Like his bread, Tom Manley rises again

Tom Manley (left) at the 2017 Ottawa Valley Farm Show, where he represented now-defunct Homestead Organics. At right is the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network, an organization Manley now serves as executive director.

No Homestead Organics reboot

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

BERWICK — Tom Manley has reinvented himself once again, this time as Executive Director of the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network, a non-profit dedicated to development and expansion of the regional sector.

In announcing his new home-based role, the former owner/operator of multi-million dollar Berwick-based Homestead Organics feed mill said he’s “really pumped” and sees a great future. At the moment, the assignment is for a few months and “we’ll see how it goes.”

“The current pandemic has driven home the practical value of buying local food and it’s thrilling to see so many people get on board,” Manley said, indicating his first priorities are to get the Network back on its feet in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, and apply for more municipal funding from Cornwall and Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry (Prescott-Russell funding is already in place), as well as the provincial government.

Almost simultaneously to receiving the Agri-Food Network posting, Manley got the bad news the reboot of Homestead as Greenside Organics has fallen through. For more than a year, Manley acted as a consultant on re-starting his former mill under the ownership of Peter Jagachandran who has developed serious health issues.

Tom Manley and a recent batch of bread in his Berwick kitchen.

The new operation in North Stormont Township had been certified organic, a millwright had been hired, technical improvements made, suppliers lined up and employees interviewed… and then the startup collapsed. Manley said the former Homestead business, which declared bankruptcy in 2018, doesn’t fall back to him; however, he’s helping Jagachandran find a buyer.

Far from going into seclusion after the Homestead fiasco, Manley became a local food provider, baking various Artisan breads at home and selling them on the Eastern Ontario circuit and at farmers markets under the banner Tom’s Pantry.

He issues friendly weekly newsletters letting customers know what breads are available and when they can be dropped off or picked up at market. He even asks customers for advice on what they might like him to bake, including a recent question as to who would like Christmas bread and, if so, what variety? Even with the new job, Manley said he’ll continue making bread but at a much lower volume and only selling at Vankleek Hill Famers Market.

The Agri-Food Network is currently chaired by Michel Villeneuve of Vergers Villeneuve at Bourget. Over the years, the fluently bilingual Manley explained, there have been a series of coordinators who focused on service delivery while strategy and leadership remained with the board. The Coordinator position has been empty since Sept. 1; the position of Executive Director has just been created with a leadership and strategic role to relieve board members who are volunteers.

“Eastern Ontario has several local food and beverage success stories to celebrate. I look forward to working with farmers in direct marketing, food artisans and farmers markets.”

Asked if he would place an emphasis on organic in his new role, Manley diplomatically observed that all local food is good.

Manley was swamped with congratulations on social media after his new job became public. Supporters called it a “great fit,” “wonderful for us and you,” “the right candidate”, and a chance for him to “keep sharing your passion.”

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