No Cape Required – The Potential For Tourism

Edit – I wrote this to highlight what I feel is the need to create a committee or have a stakeholders/public meeting to review the potential for tourism in North Grenville.

In 2017, the Economic Development Department did a complete review of all of their programming since the creation of the department. In the final report, it highlighted a number of still outstanding recommendations including two from the 2007 Economic Development Strategy prepared by McSweeney & Associates. Those recommendations involved tourism and were called “Tourism Development” and “Recreation, Waterfront & Agri-tourism Development”.

Under “Tourism Development” there are two points: 1) “Review, confirm and fully understand the tourism segments North Grenville can draw on: Sunday drivers, sports attendees, boaters, music lovers, heritage/history buffs, cyclists, nature lovers, etc. What is the demographic of each segment? What is each demographic looking for in a tourism experience?” & 2) “Review and document the current assets with the potential to draw tourists. Consider undertaking Premier-ranked tourism destination methodology, or a variation thereof”.

These two statements would appear to make sense. Gathering information before acting is logical. However, unless there is some kind of a committed group (that is invested in the outcome and has a sense of urgency) to conduct this research and then use that research, it could potentially end up being just another report that ends up shelved by Municipal Council for ten years like the above two recommendations from the 2007 Economic Development Strategy.

Forming a committed group would be seem to be a good first priority in order to move any interest in tourism forward. Sending a call out to potential partners to discuss common interests, common goals and to discover who is willing to commit to working together would be a wise first step. This should not necessarily be left to the Municipality to initiate. Any individual or organization could potentially step forward to start the ball rolling.

With the recent announcement of a new 74-room Comfort Inn and Suites Hotel ground-breaking happening this spring, now would appear to be the time to act. To date, a lack of significant accommodation space has been the biggest theoretical hurdle for tourism in terms of a willingness to commit resources. That challenge has now been addressed. Regardless, even without a large hotel, a proper tourism strategy focused on a “day-tripping” model, is a proven tourism model for areas situated beside larger urban centres like Ottawa (30-minute drive) and Montreal (two hour drive).

Rather than considering what new attractions or investments are needed to draw people to the area, it should be noted that we have a number of tourism assets already in place, that fit perfectly within a “day-tripping” framework. We are blessed with a significant number of agri-tourism assets, not to mention the natural assets we have including the South Branch of the Rideau River (Kemptville Creek), a large developing network of trails and our unique built heritage, some of which is on display for any who casually stroll through Downtown Kemptville.

A collective effort to organize and properly market these existing assets would go a long way to ensuring the success of tourism initiatives in North Grenville. Sharing information, pooling resources, pursuing funding opportunities and leveraging the skills and knowledge of individuals and organizations currently operating in the tourism field would give North Grenville a considerable advantage over other municipalities in Eastern Ontario that may lack the assets that we are so fortunate to enjoy, but have yet to properly leverage.

Tourism in North Grenville needs a champion. No cape or special powers are required.

Shiny Things

Edit – I wrote this to highlight the fact that it’s great to welcome new businesses, but it’s equally important to remember to support our existing businesses who have been with us all along.

In a recent interview given by the Mayor of North Grenville in the Kemptville Advance, he chatted about the coming year and the big things in store for 2018. These big things included; the imminent announcement of the purchase of the former Kemptville College, the ground-breaking for the new Comfort Inn & Suites Hotel and something else that the mayor alluded to that was going to forcibly remove all of our collective socks.

These are all wonderful things full of great potential and I’m sure that you join me in welcoming them coming to fruition. It’s important though that we stay focused on our existing businesses and organizations to make sure that they get at least the same level of support and attention that these new “shiny things” will enjoy. It’s easy to get distracted by the things that are shiny and new, all the while forgetting about what brought us to where we are today.

Some of you are probably aware of the challenges that Peter Vichos and his honey business faced over the past year with the Municipality of North Grenville, which were reported in the North Grenville Times. Though the situation has improved partly through the efforts of two members of council, the discussions are ongoing between the two parties. Since the Vichos Honey story broke, the North Grenville Times has been approached about other local businesses facing their own unique challenges in their dealings with the municipality.

