Q: What is your role in Business Development Branch?
A: Within the BDB, I am an Agriculture Development Advisor. I work with clients and stakeholders in the Rainy River and Kenora area to provide support for agriculture and food economic development projects, tech projects, and other types of projects. I act as a liaison between other branches of OMAFRA, as well as with other Ministries within the government such as the Ministry of Northern Development and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Q: What initiatives or projects are you currently working on?
A: Currently, my main focuses are on developing Northern Ontario crop sector strategy and supporting agricultural producers. I also assist with food processing and value-added opportunities – developing food processing facilities and strategies in the Northwest, helping with applications for funding, making connections and directing clients to specialists for technical information. Working with meat processing facilities to alleviate backlog and help them upgrade equipment and increase their production capacity is also something I have been very involved in. Generally speaking, I function as a touchpoint between Northwestern Ontario and the rest of Ontario!
Q: What do you most like about the work you do?
A: The people are definitely my favourite part of the work that I do. Between different clients and stakeholders, I have met countless unique individuals. Each with their own interesting ideas and perspectives, I have seen and heard a lot to gain different ways of looking at things. I find that the people of Northern Ontario have such resilience and innovation, able to weather unfavourable weather and adverse times of the recent years. I have great respect for that.
Q: Professional background – How did you become involved with Business Development?
A: I’ve always wanted to work in agriculture. My family farmed, and I grew up knowing I wanted to be involved in it. So, I went to the University of Manitoba and got my Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, as well as a Diploma in Agriculture. My education focused on the animal production and business side of agriculture.
I didn’t start out in agriculture though. I began working in the Ontario Public Service as a forest firefighter for over 10 years, eventually becoming a wildfire skills training specialist. When I heard that my local agriculture development advisor was retiring, I decided that was my opportunity to transition my career into agriculture – without starting a farm and without having to move from where I currently live. In Northwestern Ontario, there aren’t many options and I knew I had to work really hard to achieve this goal. It wasn’t easy. I took several years of contract work but it was well worth it.
Q: What kind of trends are you seeing in Northern Ontario agriculture and agri-food development?
A: I’ve noticed that primary producers are more aware of local trends. The recent push for local food and access to social media has changed how they are selling and marketing their products, using technology and digitization to their advantage.
More primary producers are doing direct sales, as well as adding value to their products. There’s been a sharp increase in interest in further food processing as a part of their business plan.
Overall, there is more development in agrifood processing – it’s slow but increasing.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the work you do?
A: Since a large part of my work is to facilitate communication between clients, the transition to online has been a difficult adjustment. Everyone was used to meeting in-person. As regulations have relaxed, I’m currently going through a reconnecting process with everyone.
Internet connectivity has also been a challenge, with the limited or outdated infrastructure in the Northwest.
It’s not all negative though, as COVID has moved a lot of resources into digital format which is great for accessibility for clients in the Northwest. Conferences and training in Southern Ontario and even across the country can now be attended without having to factor lengthy travel times and the expenses of that.
Q: How do people contact you?
A: You can reach me at my number at 1 807-220-4290 or email me at Jennifer.Wall@ontario.ca.
New Office Location:
283 Church St., Fort Frances ON P9A 1C7
For office hours call: 1-807-220-4290