Green and Growing Local Food

Published in the North Grenville Times on March 18th, 2015

Last week I attended two interesting presentations regarding Lanark, Leeds and Grenville counties; the first on Monday evening dealt with the local food movement and the second on Tuesday morning concerned community economic development.

March 9th Sustainable North Grenville welcomed Matt Brearley, General Manager of the Two Rivers Food Hub, who spoke to a full house at The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill. Jim Beveridge, his son Andrew and I were also there to talk and answer questions about Markets on Rideau, a re-development project in the Rideau-Sanders Triangle in Old Town Kemptville.

Matt explained the goal of the Food Hub, located at The Gallipeau Centre in Smiths Falls, is to help local farmers and local food entrepreneurs increase their production by acting as an aggregation and distribution point for both produce and protein. The aim is to make local food costs affordable for consumers while helping local small scale farmers to become sustainable. Two Rivers is gearing up slowly as funds become available; its commercial kitchen space opened for business just last week. Matt also told the attentive crowd of 30 to 40 that the Hub can also provide food packaging and labeling services, and will help get products to market.

The demand for locally grown and locally processed food, free of the “ingredients” that agri-business choses to use in maximizing yields and shelf-life, far outstrips supply. Farm gate sales and farmers’ market have reached the limit of their capacity to satisfy the growing market. This offers great opportunities for rural communities that are close to large urban centres like Ottawa.

The Markets on Rideau project involves the redevelopment of 13,000 square feet of vacant commercial building space and an adjoining asphalt parking lot at 200 Sanders Street in Old Town Kemptville. MoR_LandscapeIt aims to become a centre for local food related businesses in which to establish themselves and, through branding the area as a destination, reach a larger trading area. In addition to the renovations and landscaping, a comprehensive marketing strategy will be put in place to provide marketing support for the participating businesses. In response to a question about the relationship between the two projects, I said, “Think of Markets on Rideau as the retail expression of what the Two Rivers Food Hub is trying to accomplish”.

On the morning of March 10th, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs conducted a highly informative Community Economic Development 101 workshop at the Municipal Centre. In attendance were numerous elected officials, public servants, people working in the non-profit sector and members of the general public, all interested in discussing the challenges that rural communities face in fostering economic growth.

You would think that developing the agricultural sector in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville would be a high priority with this group, instead rising Hydro rates and the prospect of further amalgamation in the area dominated. In fact, according to my notes, it was over two hours before the word “agriculture” was mentioned. This is a shame.

We often here the phrase “growth pays for growth” bandied about but usually it’s in the context of housing developments. What if we could grow good and meaningful jobs by developing the local food sector? It might give new meaning to the catch-phrase and it might even be a more sustainable activity in the long run.

As their name suggests Sustainable North Grenville is concerned with issues that threaten the viability of our community. Their Sustainability Fair happens on Sunday April 26th, for details email: info@sustainablenorthgrenville.ca. For more information on the Two Rivers Food Hub, head to: www.tworiversfoodhub.com.