The December opening of the new Starbucks Coffee was big news in the community, but people were concerned about the negative impacts on our existing businesses like local favourites Geronimo Coffee and Brewed Awakenings. Through recent conversations with the owners of both places, they seem to be holding their own and have had no significant negative impact to their sales. One of the key factors highlighted for this resiliency was the loyalty of their customers and a strong desire on the part of North Grenville residents to “shop local”. However, the majority of the credit should go directly to the owners themselves who have obviously built strong businesses that North Grenville residents have embraced.

If there are conditions that are negatively impacting members of our business community, we need to be aware of them, to understand what they are and figure out if there’s anything that we can do to mitigate their impact. In today’s business climate, we simply can’t afford to take our existing businesses and their future prospects for granted. Other communities would be more than happy to have some of our great local businesses relocate there. We also can’t leave out our local community and government organizations who also contribute greatly to the community through local employment and their social contributions.

I’ll always remember one remarkable statistic from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, it explained that up to 80% of job growth in rural areas comes from the success and expansion of existing small to medium-sized businesses. So, what’s the message here? Shiny new things are great, but we simply can’t take what we have for granted. Remember who brought you to the dance or you may end up going home alone.

Circling Back To Budget 2018

Edit – This was something that I wrote about the 2018 budget.

In December 2017, the municipal budget was passed for 2018. During the budget process, there were two items in particular that caught the attention of this writer. Frankly, there were a lot more items that caught my attention, but there’s only so much space available for one article.

The first item is that there are new municipal jobs that were created in the 2018 budget. One new full-time engineering technician position was created for Public Works. One new Asset Management Coordinator position was created for the Finance Department in the second half of this past year, which was not part of the 2017 budget, but was funded by cost savings realized throughout the year. Therefore, though technically this position already existed, this is the first time that it will be accounted for as part of the municipal budget. There will be a new full-time Facilities Attendant position that has been “enhanced” from an existing part-time position to full-time. There will be a new full-time Bylaw Officer position that has been “enhanced” from an existing part-time position to full-time. Finally, there will be a new full-time Building Inspector position created, but it was stated that this position will be funded through the collection of inspection fees and will not be funded through the municipal budget.

To simplify things, let’s call each of the new Bylaw Officer and Facilities Attendant positions a half of a full-time job as they were both part-time previously. Add to this the new full-time Engineering Technician and that means that the equivalent of TWO full-time jobs were created in this budget. The total cost of all of these new positions as provided by the Treasurer is $125,000 including benefits. This represents approximately half of the proposed tax rate increase of 2%.

For this year’s budget process, Council decided that they would try a new process whereby community groups and residents who wanted to make budget requests or wanted to make some other sort of change to the budget would have to speak to a member of Council and then that member of Council would bring their request forward to be voted on. Members of Council claimed that they had collectively met with people or groups a total of approximately thirty times. Deputy Mayor Tobin believed that she received about thirty emails and Councillor Onasanya said that he received at least thirty emails regarding the budget. The other three members of Council were unable to come up with a figure as to how many emails they received. There was also mention of how consultation occurs with residents and community groups throughout the year, not only at budget time.

The total amount of money that was requested to be added or shifted for the 2018 budget by residents or community groups in North Grenville during the budget consultation process was $166,000. Some of the requests included one by the Ontario Parenting Connection (and an offer had been made by OPC to become a partner on the project) for $100,000 for a splash pad and other upgrades to Riverside Park, a request to increase the amount of money in the Community Improvement Program by $20,000 from the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area (BIA) and another BIA request for $40,000 to complete the Waterfront Trail along the actual waterfront, instead of its current route which sends people for a sloped walk up Barnes Street and then to walk along Clothier Street. Each request was voted on separately by Council at a special Committee of the Whole meeting on November 14th.

After all of this consultation, the amount of money that was either shifted or added to the budget from these consultations amounted to a grand total of $500. That works out to 0.3% of the amount that was requested. It’s difficult to believe that someone was genuinely interested in consulting with people with results like that.

