

2) What are some behind-the-scene tidbits in the grant-making process that help or hurt an application?

There are three basic things I would say make for good practice when applying to the program.  Call and speak to our program staff (Sagal or I), read the guidelines and make sure your budget aligns with your project proposal.

Some people apply to the program having never spoken with us.  We strongly encourage everyone to contact us about their project. We always provide advice on what we are looking for. It is a very competitive process, so getting all the information you need is critical to making a strong application. Tip number one: CALL US to discuss your application.

Our grant program has three streams and in each with specific areas of focus.  We get calls all the time asking if a project is a fit, and most of the time, the caller has not even taken a moment to read the guidelines. Tip number two: READ THE GUIDELINES.

We also get asked is X or Y eligible for funding? The information is laid out in the guidelines. What is just as important to us is: how are your expenses aligned with your project? If your project is about automating the canning process for your local pickles, but your budget is asking for a marketing consultant, that is bad alignment, and would probably be rejected. To continue from the example above, if your budget includes canning line equipment instead, that would align better with your project goals. Tip number three: ensure your BUDGET aligns with your ACTIVITIES.

3) What are some gaps in the food value chain or agri-food sector that you’d like to address?

I think we’ve moved past surface level change.  I’d really like to see projects that are tackling deeper systemic change, particularly projects that look bringing change throughout organizations. Typically, there is one department within larger organizations that have participated in projects.  I’d like to see more projects that bring multiple departments together to develop strategies.

There are many opportunities to focus on “centre of the plate” in the Broader Public Sector,  helping institutions put a focus on local food all year round.  It should be easy to do, but surprisingly, this is the least applied-to grant stream. Misconceptions about our provincial meat inspection programs are the biggest barrier from moving the needle on this. Institutions need to be confident and proud of our provincial program- some of the best products are coming out of provincial plants. Ontario’s Finest is a great competition that highlights what’s being produced by independent meat processors in the province.

4) From the day your started with the Greenbelt Fund until now, what changes in the food system have you seen that you can credit the Fund in having a hand in fostering?

I can only give credit to the amazing grantees we’ve worked with. They are the ones that are out there championing change. For instance, when we started this program, not many knew where their food was coming from, or how much of it was local.  Now, almost all the broadline distributors have some method of identifying local food items in their ordering systems and can provide reporting on local food purchases. This is one of the single most important thing we could have changed. Once you can measure something, then you can set goals to make it better.

5) What is one of your next priorities that you would like to address in the food system? 

We need to invest in the next generation of foodpreneurs from farm to fork to drive innovation, job creation, and global competitiveness. We need to talk about the next generation of agri-food entrepreneurs the same way we talk about tech entrepreneurs. By investing in our future foodpreneurs we will Support the Premier’s challenge to create 120,000 new jobs and double the growth of the agri-food sector.

There are four fundamental areas where we can further invest to grow the next generation of foodprenurs, all of which are components of successful incubator and accelerator programs: technical assistance, physical space, financial tools and connections to the marketplace.  

A well thought-out strategy could map out how incubators and accelerators can collaborate across the province, and how they can be strategically developed with "Centres of Excellence" with different areas of focus "horizontally" across the value chain - farmers, food hubs/distributors, processing, retail and foodservice - and "vertically" within a given sector. Horizontally - we can think about how to develop new incubator spaces for food hubs, retailers and restaurants in addition to those that already exist for farmers and processors. Vertically - we can think about how we can specialize within a given sector through different areas of focus.

For instance, farming and processing hubs could have vertical integrated areas of focus, regionally based, depending on the identified strengths/gaps within a specified region. For instance, FoodStarter in Toronto, has a focus and particular expertise on bakery products. The Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre Centre could be a co-packer for a number of different incubator programs. Other "Centres of Excellence" could be built to focus on dairy, meat processing, beverage, confectionery and prepared entrees. Similarly, farm incubators could have different areas of focus. Farm Start focused on developing farmers interested in growing World Crops. Other "Centres of Excellence" could be started for livestock, dairy, greenhouse, and new emerging markets such as aquaponics, entomophagy (growing and processing of insects for human consumption), pisciculture (growing fish commercially in tanks or enclosures) and urban agriculture.

By working with the entire food value chain: farmers, distributors, processors, retailers and restaurants, we can help SMEs learn together, work together, grow together, and create a more sustainable and interconnected food system.