Increasing Use of Local Food and Farmer Capacity
From May 2016-17, CLFC hired Andrea Habinski to complete a one year internship with the Co-op in the role as the Agricultural Co-ordinator. Andrea was born and raised in Sioux Lookout and completed a Bachelor and Masters of Science in Animal & Poultry Sciences before returning to Northwestern Ontario. The goal of the internship was to increase the use of local food by institutions in the region and to help farmers access programming and grants to increase their capacity to serve these larger markets.
Over the course of the year, our intern successfully completed projects to increase the purchase and production of local food in the area. Some of these successes include:
Hydroponic Greenhouse Expansion and Retrofit
Our intern worked with Wickens Lake Sunshine to apply to the Greenebelt Fund for a grant to extend and retrofit their hydroponic greenhouse. The application was successful and the grant made it possible for Wickens Lake Sunshine to expand their greenhouse (essentially doubling their production) and install a wood boiler to heat the greenhouse. Heating the greenhouse will allow the producer to extend his growing season by a few months. Production will start earlier in the spring (lettuce was ready as early as mid-April this year!) and will be extended later into the fall.
The increased production made possible by the grant will help to supply fresh local produce to the Open Roads Salad Bar Program and to local restaurants in the area like Kuppers Bakery & Restaurant who use the lettuce in their sandwiches and salads!
Open Roads Salad Bar Program
Open Roads Public Schools work with CLFC to receive funding for a Farm to Cafeteria grant to support an in-school salad bar program. The program mandates supporting local when possible so the agricultural co-ordinator worked with the school and a chef to develop a menu and to recruit producers to supply the program. A major supplier will be Wickens Lake Sunshine with their lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Belluz Farms has already supplied carrots and other producers will be supplying the program as well!
In the Fall of 2016, the intern sourced local ingredients for the students to make pickles for their salad bar in the spring. With the help of our producer, Beth Zurbrigg, the students learned how to preserve their own pickles from start to finish! The spring and fall of 2017 will be the first run of the program and CLFC is so proud to see our local schools take on such exciting local food projects!
Hiring of On-Farm Intern
In October of 2016, local producer, Wall’s Pork Shop, was able to hire a full time on-farm intern thanks to a successful grant through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Youth Green Jobs Initiative. This grant allowed the farm to hire a recent graduate to gain experience in farming and agriculture. The intern learned about vegetable and pork production and also had the opportunity to work at the on-farm abattoir to gain experience in animal processing as well. Walls has the only farrow-finish hog operation with an on-farm abattoir in the region, so it was a truly unique experience for the intern.
The intern gained first time hands-on farming experience which has piqued their interest to pursue agriculture in the future! The grant allowed the farm to hire an intern in a much more financially feasible manner and provided the farm with help to complete unfinished projects and to increase their production and efficiency.
In April 2017, AAFC renewed their grant program for another 2 year program. More information on the program can be found on their website.
Northwestern Health Unit Student Nutrition Program Partnership
Our co-ordinator worked closely with the Food and Logistics Co-ordinator of the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) to provide local products to their Student Nutrition Programs (SNP) for the region. Our first project involved coordinating the purchase and delivery of nearly 10,000 lb, yes, 10,000 lb of apples to over 35 schools across the region in the fall of 2016!! This project was incredibly well received and were purchased through one of our producers, Binnendyk Apples.
Because of the success of the apple project, the NWHU approached us to deliver a similar project with carrots and locally produced bran muffin mix. This project happened in early 2017 and saw over 2,600 lb of Belluz Farms’ carrots and 1,400 lb of Brule Creek Farms’ muffin mix delivered to students around the region. The amazing thing about working with local producers is their flexibility and ability to cater to your needs! When we originally looked at the muffin mix, the nutritional formulation didn’t match the recently released standards outlined by the SNP guidelines. But it wasn’t a problem! Since all of the processing and production is done on farm, Brule Creek was able to reformulate the mix to meet the requirements and supply the program! Do you need anymore reasons to want to support local?! In the end, the NWHU used most of their available bulk purchasing budget to purchase product through CLFC which had huge benefits for our local producers. We were able to supply children in our schools with healthy, local products and the NWHU was able to rely on our established transportation network and food hubs to transport and distribute the products throughout communities.
As well as working to deliver SNP products, CLFC has worked with the NWHU to provide a simple and straightforward inspection to our local producers to allow them to supply product to local SNPs. There are certification guidelines required of farms in order to have product sourced for SNPs. At the moment, those certifications are complicated, expensive, and often of no other benefit for our smaller farmers to acquire. This requirement excludes our local farmers from participating in supplying these programs and leaves a gap in local produce supply to our schools. This unique inspection will mean that more farms can supply their goods to local SNPs and allow many small farms to fill large bulk orders for items like carrots.
Institutional Sourcing Forums
Our intern worked with area partners to help plan and execute two forums in Kenora on institutional sourcing of local food. One was held in December with a focus on tying local food with culinary tourism, and another was held in April where the audience heard from Joshna Maharaj and how she revolutionized a hospital and university’s meal program to incorporate local food and serve wholesome, healthy meals.
These forums helped to create relationships between producers and institutions and to identify areas of the market that could potentially be filled with local products. This also helped to open the eyes of local institutions like hospitals to see that serving fresh, local food on budget is possible, and that there are producers in our region that are willing to meet that market!
Traditional Food Sourcing for the Metis Nation
Our Ag. Co-ordinator also worked with the Metis Nation in Dryden to provide traditional foods to their meal program. Since selling wild game is prohibited, it is difficult for these types of programs to have easy access to traditional wild foods. Luckily, we do have similar products available through our producers and are able to supply the program with culturally appropriate alternatives. CLFC was able to connect the Metis Nation with walleye and rabbit from Rainy River Meats and wild rice from Canadian Pure Wild Rice. We also had a new producer, Rainy River Elk Company join the co-op to supply the program with ground elk, stew cubes, and a variety of steaks.
We are continuing to work with organizations like the Metis Nation and the local hospitals with traditional foods programs to try and help meet the needs of these programs while supporting local agriculture and food processors. Other avenues like working with the MNR and the local abattoirs to connect these programs with donated game are also in the works.
Love Local Boxes
With the help of CLFC’s Marketing Co-ordinator, the Ag. Co-ordinator worked with Superior Seasons in Thunder Bay and CLFC producers to bring you the Love Local Box program. This gave subscribers 3 monthly variety boxes filled with unique and delicious local items. This allowed our producers to reach more consumers and gave members a chance to try new products and find new favourites. It also helped to form a strong relationship with Superior Seasons and help to connect members of both organizations with more local items! The program was a huge success and we hope to bring it back in the fall of 2017.