At one of the initial budget meetings, a video was played on a unique concept of having residents make budget requests and then the community could vote on which request they like. A list of community requests would be compiled by municipal staff and then residents would be able to vote on them electronically to determine a winner. That winner would then be put into the budget. However, there’s a big stipulation in that Council would have to decide the amount of money that was available for these requests. This sounds like a very promising concept, assuming that there’s a reasonable amount of money available. Although it certainly wouldn’t be a tough task to beat $500.

Ticket To Rides

Edit – This is a piece that I wrote about provincial funding that the municipality applied for to expand on transit services offered here in North Grenville. Apparently, they were not successful in their application.

On December 1st, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation announced they would be releasing a total of $30 million in new funding for community transportation initiatives over the next five years. This new funding expands the pilot program launched in 2015 which was created to fund the development of community transportation solutions that address local transportation needs, as well as finding ways to more efficiently use existing transportation resources.

The maximum grant that municipalities would be eligible for, would be up to a maximum of $500,000 for the current local transportation needs component. Also announced, is a new component that could result in up to a one-time maximum of $1.5 million for creating long distance, inter-community bus services that would link communities across counties and regions.

For local community transportation projects, applicants (incorporated municipalities) must partner with at least one community organization with transportation resources. The community organization involved must be incorporated and in operation for at least one year. As well, at least one of the community organizations must already provide transportations services, have transportation resources or both.

For long distance, inter-community bus service projects, applicants must show proof of support from municipalities that will be served by the service in the form of official letters of support. Partnerships with other municipalities or community organizations aren’t necessary, but strongly encouraged.

This inter-community funding can also be used to expand or improve an existing transportation service. If certain groups of residents such as the elderly, disabled persons, youth or low-income residents aren’t properly serviced by an existing system, this money could be used to expand the system to properly service these groups. There’s also the potential to create transportation hubs and links to other transportation systems that would connect passengers safely and conveniently to all available services.

Back in June of this past year, the North Grenville Times created a survey on the potential of creating a transit system for Leeds and Grenville Counties. In that survey, 76% of respondents said they would like to see a transit system developed for Leeds and Grenville. 61% of respondents said they’d be comfortable with money for a transit system being in their municipal budget, but there was a wide range of responses on how much people felt that amount should be.

It’s safe to say that a transportation system for a lower-tier municipality like North Grenville is not sustainable. There’s probably not enough people who would use it to make it self-sustaining, so that even with community partners, it would still rely heavily on municipal funding. What could be sustainable is a multiple municipality partnership operated by a non-profit or charitable organization created by those municipalities. For example, one possibility is a Leeds and Grenville wide transportation service that connects all municipalities within the two counties. There’s also the option of a Highway 43 corridor system that connects communities all along Highway 43 from Winchester to Smiths Falls and would include Dundas, Grenville and Lanark Counties.

There are resources and funding available for a municipality to step forward and create a transportation system. What’s missing is the political will to do it. It certainly wouldn’t be easy to pull a project like this together, but with the right partners, they wouldn’t have to go it alone.  We’ll know soon if anyone has that political will, because the application deadline is February 28th at 5:00pm.

2018 North Grenville Wishlist

The following is something that I wrote at the very beginning of the year. Interesting to read it now that we are at the halfway point of 2018.

For many people that I know, it seemed that 2017 was very difficult and challenging. Instead of looking at the coming year as a kind of “nowhere to go but up” situation, I look at it from the standpoint that because of 2017, a lot of people learned difficult lessons, got stronger through overcoming adversity and did a lot of heavy lifting to set the table for 2018. Keeping all of this in mind, I’m very optimistic for a “bounce-back” year in 2018.

The following list is a short compilation of items that would be great to see happen in 2018.

