Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 10

Americana Vineyards

Lunch at Americana Vineyards / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Americana Vineyards near Interlaken was our lunch stop on Day 2. The winery is located in a circa 1820s barn saved from demolition then rebuilt with care.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

The winery is the second oldest in the area, a founding member of the Cayuga Wine Trail, featuring wines using Catawba and Niagara grapes. Ryan Scammon and his team were ready for us with soup and chowder, platters of deli meats and cheeses, bread and rolls and salads.

“I found the staff at all these businesses to be engaging and outgoing.” – comment from one of our participants

The group was offered tastings of Americana wines. Also, a new craft brewery has started up nearby. Bacchus Brewing Company currently has six beers available. They include Blonde Ale, Red Rye, IPA, Flora’s Fate Pale Ale, Bearded Brown, and Cyclhops IPA. Americana Vineyards is renovating a room below the dining area of the complex, for Bacchus to use as a tasting room.

“Loved the rural hip atmosphere of some of the tasting bars.” – comment from one of our participants

These were just a few 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.

c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 9

telescope at Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Through the telescope at Cornell Lab of Ornithology / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Continuing our trip on Day 2, our bus rolled through Ithaca, to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world leader in the study and conservation of birds.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

The Lab is a non-profit organization supported by 78,000 members, 200,000 “citizen-science” participants, and 12 million bird enthusiasts who connect with the Lab’s online guide, allaboutbirds.org. This is the location where advances like eBird (which receives 1.6 million bird observations per month), Project FeederWatch, the Backyard Bird Count and Rare Bird Alerts were created.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Inside the Cornell Lab of Ornithology / Photo: Clark Hoskin

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has managed to support and grow its research initiatives while welcoming tourists to its facility. There are interactive exhibits, views of birds from the observatory, binoculars for loan at reception, 14,000 books in the library open to the public, as well as seminars in spring and fall. About 55,000 people visit the centre each year, without disturbing the 150+ staff on site. The stop provided food for thought about how to address the needs of birding tourists. Norfolk County and Ontario’s Southwest welcome many birders annually.

“Cornell Lab of Ornithology directly targets all bird lovers and is broader in its approach to the community. There are many concepts and takeaways for our own Bird Studies to try and adapt to our own facility.” – comment from one of our participants

After leaving this stop, our group drove by Ithaca Commons, a four-block outdoor pedestrian mall in downtown Ithaca, which was built in 1974. A $3-million (U.S.) upgrade is underway, including a new 159-room Marriott Hotel. The area is expected to reopen this summer. It includes 100 shops, restaurants, galleries, street vendors and street entertainers. It is close to Cornell University and Ithaca College, is home to State Theatre of Ithaca, Restaurant Week Ithaca, free summer concerts, Downtown Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, Annual Chili Festival, Winterfest, and other events.

These were just a few 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.

c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 8

During breakfast on the second day of our tour, Phyllisa DaSarno, Director for Economic Development, City of Ithaca (population 30,000), greeted our group. We had hoped to meet Ithaca’s young Mayor, Svante Myrick, but his schedule was already committed. At 27 years old, the Mayor of this city is among the youngest African American mayors in the U.S.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Finger Lakes Distilling

Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling speaks to our group / Photo: Clark Hoskin

The first stop on our second day was Finger Lakes Distilling, makers of local whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy, grappa and liqueurs. About 80% of the distillery’s production is whiskey, using local corn, rye and wheat. Their award-winning gin uses 75% local grapes as the base spirit. We met Brian McKenzie, President, and his staff provided tastings of the spirits to those in the group who were interested.

Brian and Thomas McKenzie (no relation), his distilling consultant, toured our group through the facility and explained the process of creating their award-winning spirits.

Stills at Finger Lakes Distilling

Finger Lakes Distilling has advanced technologies to produce its award-winning spirits / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Finger Lakes Distillings’ rye whiskeys and gins have earned critical acclaim in specialized publications focused on spirits and alcohol.

Finger Lakes Distilling was voted favourite stop of Day 2.

This was just one 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.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 7

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, continued. The two-day, one-night trip was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Seneca Lake

View of Seneca Lake from Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel / Photo: Clark Hoskin

After dinner on the first day, the group checked in at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel on Seneca Lake. Many of the group relaxed in the downstairs bar and traded thoughts and enthusiasm about the day. Christine Peacock of Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel was our group’s contact. She provided excellent service in the planning leading up to our trip, and during our stay. A few individuals visited the Crooked Rooster Brewpub in downtown Watkins Glen and spoke with the brew master there.

“Top-notch overnight accommodation” – comment from our group

The morning light exposed the remnants of various ice sculptures in the courtyard of the hotel overlooking the lake. We later learned that the hotel is the host of the annual Ice Bar fundraising event for the Finger Lakes Chapter of the American Red Cross. Here is article explaining the event and the hotel’s involvement:

Watkins Glen Ice Bar raises $20,000 for Red Cross

Poster

Post for the Ice Bar fundraiser

WATKINS GLEN (Star-Gazette) – The average temperature each night was in the high teens, but almost 2,500 people ignored the cold to attend a hot event: the fourth annual Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel Ice Bar in late January. The three-day outdoor and indoor party on the shore of Seneca Lake raised $20,000 for the Finger Lakes Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Last year’s event raised $15,000. The 2015 donation brings the Ice Bar total over four years to $50,000 for Red Cross projects in Schuyler County.

