Celebrating Agri-Food Innovation and Growth

Ontario recognizes and celebrates local agri-food innovators whose ideas and projects are strengthening the province’s agri-food sector.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Jeff Leal, honoured local agri-food industry innovators recently for their resourcefulness and leadership that have inspired Ontario’s agricultural sector.  The Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence highlights the provinces innovative individuals and organizations whose new ideas  allow the people of our province to enjoy the benefits of new jobs and new products, all of which add to our growing economy.

The Premier’s Award was presented to VG Meats of Norfolk County.

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For VG Meats, the best school uniform is a butcher’s apron.  The folks over at VG Meats created an intuitive training program designed to teach the ins-and-outs of meat butchery. The innovation came about when they couldn’t find the skilled staff needed for the family’s processing and retail operations.  Within a week they had 300 applications pour into their new program, “The Chop School”.  Ultimately, nine students were accepted into the inaugural class for 100 hours of fully paid training. The program includes classroom sessions, plenty of hands-on practice and even time on the Van Groningen beef farm.  The school proved so successful that VG Meats is now launching a second class. They have also developed a two-week “Farmer in Training” program to help retail employees understand exactly how the VG Meats’ meat they sell is produced.

The Minister’s Award was presented to Clear Valley Hops of Simcoe County.

cvhClear Valley Hops is confident they supply the freshest hops in the world, and they go to great lengths to deliver on that promise. They’ve developed an advanced harvesting and processing practice to consistently produce the highest quality of hops, every time. As soon as the hops are harvested, they are transferred to a 40-foot-high oast house for low-heat drying, preserving their flavour-rich essential oils. Once the hops are dried, Clear Valley doesn’t waste time baling them – instead, they go straight to pelleting. Finally, they are packed in material that blocks harmful oxygen and ultraviolet rays, flushed with nitrogen and flash-frozen. The entire process, from harvest to freezing, takes just 24 hours. Laurie Thatcher-Craig and John Craig have poured more than $1.3 million into their enterprise, but the investment is paying off with numerous long-term brewery contracts. As their customers have discovered, fresher is clearly better.  Fresher hops, means fresher beer!

Three Leaders in Innovation awards were also presented:

  • Celmar Dairy Ltd of Oxford County for their innovation in installing a custom built in ground concrete pit that allows tanden wagons to discharge their cargo of forage in less than two minutes.  With this set-up a single person can fill multiple  tower style silos  from one location, quickly which has improved feed quality for the animals.
  • Durham Foods of Durham Region for developing the ‘GAP App’, an interactive application for tablets designed to save producers time and money, while also improving food safety. The user-friendly app makes it easier for food producers to store and create reports replacing the need for time-consuming and costly paperwork while also increasing traceability.
  • Vineland Estates Winery Inc. of  Niagara Region for their optical sorting device which increases efficiency and greatly improves product quality. The optical sorter is six times faster than hand-sorting, and it delivers better-quality grapes. By lowering costs and raising standards, this machine promises to revolutionize winemaking in Ontario.

In 2015, 50 award recipients were recognized, including the top Premier’s Award, Minister’s Award, and three Leaders in Innovation award winners. Be sure to check back  next year to see the next crop of Ontario’s top agri-food innovators!

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