Innovation: the groundwork for Greenbelt farm growth

A Q&A with Greenbelt Farmers
Innovation: the groundwork for Greenbelt farm growth

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Charles and Judi Stevens 
Wilmot Orchards, Durham Region

Q: How have you embraced innovation on your operation?

A: We adjust quickly to innovation; it’s our policy on this farm. We are always looking for better ways to serve the public, and looking at new technology to help grow and market our apples and blueberries. You need to stay on top of technology in order to be in this business. For instance, we were the first people in Ontario to buy a Hail Cannon, designed to disrupt the formation of hailstones and protect crops from unpredictable weather, and we have frost fans and a smart sprayer too. They are starting to become a necessity.

Q: Can you describe the partnerships you’ve initiated in order to grow your business?

A: Partnerships are a huge part of our operation. Whether it’s our banker, our accountant or the marketer of our apples. I would suggest getting involved with your local agriculture organization. I started with the Durham Apple Growers Association and now I am in a position within the industry that gives me a global perspective, but it took me 40 years. There are always opportunities, but they come from being active at a grassroots level. You can’t hide on your farm, you have to make connections and stay active.

Q: What does the location of your farm mean to you?

A: You can’t find better farmland in Canada. My daughter wants to farm this property, but if this land was developed, we would forever lose the opportunity to farm on this productive land.

The Greenbelt is all about protecting farmland. I like the initiative. We have a niche climate, and it needs to be preserved.

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Local farmers hold the key to satisfying consumer appetites

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Geoff Teasdale (left) and senior driver Peter Jacques (right) unloading local produce at Sysco Southwestern Ontario.

Food origin identification helps lead to 20 per cent local food increase for large distributor

Sysco Ontario, a large distributor with the unique ability to reach the majority of the province’s population through their distribution network, was seeing a clear trend: Ontarians wanted to know more about the food they purchase.

The company has always provided a significant selection of local food, but was looking for a way to improve their operations to better identify, track and categorize their local products based on specific characteristics consumers were looking for. As requests for more information about the origin of their food grew, Sysco Ontario approached the Greenbelt Fund.

"If there is a growing demand at the end-user level, then we want to lead the charge in that area," says Geoff Teasdale, Vice President, Merchandising, Sysco Ontario Division.

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Creating more capacity for local food

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Paul Sawtell (back) and Grace Mandarano (front) unloading a refrigerator truck filled with local produce.

As 100km Foods grows, so does the food being purchased from Ontario farms

In 2008, 100km Foods was established to fill a basic need: farmers wanted access to city markets and chefs wanted food directly from Ontario and Greenbelt farms. Neither had the capability to do the driving in between.

Now, 100km Foods is one of the the leading small distribution companies dealing exclusively with local products. It operates 12-months-a-year providing timely deliveries and supplying restaurants and large hotels across southern Ontario. This enterprise helps farmers to supply the increasing demand for local food in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and beyond.

With a desire for change, Grace Mandarano and Paul Sawtell left their jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Through the launch of 100km Foods, Sawtell and Mandarano are championing the connection between where food comes from and how it is grown to create a strong, viable and fair local food economy that benefits consumers and farmers.

"I would never call eating local a trend," says Mandarano. "It’s common sense. We hold power in knowing where our food comes from."

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A distiller-farmer partnership that can’t be ‘beet’

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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A Zephyr Organics farmer, left, and Charles Benoit, right, show off the new sugar beet spirit and its special ingredient.

Partnership with local organic vegetable farm fuels the ‘grain to glass’ movement in Ontario 

A new Toronto distillery and a local Greenbelt farm have teamed up to transform Ontario-grown sugar beets into a unique spirit.

Toronto Distillery Co., the first new distillery to be licensed in Toronto in more than 80 years, is a strong supporter of the movement to use local, seasonal ingredients to protect the environment, grow the region’s economy and enhance the taste of distilled spirits. As part of that grain to glass mission, the company found a strategic partner in Zephyr Organics, to launch a spirit unlike anything Canadians have tasted before.

