by Pat Jilesen
Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario is ripe with agri-food opportunities for farmers, food processors and entrepreneurs. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is a strong promoter of farming and of value-added initiatives through our awareness and advocacy work with government, policy advisors and municipal planners.
OFA’s board of directors recently toured Northumberland County for a firsthand look at the innovative farms and value-added agri-food businesses in the region.
Tour stops included local producers and the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC). Farm locations included a maple syrup and honey producer who is creating new food products like maple syrup vinegar. We also learned about a local hops farm and a purebred Shropshire sheep operation involved in a unique breeding program.
The OAFVC, located in Colborne, is a unique facility that brings together food enthusiasts, start-up companies and farmers in a small-batch food processing facility. The 15,000 square foot facility was built to support area farmers in starting up value-added opportunities that would increase farm revenue. Opened in 2015, the facility is operated by the local municipality. It contributes to the local community and agricultural industry by opening up product development, marketing and processing opportunities at low risk to local farmers. The facility also helps “foodies” with recipe development and food processing start-up companies. With a full suite of facilities, including cooking, chilling, freezing and packaging equipment, OAFVC is a one-stop shop for local farmers and food entrepreneurs.
The local agri-food centre is a great demonstration of a working partnership between the local municipality, regional supporters and the local farming community. This facility exemplifies the tremendous opportunities OFA sees within its Producing Prosperity campaign to promote local economic development. OFA was very encouraged to see this local initiative providing Ontario farmers with innovative opportunities that offer long-term potential to diversify and strengthen the economic sustainability of our agri-food industry.