A Popular First Impressions Community Exchange is Now Available for Local Food

OMAFRA’s Local Food First Impressions Community Exchange (FICE) program, allows communities to gain a fresh perspective on how their local food assets are seen through the eyes of first-time visitors. A FICE program means that:

  • Two communities are matched based on similarities (e.g., major sectors or population)
  • Each community recruits a group of volunteers to act as visitors
  • Those volunteers are trained by OMAFRA staff to conduct the visit
  • The visitors record their findings about the partner community
  • Observations are presented to each community
  • Action plans are created based on the feedback gathered

FICE graphic for blog

By undertaking a FICE project that is focused on Local Food, a community can take a closer look at their existing local food assets through the eyes of visitors. This provides a community with the opportunity to further develop these local food assets.

Local Food FICE visits explore branding, infrastructure, marketing, location and seasonality. FICE offers a fresh perspective because of the careful planning that occurs before the project is initiated. Each stage of the program has several steps to ensure communities have adequate support to receive the best feedback possible.

local food fice diagram

The first step is to ensure that the community is ready to undertake the program. The community should have an organization that will commit to the project and the necessary financial resources to both carry out the exchange and implement an action plan.

The second step is the exchange itself where volunteer teams visit the exchange community and note observations in order to prepare a report. The visit is centered on team members traveling around the exchange community finding and experiencing its local food, taking photos, interacting with residents and businesses and completing a report about the visit.

The next step is to report back to the exchange community to share results and begin developing the community action plan.

The final step is to implement and monitor the action plan. It is also essential to monitor progress to identify if any changes are needed and to help communicate progress to partners and external funding agencies.

The visit is centered on team members traveling around the exchange community, taking photos, interacting with residents and businesses and completing a report about the visit.

county sign

In early 2016, staff in Haliburton County expressed an interest in taking a close look at local food assets in their region. The county had recently developed a Culinary Tourism Strategy and were ready to test it out to identify the next steps. The community decided to take part in a pilot Local Food FICE Pilot Project with Prince Edward County being the matched community.

In the summer of 2016, a draft of the Local Food FICE survey was developed and tested. In autumn of 2016, the two communities made their visits to one another and reported back events that were held in each community.

maple syrup fice photo

This process provided validation and recognition for existing assets within the community. The well-developed culinary tourism and local food assets were described as especially strong. Some outcomes included more emphasis required on branding. Other items to focus on include a local food focus within FICE and an emphasis on timing, suggesting that FICE visits should occur during harvest seasons when fresh local food is readily available.

“We could have spent 6 figures on a consultant and not received as much information as we have in this process and from these volunteers … and consultants leave – we have an ongoing relationship with Prince Edward County now and we will work together on local food issues.”  – Brent Devolin, Warden, Haliburton County

For Haliburton County, one of the main observations was that signage around the county needed to be improved. Based on this feedback, Haliburton County staff have taken initial steps towards revisiting signage by-laws and working with member municipalities on billboards and directional signage. The report also suggested developing and celebrating the truly unique local food assets that can only be found in Haliburton, like wild foods, foraged foods and unique food events.

“We believe that the FICE project reaffirmed some of our thoughts, but also showed us that we are stronger in some areas than we thought. We have a lot to be proud of. We realized we’re not the ‘little guys’ on the food scene – we have a lot to offer and develop.” – Amanda Virtanen, Director of Tourism: County of Haliburton

Another outcome observed by the Haliburton team was the lack of local food knowledge. This problem is being addressed by applying for funding for a freelance coordinator in late 2018. The goals are to achieve shared staffing among restaurants, local food product development, and local food event development.

“The FICE report was well received by our municipal leaders. County council got behind the recommendations in the report and leaving their recommendations has prompted our leaders to move forward.” – Amanda Virtanen

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