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Ontario producers receive first-ever regional Premier’s Awards

March 13, 2008  By Marg Land

Agricultural innovators
from across Ontario were recognized recently during the first ever
Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation.

Agricultural innovators from across Ontario were recognized recently during the first ever Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation.
About 55 regional awards, valued at $5,000 each, are expected to be made across the province in the near future. The first two rounds of announcements were recently made in Glencoe and Guelph. Several horticultural producers, organizations and businesses were among the winners. These included:

20_bees_logo20 Bees wines (Niagara Vintners Inc.)
Nineteen wine grape growers plus one winemaker, Sue-Ann Staff, make up 20 Bees’ 100 per cent Ontario (VQA) wine team. NVI’s grower-owners farm approximately 35 per cent of all the premium vineyards in Niagara’s Greenbelt area, with almost 3,000 acres and more than 300 years of combined international grape growing expertise. They are dedicated to the sustainability of both Niagara’s family grape growers and the environment.

“We appreciate the Premier’s recognition for the innovative way in which our 20 Bees growers are working together,” says Ken Hunter, chair of the Niagara Vintners Inc. (NVI) Board.  “From the field to the glass, we are proud to bring high-quality, 100 per cent Ontario wines that are approachable and reasonably-priced to wine lovers across the province.”

20 Bees wines were first offered across Ontario in August of 2006. The roll-out of 20 Bees through the LCBO was the largest and most successful launch that Ontario has ever seen for a line of VQA products. There are plans to introduce more varietals soon. 20 Bees wines feature convenient screw cap closures and, this spring, plan to release the first-ever 100 per cent Ontario tetra pak wines.

The Jaques family of Sunshine Farms receive their regional Premier’s Award. Taking part in the presentation are, from left to right: Ontario agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky, John Jaques, Claudia Jaques, and Maria Van Bommel, MPP of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex. Contributed photo

Sunshine Farms
When processors replaced Chatham-Kent County farmer John Jaques’ Ontario-grown asparagus with imported product, the farmer was in a pickle. He responded by creating a new product. At first, the operator of Sunshine Farms looked into freezing and dehydrating, but found these processes to be too expensive. Innovation hit – and Jaques developed a pickled asparagus project to help make the farming operation more sustainable. The pickled product line now includes a number of organic products, including beans, carrots, beets and garlic.

Peter and Sherry Van Berlo of P. & S. Van Berlo Ltd. receive their regional Premier’s Award from Liz Sandals (right), MPP of Guelph-Wellington.  Contributed photo

P. & S. Van Berlo Limited
Based in Norfolk County, Peter Van Berlo of P. & S. Van Berlo Limited is Canada’s largest grower of sweet potatoes. After working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and North Carolina State University, the former tobacco producer started growing sweet potatoes on 30 acres of land in 2000. There are now 400 acres of sweet potatoes, which are produced and distributed using facilities and machinery that were modified to better suit this crop. The business is also involved in marketing and distributing products from other sweet potato growers.

The Kwarciak family of Ausable Produce, located near Grand Bend, receive their regional Premier’s Award. Taking part in the presentation are (left to right): Ontario agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky, Mrs. Kwarciak, Stan Kwarciak, Tammy Kwarciak, and Maria Van Bommel, MPP of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.  Contributed photo

Ausable Produce
Ausable Produce of Huron County took an existing technology and improved upon it to better meet the needs of the marketplace. Stan Kwarciak came up with an innovative packing option for onions. A better bag – with tighter mesh and a new fastening system – a plastic tag called “Kwik Lok,” and a more attractive label add up to success for Kwarciak, Ausable Produce and Ontario’s consumers. The Kwik Lok tag can have information relating to lot, date and producer printed on it.

The five-year, $2.5 million
Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes that
farmers have always been innovative in the running of their businesses.
It’s hoped the award program will foster even greater innovation across
the province’s agri-food sector.

Individuals and/or groups representing agri-food businesses and
organizations were eligible to submit applications. The innovation had
to have been developed and used on an Ontario farm, must have the
potential for use on a broader basis and for having a positive effect
on the agriculture industry.
Applications were reviewed by an independent panel comprising a
cross-section of Ontario’s agri-food industry. Four broad criteria were

1. uniqueness and originality,
2. stage of development,
3. the impact or benefits of the innovation, and
4. adoption and/or commercialization.

Hans Peter Pfeifer (centre), one of the driving forces behind the Viticultural Roundtable of Southwestern Ontario, receives his regional Premier’s Award from Ontario agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky (left) and Maria Van Bommel (right), MPP of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.  

Viticultural Roundtable of Southwestern Ontario

A group of grape growers in the Essex County region of southwestern Ontario certainly did their homework when developing a sustainable protocol for their operations. Vineyard management decisions are made with the environment in mind these days, so that production practices minimize negative effects on the environment while maximizing grape quality and quantity. The next step is to develop a recognizable seal, or sign, to help consumers choose wines that have been produced from grapes grown in a sustainable manner.

The Kurtz family of Kurtz Orchards, located near Niagara-on-the-Lake, receive their regional Premier’s Award. Taking part in the presentation are (left to right): Edward and Jean Kurtz, Ann Just, and Liz Sandals, MPP of Guelph-Wellington.  

Kurtz Orchards
With a keen eye on the markets, Niagara’s Kurtz Orchards expanded from a business that produced and sold fresh fruit and jams locally to producing and selling a wide variety of specialized food products, marketed both locally and through a number of distributors. The Toronto Eaton Centre is now on the business’ greatly expanded customer list.

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