  1. The renewal of Kemptville Campus. This was an easy one, right? What won’t be easy is to make this project a sustainable one that will provide direct economic benefit to residents and businesses in both the short-term and long-term. With so little information made available, it has been difficult at best to accept the “Trust us, this is gonna be great” position coming from municipal staff and council. What may become the most important decision (that residents may actually get some information about), is who will be chosen by council to make up the board of the non-profit organization that they have decided will guide this project. The project may very well succeed or not succeed based on the decisions of this board (which may be limited by the conditions of the deal that they are given to work with by the municipality).
  2. An overwhelming change in the composition of our municipal council in the next municipal election in October. We are in serious need of a culture change at the Municipal Centre. Municipal staff are often put in the unfortunate position of providing information, recommendations and sometimes must make decisions (council must still vote on everything to make it official) because of a lack of leadership, strategic vision and understanding of what is happening in their own community on behalf of council. The current political culture of “if you don’t do anything, nothing can go wrong and you’ll get re-elected” is limiting both our economic and social potential.
  3. The quick completion of the Mental Health Hub at the Kemptville District Hospital. This past year saw the hospital searching for a Project Manager on a full-time temporary contract for the creation of a Mental Health Hub. There is a dire need for additional mental health services across Canada. As it stands, many North Grenville residents must either go to Brockville or Ottawa for their mental health care needs. This type of resource would be essential to the many people in need in the area.
  4. The realization that agriculture, tourism and local food represent significant opportunities as economic drivers for North Grenville and they need to be fostered and encouraged. There are existing people and businesses that can contribute to this, they should be brought together and consulted with, to accomplish this. Creating a committee dedicated to this initiative would be a good start.
  5. The acknowledgement that our young people are a wonderful asset and that finding ways to cultivate them to become future leaders is not only a good idea, but essential for the long-term health of the community. Watching many of them leave North Grenville for post-secondary education and for better employment opportunities is like watching our future slowly evaporate in front of our eyes.
  6. Some must learn to put aside personal grievances, pettiness and selfish behaviours to work together to build a stronger community for everyone. There are still too many tiny castles and kings/queens that sometimes make it difficult to move forward with things that would benefit all of us. This simply must stop. Smaller municipalities are having enough difficulties dealing with external pressures and problems. When opportunities are missed or blocked because of these selfish people, we all lose.

All of these things are possible for us in 2018. In North Grenville, we are blessed with a strong volunteer base, a treasure chest full of human assets and a spirit of generosity that other communities can only dream about. Simply put, when we work together, we can literally accomplish anything. Let’s make this the year, that while other communities around us may falter, we become what we’ve been hoping for.

An equal digital playing field

Rural Ontario often appears to be an afterthought for upper levels government when it comes to things like infrastructure spending. This is nothing new to anyone who has lived in rural Eastern Ontario. However, there’s a more recent type of infrastructure that’s becoming even more and more critical and it’s even completely non-existent in some rural areas. That infrastructure is broadband (high-speed) internet service.

When most people think of infrastructure, they usually think of roads, bridges and water resource systems etc. One could argue that broadband has become just as important and that governments should be investing significant amounts of money in it as well. You may be thinking that cities and towns are already serviced by private internet providers of all shapes and sizes from Bell to Joe Computer, so why does government need to spend tax dollars on this? Unfortunately, a business case can’t be made for private companies to install fiber optics networks (which carry broadband) in rural areas where there may be sparse populations and significant distances between customers. However, just because private enterprise won’t do it, doesn’t mean that there’s still not a very serious need for it.

There are many reasons why it’s important to invest in broadband for rural areas. From making it difficult to sell a house or property that has no access to reliable high-speed internet, to reducing agricultural technology options for farms and agricultural businesses that could dramatically help them improve efficiency and reduce costs. Due to the fact that the internet has become so critical in so many aspects of our lives, it stands to reason that a lack of broadband could contribute to the demise of rural communities because they will become less desirable to live, work and operate a business in. Some would argue that it’s happening now. We’re already losing smaller family farms as some members of the next generation choose a different career and life path. We need to attract new people to the rural areas and encourage them to begin farming and start their own businesses.

With the rapid advancement of technology, a whole new industrial revolution is believed to be taking place (called “Industry 4.0” according to BDC Economist Pierre Cleroux). This means that with broadband internet service, small to mid-size businesses could potentially consider non-traditional (rural) areas to invest in because of the relatively low price of land. Plainly, this won’t happen without broadband service which has become an absolute must-have in the business world. In other words, rural Ontario is being left behind and is at a serious disadvantage in trying to attract investment, create jobs and cultivate economic growth. It is challenging enough these days for rural areas, but when you can’t access essential services like high-speed internet, it makes it incredibly difficult to encourage any type of growth or even maintain what already exists.

There are areas of North Grenville that currently don’t have high-speed internet. Knowing how important this is to economic and residential development, you would think it would be one of the key topics of conversation at the council table both at the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and in North Grenville itself. Without broadband, the economic advantage that the larger urban areas enjoy will only continue to grow and the rural areas will be further left behind.

The official plan – a resident’s guide

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing defines an official plan as “An official plan describes your municipal council’s policies on how land in your community should be used. It is prepared with input from you and others in your community and helps to ensure that future planning and development will meet the specific needs of your community”. Sounds like exciting stuff, right? Well, it may not be exciting, but it sure is important and you may not realize how important it is until you run into a situation like a local business did recently.

Just some of the reasons why an official plan is needed are:

  • Let’s the public know what the municipality’s land use planning policies are.
  • Helps residents of a community understand how their land may be used now and in the future.
  • Helps decide where roads, watermains, sewers, landfills, parks and other services will be built.
  • Provides a framework for establishing municipal zoning bylaws to set local regulations and standards, like the size of lots and the height of buildings.
  • Provides a way to evaluate and settle conflicting land uses while meeting local, regional and provincial interests.

Why is this important to the average resident of North Grenville? Consider these two scenarios:

  • You own a home which is beside a big empty piece of property. You love the peace and quiet of your home. You wake up one morning to a bunch of heavy machinery digging up the property next to you. You remember seeing a letter about something, but you were busy and forgot to go back and read it. You eventually find out that a big new building is being built there and that the property is about to become a gravel pit with heavy trucks coming and going all day long. You immediately get upset about this violation of the tranquility and potential loss of value of your property. Then you find out through the municipality that the big piece of property has been approved for these types of uses since the last official plan and that there’s little that you can do to stop this construction.
  • You own a business and the property that it operates on. Your business has become successful and is growing to the point that you realize that you’re going to have to expand your building to accommodate this new business growth. You go to the municipal offices to get a building permit and you’re told that you can’t expand your building because the area that your property is in is now zoned as residential, not commercial, due to zoning bylaw changes from the last official plan. You also find out that your property is ‘legal non-conforming’. This means that operating your current business on your property is legal, despite the fact that it does not conform to permitted uses in the current zoning bylaw. Nevertheless you’re officially ‘non-conforming’ which means that zoning bylaws can limit your ability to repair or renovate your building or may even limit how you can use your property.

It’s critical that residents understand how these types of plans can impact their day-to-day lives, their businesses, their future plans, their ability to enjoy or utilize their own property and their personal finances. Being unaware of the contents of the official plan and its potential impacts on you could possibly cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It might also cost you your dream of starting a business, raising chickens on your property or building that ‘ultimate workshop’ that you’ve always wanted.

Though the period for public consultation has expired, if you have any questions, email Planner Phil Mosher at or call 613-258-9569 ext. 118.


Creating a youth council

Early in 2016, I wrote an arrticle about some ideas that I hoped that North Grenville Municipal Council would consider implementing for the good of all residents. One of these ideas recently came up again in a conversation with Councillor Jim Bertram who was very supportive of it. The idea in question was for the municipality to develop a Youth Council that would allow young people to contribute to decisions that are made in the municipality by our regular Council.

Last fall Councillor Bertram visited both local high schools, North Grenville District High School and St. Michael Catholic High School. On his visits, he talked about the role of municipal government and how it affects the daily lives of residents of North Grenville including the young people he was talking to. He spoke briefly with administration at both schools about the possibility of some students becoming part of a Youth Council.

