by Sally Miller

We met in a bright new board room in Northumberland County’s new Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC). The facility will be a small batch food processing facility where local food producers and entrepreneurs can rent commercial kitchen and value-added processing equipment, develop and test products in the lab or with local college partners, and build market knowledge and planning. Although it is still under construction, it was close to completion and we were able to get a tour during the workers’ lunch break. OnCo-op had arranged for the gathering of food co-op distributors and food hub developers, including representatives from the LOFC Network and ONFC, to learn more about this important initiative.

We were welcomed in by Joe Mullin, the Operations Manager of OAVFC, Trissia Mellor and Dan Borowec, both from the Northumberland Economic Development and Tourism office. The facility represents years of dedicated work and determination, as well as foresight for local food trends. They will offer an impressive range of options, from hot water bath canning to flash freezing as well as training to support new ventures, business expansions, etc.

The closing of food processing plants all over Ontario left a gap that local farmers have struggled to fill. Furthermore, infrastructure scaled to mid-size producers and regional markets has been lost in Ontario in recent years. The area near the plant has been historically the site of much agricultural and processing activity. Recent interest in local food has revived this identity, expressed in high end chefs who use local ingredients, open air markets, craft brewers, and other enterprises. The Northumberland County project represents a much needed demonstration of an essential infrastructure for the rapidly growing regional food system.

A recent report (Dollars and Sense, Greenbelt Foundation et al., 2015) shows that Ontario produces billions in local food revenue from primary production (farming) , but almost four times that amount in processed products. In general, value-added products also represent a significantly higher portion of the profit in food sales. It makes sense to create infrastructure to recapture that margin. As demand for locally grown and processed food increases, local farmers have grown as well and are looking for ways to diversify that are appropriate to their existing operation. Such a project increases margins and extends the season for agricultural revenues. Local small batch processing increases the impact of local production through jobs and economic multipliers.

The tour featured one innovation after another. The equipment is portable so the kitchen can be re-arranged to suit each project. The training is offered to suit a range of needs and expertise; producers can just rent the kitchen if they have demonstrated full knowledge of food safety, or they can use it in a more mentored arrangement with training and support to get them up to speed. There is the shower where farmers can hose off so they can go straight from the field to manufacturing. There are plans to address specific opportunities, such as certified organic shifts, gluten-free areas, and other certifications. Storage and processing rooms have adjustable temperatures depending on demand; the tempering room allows for a programmed cycle of temperature changes to fit specific recipes. The facility will run all night, with deep sanitation occurring overnight and shifts for entrepreneurs starting at 7 am.

This ground-breaking venture should inspire similar initiatives in agricultural production areas around the country. For the LOFC food hub project, it was a welcome demonstration of an approach to small scale batch processing that meets commercial standards.

Additional information about the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre from the Northumberland County Economic Development Website:

 

Northumberland County is building a not-for-profit small-batch food processing facility.

Supporting farmers with fruit and vegetable value-adding opportunities to increase farm revenue, helping foodies with recipe development and working with food processing start-ups and expansions in Ontario with research and development, test batch and small batch co-packing capacity.

Located at 116 Industrial Park Road North, Colborne ON K0K 1S0

Objectives:

  • Provide resources to support, facilitate and advance a sustainable regional local food economy
  • Provide  facility to small batch/niche batch processing/packaging of local food  fruits & vegetables only
  • Engage a broader regional rural constituency to create the necessary demand for the service
  • Create the necessary infrastructure and support for value-added production, minimal processing and business services to existing and emerging businesses, organizations and the surrounding community
  • Act in partnership with supporting agencies to enhance and educate individuals regarding food preparation and availability
  • Research and develop in conjunction with established post-secondary institutions product methodologies for chilling/freezing and packaging local food products to extend seasonality
  • Insure sustainability through multiple revenue streams
  • Create new business opportunities resulting in increased revenues and employment
  • Broaden product offerings by increasing the seasonality of locally grown products through new technologies in food processing and packaging
  • Increase production of local food offerings by enhancing demand
  • Re-introduce individuals to food preparation techniques which will create more balanced and healthy diets
  • Encourage investment in local agriculture and support more entrepreneurial endeavours in agriculture and related support industries
  • Create new business opportunities resulting in increased revenues and employment
  • Broaden product offerings by increasing the seasonality of locally grown products through new technologies in food processing and packaging
  • Increase production of local food offerings by enhancing demand
  • Re-introduce individuals to food preparation techniques which will create more balanced and healthy diets
  • Encourage investment in local agriculture and support more entrepreneurial endeavours in agriculture and related support industries

Anticipated Outcomes:

  • Create new business opportunities resulting in increased revenues and employment
  • Broaden product offerings by increasing the seasonality of locally grown products through new technologies in food processing and packaging
  • Increase production of local food offerings by enhancing demand
  • Re-introduce individuals to food preparation techniques which will create more balanced and healthy diets
  • Encourage investment in local agriculture and support more entrepreneurial endeavours in agriculture and related support industries

Scope of the Project

The 15,000 sq.ft. facility will be located in the municipally owned Colborne Industrial Park, includes a solar panelled roof and a unique physical presence, adjacent to the 401 allowing for a significant degree of profile. Easily accessed and the preferred site of the local agricultural community as determined by the Business Retention & Expansion project, the facility will provide the following resources:

  • Rental of cooking, chilling, freezing and packaging/labelling equipment to the agricultural/business community on a cost recovery basis.
  • Cold storage capacity to accommodate both refrigerated and frozen items
  • Designated space to accommodate a private sector food distributer (niche market)
  • Meeting and limited office space
  • Technology access for e-commerce activities/health and safety standards
  • Food processing expertise - on-site support during production/processing periods from food processing programs from various education institutions (Durham and Loyalist)

For more information on the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre please contact Joe Mullin, Operations Manager, by email or Trissia Mellor, Agricultural Manager, by email.

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Inspiration, Co-operation and Processing in a Brand New Food Hub

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