The Rebuilding the Middle-Processing tour began with a short drive North to Ontario’s Vegetable Basket: The Holland Marsh. Co-facilitator Lauren Baker from the Toronto Food Policy Council introduced Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, Jamie Reaume, who was the group’s tour guide at the Hillside Gardens Ltd. vegetable processing plant and the Holland Marsh Wineries. Jamie gave the group a bit of his own philosophy on food and farming policies during the tour.
After a full morning of touring carrot peelers and wine cellars, the group returned to the GTA to speak with Select Fine Foods‘ Master Butcher, Guenter Gruener, about the meat processing sector and some of the challenges faced by small to medium scale meat processors and abattoirs. On the way, Lauren Baker gives a little explanation of the meaning behind “Rebuilding the Middle” and talks about why so many processors are disappearing.
At Select Fine Foods, Guenter, co-facilitator Hayley Lapalme from My Sustainable Canada and the Canadian Coalition for Greener Health Care and Lauren helped to elucidate some of the issues around meat processing.
After visiting the small-scale Select Fine Foods, the group balanced their knowledge by exploring multinational food company Wing’s new processing plant with Doug Alexander. The new expansion was supported by the Ontario Broader Public Sector fund in part to explore the potential of using Ontario wheat in Wing’s products such as noodles and sauces. While Ontario’s wheat production is substantial, much of the wheat produced is “soft wheat” which tends to have a different protein content than the more common ”hard wheat” of the prairies.
Finally, the group finished their day at St. John’s Bakery, a social enterprise bakery specializing in local, organic and artisanal breads. There, the group was given a short tour and then treated to Ontario’s Own preserves on fresh-baked bread. Carole-Ann Hayes of Ontario’s Own talked about her experiences building a business trying to process Ontario fruits and vegetables into sauces and preserves. She works with a co-packer to process Ontario fruits and vegetables into preserves and sauces and has run into a few snags.
After a long day on the road, Barry Martin from Hypenotic, asked the participants what they learned about processing in Ontario.