While recently reading a book called “13 Ways To Kill Your Community” by Doug Griffiths, I noticed that  the author dedicated chapter three of the thirteen chapter book to the subject of “Don’t Engage Youth” as one of the thirteen ways. The author pointed out how youth (age 35 and under are considered youth by the author) should be disengaged to ensure the death of your community. He believes that sometimes communities don’t recognize that youth have an abundance of energy, creativity and passion without being jaded by bad experiences, failures and the negativity of others. He added that when chances for youth to contribute are limited or if residents talk negatively about youth, then they’re on the right track to ensure that the best and brightest young people look to leave and the future of your community will leave with them.

A Youth Council would be a great way to engage young people (let’s say 30 and under), show them that the community does believe that they have a lot to contribute and give them a way to directly impact the future of the municipality. People who are engaged and personally invested in something are much more likely to ensure that the ‘something’ becomes successful, no matter what age they are. Let’s allow our young people to use their imaginations, skills and their energy for something truly meaningful.

So how do we make this happen? Let’s for a moment consider filling this council with two students each from the two local high schools with the schools themselves deciding how the students get chosen. Then we add three other young people who could apply and be chosen by a committee. At that point, a youth mayor could be chosen by vote of the youth council itself which would mean six councillors and one mayor. The young people who make up the council could learn: how local government works, how to conduct meetings in a professional environment, how to work together to forward ideas, how to read formal reports and how to communicate effectively in a formal setting. The youth council could meet weekly, biweekly or monthly in the North Grenville Council chambers and discuss and vote on key council matters that might directly affect young people or that might impact the future of the municipality. From these meetings formal recommendations could be made that would be forwarded directly to regular council and be accepted the same as recommendations from other committees of council.

Quite often politicians make generalized statements about the importance of youth to their communities, regions, provinces and countries. For some of them, their actual support of youth begins and ends with those statements. This is a rare opportunity to truly make a profound effort to be inclusive and recognize that young people can play a vital role in not only our future, but also in our present. Tomorrow’s great ideas could be grown in our community today. Let’s give them some sunlight.

Recognizing Youth Leaders

Last year, the Kemptville Youth Centre (KYC) lost its leader and architect to a better career opportunity. Former Executive Director Robin Heald was a visionary, who left KYC in a much better financial, organizational and strategic position than when she walked in the door that first day. One of her decisions in particular, seems to be having a major impact on KYC. That decision was the hiring of programming coordinator Bridget Manahan.

If you walk in the door of KYC today and look around, you’ll see youth talking, laughing, playing, using the computers or doing some other kind of supervised activity. If you walked into KYC last year at this time, you would notice an immediate difference, there are more youth now coming to KYC. Since last year, there’s been no significant difference in programming or any other obvious reason for the increase in attendance. The only common factor from last year to this year is Bridget.

For anyone who has spent any amount of time with Bridget, you’ll quickly come to understand why she is so good at what she does. Her ability to communicate effectively with youth on their level, while still retaining their respect, is impressive and appears to come naturally. Her compassion, commitment to youth and work ethic have helped to create a welcoming and structured environment that youth seem to be attracted to.

Too often when we think of community leaders, we think of people over 40 or older. Young people get overlooked because they’re perceived as not having enough experience, or they haven’t developed the right skills yet or haven’t “paid their dues”. Learning to recognize potential leaders (no matter what their age), is a very important factor for successful companies, organizations and communities. Succession planning is an essential survival skill that will help to ensure the future of any group. Bridget Manahan is a leader.

There’s only one Bridget Manahan. She’s unique, wonderful and exactly the type of young leader that we need. There are other young leaders in our community too, who if recognized and supported, could become leaders of North Grenville and not just in 30 plus years from now. In Bridget, I see an excellent founding member of a North Grenville Youth Council that could be one part of helping to cultivate young leaders. You probably know a young leader too. Why not secure this precious resource instead of telling them that there’s nothing here for them and watching them walk away? Would we let someone else take our water from us without a fight? It’s time to start fighting to secure our most precious resource.

