Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 1

On March 3, 2015, at 6:00 a.m., a coach bus full of rural small business owners left Norfolk County, Ontario to tour the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The two-day, one-night trip was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism. It was my great pleasure and honour to serve as tour organizer.

Wine centre sign

New York State Wine & Culinary Centre / Photo by Anita Buehner, Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery

Our first stop in the Finger Lakes was the town of Canandaigua, for a coffee stop at the New York State Wine & Culinary Centre. This centre celebrates and showcases New York’s finest in wine, craft beer, food and agriculture. Pete Rogers, the General Manager, met our group, gave us a general overview of the centre’s activities, and provided coffee and pastries. A few on our tour checked out the tasting room at the centre, which features a rotating array of New York wines, beers and spirits. The centre also has a gift shoppe, conference room, and a restaurant with a patio that overlooks Canandaigua Lake. The Centre is well known for its demonstration theatre and hands-on kitchen. Classes and workshops include everything from wine pairing and bread baking to sausage making, knife skills and beer 101. Local caterers also rent the kitchen to prepare food for off-site events.

One of our tour participants was amazed by the centre: “If Norfolk County had a culinary centre much like the one we visited, it could become a valuable tool to promote the foods, wine, beer and spirits of our area, attract tourists and serve the local community as well.”

John Johnson of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Farm tells our group about his organization / Photo: Clark Hoskin
John Johnson of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Farm tells our group about his organization / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Our next stop was Geneva, home of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Park, also known as “The Technology Farm”. The Certified Business Incubator is located on 72 acres of former Cornell University research orchards. We met John Johnson, the Executive Director, who explained the history of this $7-million complex. The building has one of the most advanced ventilation systems, and can completely exchange all the air in three minutes. One of most successful businesses on The Technology Farm is Cheribundi, founded by a local man who moved away, but returned to Geneva to visit his family. During one trip, he discovered that cherry juice helped with his aches and pains. He decided to turn the opportunity into a business. It took a few years for Cheribundi to create its processes and find markets. Now, every 8-ounce bottle of Cheribundi cherry juice has over 50 sour cherries in it. Packed with phytonutrients, the sour cherry is known as “the tart cherry“ in the U.S. and is a source of nutrients for the body. Cheribundi has built their entire company around the cherry, supporting the farmers who grow them and perfecting a juicing process that retains all of its delicious benefits. Although The Technology Farm acknowledges that an incubator usually operates on the concept that new businesses will leave the nest, the food business requires more patience to develop innovative processes and enter very competitive markets.

Cheribundi sells their juice to over 100 professional and college teams, including the New England Patriots, NFL Superbowl Champions. Cheribundi has become so successful that the Tech Farm is seeking funds to build a new facility for their manufacturing process. They will need a bigger facility, as John Johnson explained that the Cheribundi juice will soon be sold across the U.S. through Walmart stores.

Down the hall, our tour group saw the manufacturing facility for Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods, which presses oil from squash and pumpkin seeds. The company’s partner, Martin Farms, grows Butternut, Delica and Kobacha squash and provides the seeds to Stony Brook, which uses an artisal process to create culinary oils. The company also produces pepitas, brined and roasted pumpkin seeds grown by U.S. producers.

“The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Park was fantastic and would be an awesome template for us to try in Norfolk County,” one of our participants said.

These were just two of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine