By Jeanine Moyer for AgInnovation Ontario
It’s been nearly two years since the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC) opened its doors to grow the agriculture and food industry in Eastern Ontario and the results are outstanding.
“Our clients are winning international food awards, creating new processing opportunities for local farmers and generally boosting the food and farming industry in our area,” says Trissia Mellor, Agriculture Manager with Northumberland County and OAFVC.
Designed with farmers in mind, the not-for-profit, small batch food processing facility supports fresh thinking and value-adding opportunities to increase farm revenue. OAFVC specializes in services and on-site features for recipe development, food-processing start-up and expansions, research and development and test batches and packaging.
Dubbed Eastern Ontario’s food hub centre, the facility is available to anyone for rent, offering cooking, chilling, freezing, packaging, labeling, storage and food processing equipment.
“Our goal is to create connections for farmers, food companies and processors and it’s paying off – we’ve already seen spin-off economic activity with new relationships and partnership opportunities that wouldn’t have happened otherwise” says Mellor.
OAFVC is owned and operated by Northumberland County and is the county’s local commitment to food. The centre can be credited for helping to attract new food manufacturers to the area, a surge in professional development activities in the food community and accelerated entrepreneur opportunities.
OAFVC clients are bringing home accolades with international award-winning hot sauces that were processed at the centre. New value-added food products developed at OAFVC, like sweet potato soups, are placing local Northumberland County grown food products on grocery store shelves.
Success has also been seen in product development and partnership opportunities for clients like Popham Lane Farm, a black currant farm in Brighton, ON that has launched a line of jams and sauces.
“Product development and production for their black currant products has all been conducted through OAFVC,” says Mellor. “We’ve also helped the farm expand their products and retail opportunities by facilitating partnerships with other processors who are adding black currants to their food products.”
An unexpected opportunity for OAFVC recently came from a group of local hop growers looking to close the loop on their value chain by processing their own hops for microbreweries. OAFVC partnered with local growers to invest in equipment to pelletize and package the hops and stores the final products.
The explosion of craft breweries has opened up new opportunities for farmers growing hops and the centre is helping farmers meet the growing demand for quality, ready to use value-added hops. The new hop processing equipment is attracting interest from hop growers from all over Ontario, helping to spread the word about OAFVC and opportunities such a facility can offer to agricultural and economic sustainability.
“Another surprising development for OAFVC has been the chance to work with new Canadians through cooking classes,” says Mellor. “Food is everyone’s first language and we’ve been able to foster new community networks through cultural cooking.”