Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development and the City of Kawartha Lakes are seeking participants for a new project that will expand local food production and consumption by making it more accessible through local wholesale channels.
On December 5, the Ontario government announced it is providing $59,768 to the Growing the Local Food Wholesale Market in Kawartha Region initiative through the Rural Economic Development Program of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
The multi-phase and multi-year project builds on previous initiatives to develop a more robust availability of locally produced food. This collaborative project provides training and coaching and connects food producers, such as farmers and local food processors, with food buyers like restaurants, food service providers, and retail and institutional buyers at no cost. Applications to participate are now open until Friday, December 22nd at investptbo.ca/local-food-wholesale/.
“The goal of this project is to link both sides of production and wholesale to build mutual understanding and lasting relationships,” says Gabi Dragomir, Rural Economic Development Officer with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development. “Food producers and buyers will learn how to deal with the needs of the other.”
From February to April 2024, participants will engage in group training led by Sustainable Good Food Consulting to help them better understand the opposite side of the relationship — whether that’s food production or wholesale buying — and thinking about marketing strategies and purchasing possibilities.
The training will include several group workshops using guidelines and toolkits customized to meet participant needs, and will provide the opportunity to connect with and create a network of support.
David Cohlmeyer, founder and former owner of organic farm Cookstown Greens in Simcoe County, will use his decades of experience working with farmers and chefs to guide the food producers in training, with a focus on food packaging, production planning, market development, food safety, business planning and logistics.
Food buyer training, on the other hand, will be led by restaurateur and chef Gary Hoyer, and will cover topics including the importance of supporting local food producers, how to connect, strategies for selling local, and more. Training sessions focused on areas of food service operations (retail, restaurants, processors, and institutions) will be customized depending on group needs.
Following the group training, the participating food producers and buyers will have access to one-on-one coaching with the professionals at their convenience until the project ends in 2025.
“The participants will have access to the coach as they go through changes in their operations and grow,” says Dragomir. “This is a great opportunity for those who are ready to practice what they learned in training.”
The third phase of the program will be the launch of a pilot aggregation and distribution system. Participants will use their new networks to collectively test and choose appropriate systems for increasing the volume of local food transactions by developing a form of local food hub.
“We’re facilitating the discussion and the trainers will bring their expertise and give ideas, but it’s going to be the participants’ solutions,” says Dragomir, noting that creating a centralized food hub or system will reduce the time producers spend on transporting their food between distributors. “We’re not imposing a cookie-cutter solution.”
The project builds upon previous agricultural development collaborations between Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development and the City of Kawartha Lakes, including the Kawartha Choice FarmFresh program which began 20 years ago to promote local farming.
“There are no boundaries between farmers and consumers, and we’re close neighbours with similar types of farms and needs,” Dragomir points out. “So it makes sense to collaborate, and we do it very well together.”
Last year, another step to expanding local food consumption was taken with a networking event that connected producers and wholesale buyers to encourage them to think about partnership opportunities.
“The community wants programs that produce more opportunities to eat local,” Dragomir says.
She adds that not only will participation in the project benefit food producers and buyers, who will gain a mutual understanding through creation of a wholesale model, but it will have major positive effect on the region’s economy.
“With this process, all the money is staying within the community,” says Dragomir. “We are not paying businesses outside the region if our local farmers can sell to our local buyers.”
She notes the project can also create opportunities to increase tourism by catering to visitors who want to experience local and seasonal tastes in restaurants. There are also clear benefits to the environment.
“By supporting farmers oriented to a local market, you are supporting smaller farms who typically focus on more ecological management practices,” Dragomir explains. “Keeping local farmland in production assists in maintaining important ecosystem services and habitat preservation. Local food doesn’t travel far, which not only reduces miles and emissions but also maintains freshness — freshness is quality.”
To apply for the project, producers and buyers are required to fill out an expression of interest addressing their reasons and goals for joining the project. They will then get a one-on-one consultation with the coach to get a sense of how they can customize the sessions to meet each participant’s needs. There is no requirement on the size or revenues of the producer or buyer looking to participate.
“They will be trailblazers,” Dragomir says. “They will demonstrate to the rest of the community what can collaboratively be done and encourage others to get trained and help grow a more robust local food system.”
The project is accepting applications until Friday, December 22nd. Food producers and buyers in the City and County of Peterborough can apply at investptbo.ca/local-food-wholesale/ (those in Kawartha Lakes can apply at www.kawarthalakes.ca/local-food-wholesale).
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