The winter months used to mean going without your favourite Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables, but thanks to a partnership between the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and the Greenbelt Fund, garnishing a dish with fresh Ontario-grown cucumbers in January is now a possibility.
The OGVG kicked off their latest campaign focusing on 27 hospitals and seven universities with the goal to explore new opportunities for Ontario produce in the public sector. As a result of involvement from the Fund, the OGVG have secured the resources necessary to begin spreading the word that local produce is affordable and readily available to Ontario consumers year-round.
Nancy Hewitt is the Foodservice Market Specialist for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and has been tasked with assembling a resource kit that will enable Broader Public Sector institutions such as hospitals and universities, to spread awareness about Ontario produce, focusing on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ Local Food Week and Ontario Agriculture Week.
The kits provide essential items to promote Ontario produce, including guidelines for produce availability, flavor profiles, new recipes, tools to engage staff, a preparation and handling/storage guide, and “Outside the Box” menu solutions. By displaying these materials in high traffic areas, like the cafeteria at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, the features of Ontario produce are being exposed to thousands of Ontarians every day.
The results are already paying off. “Halton Healthcare Services indicated that when they promoted local and it was Ontario Greenhouse, they increased their sales by double digits,” says Hewitt. “Their customers are obviously interested in supporting, and they are committed to promoting local.”
In addition to focusing on increasing local produce visibility now, the OGVG are also planning for the future. “Our strategic plan is around sustainability and that’s our long-term plan, to engage foodservice,” says Hewitt.
Saying that buying local helps the Ontario economy isn’t enough. “We have to build a business case around why local makes sense,” explains Hewitt. This includes, as Hewitt explained, starting from the ground, increasing engagement, and building up. What better place to start than with the future chefs of Canada?
With the support of the Fund, the OGVG held a competition for Ontario culinary students, sending out a call for recipes that featured Ontario produce. Through the competition, as well as exhibits showcasing local produce set up in participating culinary schools, Hewitt estimates they reached more than 250 up-and-coming chefs.
“Because of the Greenbelt more and more people know about us now and know to ask for us,” Hewitt explained. “Before the Greenbelt, before we had the funding to be out educating people about our industry, people would never have known we can still get greenhouse tomatoes in November from Ontario.”
Knowledge is power and in the case of the OGVG, it’s also delicious.