 

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Aroma of local hops growing stronger than ever in Ontario

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Nicholas Schaut (right) and Andrew Bartle (left), brew master at Northwinds Brewery, celebrating their collaboration.

Local beer trend bringing back hop yards 

As Ontarians begin to recognize the value in eating and drinking locally, requests for a pint of locally brewed beer are going up.

"The resurgence of craft brewing is like a revolution," says Nicholas Schaut, owner of Bighead Hops, a hop farm located near Meaford, Ontario. "Brewers believe in the local economy and they have been trying to break the system of large commercial control over their craft. By building a product chain that sources local ingredients they are demonstrating a cycle of integrity in their product and building a narrative which has resonated with the community."

To meet this need, Bighead Hops started producing and supplying certified organic hops to more than five local craft breweries. Hops were introduced to Canada in the late 1600s, but eventually insect and mildew caused the market to collapse. Today, modified growing and harvesting methods mean hops grow well in southern Ontario. Grown in an orchard environment, hops require attention, diligence, physical labour and unique, capital intensive end-processing methods.

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Collaborating and making enhancements to meet growing market demands

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Caption: Owner Nick D’Elia with brother Phil of Newmarket Meat Packers in the plant with the new packaging machine.

Collaborating and making enhancements to meet growing market demands

The demand for quality lamb in Ontario has been steadily increasing, and has outpaced supply 

Ontario and Greenbelt lamb producers have struggled to match the demand with a supply of consistent, high-quality, locally produced lamb. To be successful, Newmarket Meat Packers (NMP) recognized they needed to reevaluate how they sourced lamb – to improve quality, consistency and adapt their plans to satisfy the supply chain.

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The New Farm gives optimism to fellow small-size farming operations

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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The New Farm co-owner Brent Flies, left, discusses local organics with Ryerson University tour attendee..

The New Farm gives optimism to fellow small-size farming operations

Farmers teach other farmers how to scale up and enhance profitability.

Soon after The New Farm began selling high-quality produce to Ontario and Greenbelt farmers’ markets and high-end restaurants, the demand for supply grew, and so did the pressure to scale up.

The New Farm, located just outside the Greenbelt, was challenged on its 100-acre farm to implement processes to ensure consistency in its organic produce and meet other distributor needs.

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Teaching local food service industry to use Ontario soybean products

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Sol Cuisine President Dror Balshine in the company’s Mississauga plant.

Teaching local food service industry to use Ontario soybean products

A Mississauga company used an education campaign to gain greater demand of its products

When Sol Cuisine wanted to increase the use of its Ontario-produced tofu in food service and institutions, it realized it needed to show them exactly how to use it.

The resulting education campaign has helped increase reach of the Mississauga company’s high quality tofu into universities, health care and long-term care homes, as well as its use of Ontario-grown soybeans.

Sol Cuisine’s challenge was to educate the supply chain from purchasers and distributors to chefs, on how tofu from Ontario and Greenbelt-grown soybeans could be put onto the menu in a realistic and economically feasible way to help serve the growing demand for vegetarian and vegan foods.

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Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo

Wilfrid Laurier University would like to see local food in their student cafeterias year-round, and through the course of the Local Food Challenge, they plan to do just that. The Fresh Food Company will be a source of local menu items year-round, and they will work closely with the student body on social media promotion and education about Ontario food. Events planned throughout the Challenge include Local Food Days, farm tours, and an on-site market.

University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, Toronto

Every Wednesday will be Local Food Wednesday, as the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus shows that a university can find creative ways to bring local food to student meals. Boasting an on-site farmers market already, U of T will use their grant to build on that momentum, hosting events, and developing an on-campus local food brand that will help customers easily identify what is fresh and local. They plan to boost their already impressive 30 per cent local food spend a further 10 per cent over the course of the Challenge.