Local agri-food tourism – Part 1

Local Agri-Food Tourism

Herding fifty adults onto a bus is no easy task. Not even when all of those same adults are excited about the bus’s destination. Just outside the bus we’re all milling about talking amongst ourselves ‘networking’, which might be the single most important part of this trip, but we’ll talk about that another time. When the bus is finally loaded, the door closes and our group heads off on a local agri-food tour around the Bay of Quinte area.

Our first stop is not far away, it’s at a production facility called Sprague Foods Ltd. In Belleville. The company produces mostly private label food products for American and Canadian markets including for Walmart and Loblaws (PC Blue Menu and PC Organics). The facility is about the size of a big box retail store and employs approximately eighty people. This family run business buys its raw materials from as many Canadian sources as possible remarks Richard Sprague who is the president and tour conductor. In fact, he said that he wished that they could buy everything from Canada and has been searching for a large Canadian producer of pulses (beans etc.) for some time.

The second stop on the tour was to the newly opened Barn Owl Malt craft malting business just outside of Belleville. The Huffman family takes great pride in malting Ontario grown grains and despite just starting out, they are already looking to increase their production. Using a facility about the size of a triple car garage, the Huffmans use a food grade cement floor to do their traditional floor malting process. Malted grains are used by the craft brewing industry and many Ontario craft brewers have to import them from other countries and provinces. Barn Owl Malt is currently the only malting business in Eastern Ontario, which seems bizarre because of the explosion of the craft brewing industry in Ontario and the extremely high demand for malted grains.

The next stop was just south of Tweed at the Enright Cattle Company. These local beef producers raise red and black Simmental cattle on an all-vegetable diet without the use of hormones. While walking through their barn and pasture field, Kara Enright told the group that the family business is able to plant, grow and harvest all of the feed for their cattle. Kara also outlined the past financial struggles of the business and up until a few years ago both her and her husband had to work away from the farm to make ends meet. With the help of some government resources, they decided to change their business model by shifting from supplying to a meat wholesale operation at low profit, to selling directly to their own customers making higher profit. Kara said that this new approach turned their business around dramatically.

The fourth stop on the tour was to Potter Settlement Wines, which was also just outside of Tweed and the only winery in all of Hastings County. Though not currently open to the public, this boutique winery has been selling their wines to high end restaurants mostly in the Northern U.S. with prices as high as $200 per bottle. Hidden in one of the most unlikely areas for a winery, right at the edge of the Canadian Shield region, this family owned winery is experiencing rapid growth but strives to maintain it’s approach to making only the highest quality wines. Tour conductor and former soap opera actor Sandor Johnson said that the land had been in his family since the early 1800’s. Needless to say there were many smiling faces boarding the bus after doing tastings of several of their excellent wines.

The final stop of the tour may have been the most fascinating, but had the least appeal to the senses. When the bus pulled into the long laneway at Donnandale Farms north of Belleville, just outside of the village of Stirling, it appeared to be a typical larger scale dairy farm. However, the actual reason for this tour stop was to highlight their two anaerobic digesters which convert biomass (biodegradable waste – used cooking oil, animal waste etc.) into electricity at a rate of about 750 kilowatts per hour. The electricity is then sold through their Feed In Tariff contract back to their hydro supplier at .02 per kw/hr higher than what they would pay for it. Family patriarch Keith led the tour and remarked that despite all of the money required to pay for the equipment, he anticipated that because of the sales of the large volume of electricity produced, the equipment would be paid for within three years. The electricity produced by the farm could supply energy to as many as 1500 homes.

Later that night I thought back to the day and what I had learned. The first thing that I learned was that there are currently several diverse business opportunities in the agri-food industry in Eastern Ontario. I also learned about how a family was able to turn their business around with the help of resources that are available to all agri-food businesses. Finally, I learned that the tour that I just went on represented approximately $5000 in revenue for those local agri-food businesses. In worldwide tourism spending, one third of all tourism dollars are spent on food. Local agri-food tourism not only generates money for the businesses they visit, it indirectly provides marketing for both the businesses involved & the region and it educates people about agriculture and food. For these reasons and more, agri-food tourism is a very important piece in any strong local food system. Who’s got a bus?