For the first time ever, the Foodland Ontario flag was flying over the Owen Sound campus of Georgian College April 20. Despite almost gale force winds, a stalwart group of VIPs stepped outside to raise the flag in a gesture of solidarity to mark the start of the Food Entrepreneurs: Growing Innovation community seminar.
The event was organized by Georgian College in partnership with local municipalities and economic development partners, including Grey County, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Grey County Chefs’ Forum and the Grey Bruce Agriculture and Culinary Association.
Georgian College President and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes told participants that food entrepreneurship is quickly becoming an important job creator in Grey County and surrounding regions.
“We need people like you who will be job creators,” she said. “Each and every one of you is committed to that entrepreneurial spirit, and Georgian College is committed to helping you succeed.”
Kevin Laidley, Regional Manager, Central-West Region and Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence program with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, thanked participants for attending and told them it would be important to network and learn from each other.
“You are helping to create the success of Ontario’s rural economy,” he said. “This is how economic growth is happening, one or two jobs at a time, but at a steady pace.”
Grey County Warden Kevin Eccles said that the county’s recently completed economic and strategic plan is counting on agriculture to be a prime economic driver.
“You are the grassroots,” he said. “You are at the leading edge of making Canada an independent country again, food-wise.”
Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy said he and his colleagues are planning for food entrepreneurs to make a significant contribution to the regional economy.
“It’s exciting to see such a strong food community taking root,” said Boddy. “As well, I’d like to acknowledge how Georgian College has been such a great partner in bringing events such as this to Owen Sound.”
Participants heard from a variety of panelists covering such topics as entrepreneurship success stories, how to take your business to the next level, how to find funding sources, and examples of agricultural innovation.
Panelist Steacy den Haan of Primeridge Farm Market near Markdale talked about how it’s critical for food entrepreneurs to work closely with inspectors and to be aware of the role that regulation plays in the industry. She highly praised Georgian College’s food safety regulatory training programs, which are produced in co-operation with officials from Bruce, Grey and Simcoe counties.
A delicious lunch made from a variety of local ingredients was provided by Keith Hagedorn, chef and instructor at Georgian College and executive chef of the Beaver Valley Ski Club, together with culinary students from the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship program.
The event is part of Georgian College’s continuing commitment to meet the needs of current and aspiring food entrepreneurs across central Ontario, including community events such as this one and the ongoing Food Safety Regulatory Training program. The next seminar is planned for the Orillia campus in late May.