Getting food products into the marketplace can be time consuming and costly for small farmers and food processors. The Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC) in Colborne is working to change that.

Effective and inexpensive

Owned and operated by Northumberland County, the OAFVC assists local food producers in getting their products onto the shelves of major food distributors and community stores, as well as the menus of local restaurants and pubs. The centre offers access to food safety expertise, as well as a variety of services across the farm to table value chain — processing, safety testing, bottling, packaging, labelling, freezing, storage, and promotion.

The centre operates on a pay-to-play basis — clients pay only for the time and services they use — making it an effective and inexpensive way for local farmers and food start-ups to get their product marketplace ready. “Because we’re small time right now, we can’t afford a professional kitchen to do all the proper testing ourselves, so this facility is just perfect for us,” says Pete Bradford, owner of Canadian Vinegar Sellers, a craft vinegar enterprise that he and his wife Marla operate in Picton, ON.

Help in processing and promoting the product

Joe Hayes of Popham Lane Farm in Brighton, ON discovered the centre shortly after he started growing blackcurrants. “They’ve given me a real hand in doing and promoting the product,” says Hayes, who freezes and stores his berries at the facility until he and his wife Priscilla are ready to process them into jams, syrup, and sauce or sell to local food entrepreneurs. “We’re now selling to a local distillery that makes cassis, as well as beermakers, an ice cream maker, cider producer, and a lady using it in her gourmet mustard,” says Hayes.

Transforming the local economy

The high cost of processing equipment has prevented many Ontario farmers from growing and selling hops, a key ingredient for the beer industry. With the centre’s recent purchase of a hops pelletizer and processor, that barrier has been removed. Farmers can process their hops there on a first-come, first-served basis and leave with a market-ready product. This has certainly helped local hops grower Brian Bickle, who was among the first to try the machine. He now has an exclusive contract with William Street Beer Company, a 10- to 15-minute drive from his farm. “Because they’re using our local hops, it’s driving tourism to both their brewery and our farm and transforming the local economic development,” says Bickle.