“It has become known as a fun party that benefits something very important,” Christine Peacock, hotel director of sales, said. Peacock said Ice Bar ticket-holders came from as far away as Denver and included a big contingent from Pennsylvania. Friday and Saturday nights both reached the 1,000-ticket maximum. Saturday night tickets sold out in two weeks, Peacock noted.

The donation will be used solely for programs and projects in Schuyler County. In the last year, the Red Cross has responded to a tornado, flash floods and multiple house fires in the county, he said.

The Ice Bar is organized by hotel staff, who, this year, secured 20 community sponsors.

This was just one 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.

  • Read Part 1: New York State Wine & Culinary Centre, Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Farm
  • Read Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Read Part 3: Weaverview Farms, Milly’s Pantry
  • Read Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre, Finger Lakes Economic Development Co.
  • Read Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Read Part 6: Wiemer and Glenora

(c) 2015 Clark Hoskin

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 6

One of our afternoon stops on Day 1 was Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards, considered by TripAdvisor users as one of the best food and drink experiences in the Finger Lakes.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

The winery was founded by Hermann Wiemer, who emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s from Germany’s Mosel Valley. His mother’s family had been making wine in the valley for 300 years.

Welcome Norfolk

Wiemer Vineyards staff welcomed us / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Jeremy Coffey, hospitality and program development manager, Dillon Buckley, assistant winemaker, and other team members greeted us. The group enjoyed a tour of the production area and tasted some of the wines. The group was particularly impressed with the “Welcome Norfolk” message on the wine tasting sheets. There was a true, welcoming ambience upon our arrival, and a sense of professionalism and integrity persisted for our entire visit. Our hosts were very knowledgeable and gracious.

The winery sells high quality vintages that fetch top dollar. For example, Wiemer’s Noble Select Riesling Josef Vineyard 2009 sells for US$135 per bottle. Blanc de Blanc 2008 is priced at US$45 per bottle. However, the winery also has dry Rieslings and Cuvee that sell for US$11 and US$13.50 per bottle. The winery is housed in a 150-year-old barn that was deconstructed on a neighbour’s property and raised on the Wiemer land. Our stop at the winery in winter did not do justice to its exterior.

“Got a couple great ideas at the wineries,” said one of the tour’s participants. “Tinging of the glasses to get people’s attention.”

wine bottles

Bottles of Riesling at Glenora Cellars / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Next, we stopped at Glenora. It is a winery, restaurant and 30-room inn developed by Gene Pierce and his partners after the passage of the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976. Norfolk County staff met Gene at a Finger Lakes culinary tourism event in the summer of 2014, and struck up a conversation, resulting in an offer by the entrepreneur to bring a group of Canadians to his business. Although Gene was out of the country, the group was met by Steve DiFrancesco, winemaker, Bob Madill, brand ambassador, and Kathy Marchenese, event manager, at Glenora Cellars. Samples of wines were provided, followed by dinner.

Cindy Kimble of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance welcomed the group and spoke of her organization’s 100+ year history. She encouraged the group to collaborate, not view one another as competitors. Cindy talked about the methods her team uses to determine the cost-benefit analysis in marketing initiatives. (Businesses in Norfolk County may recall that Cindy Kimble was keynote speaker at the Norfolk County Economic Development Symposium in 2009.) Norfolk County Mayor Charlie Luke also greeted the group officially and made comments. After a flavourful salad, Glenora’s chef served pan-roasted chicken, raised locally. Local officials were originally scheduled to join us for dinner, but due to the winter storm, they wisely stayed off the roads.

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.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 5

Climbing Bines

Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery / Photo: Melissa Collver

After our stops in Penn Yan, we headed east to Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery, where we met Brian Karweck and his team.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Brian explained how he and his business partner, a school teacher, created a business that filled a niche and also engaged their friends, family, neighbours and the community.

The development of Climbing Bines was aided by the passage of the 2013 New York State Farm Brewery Law, which liberalized regulations associated with on-farm breweries. The law was designed to increase demand for locally grown products to further increase economic impact and create new businesses surrounding the brewing industry.

Under the new law, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. By 2024, no less than 90% of the hops and all other ingredients must be grown in New York State. Until then, there is a gradual increase in threshold amounts.

The beer manufactured under these guidelines would be designated as “New York State labeled beer.” The legislation was modeled after the 1976 Farm Winery Act, which spurred the growth of wine production in this state, including the creation of 261 farm wineries and tripling the number of wineries.

Brian Karweck of Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery entertains our group / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Brian Karweck of Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery entertains our group / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Under the farm brewery license, brewers do not need an additional permit to serve beer by the glass, which has the highest return for brewers in terms of sales. Farm brewers can also make cider and serve that cider by the glass. They are allowed to have five branch offices, where they can sell their products and other New York State labeled beer, wine, and spirits by the bottle, in addition to having tasting rooms, retail shops, restaurants, and serve samples and sell at farmers markets.

Climbing Bines also created a “Mug Club” aimed at building loyalty among locals and increasing visits and sales in the off-season. Some in the tour group were impressed with the brewery’s method of tracking beer samples.

“Climbing Bines had a great system with their dry erase marker and sheet protector for their tastings,” said one of our participants.

This was just one 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.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 4

bank vault

Melissa Collver of the Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum of Norfolk County inspects the former bank vault at the Arts Centre for Yates County / Photo: Hayden Dooney

After lunch on Day 1, the group walked to the Yates County Arts Centre and browsed the local art on display.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

We met Kris Pearson, Executive Director of the arts centre, who explained how the organization rejuvenated itself, including the renovation of an old bank as the art gallery. The renovation incorporated the bank vault into its exhibits.

One of the challenges was fundraising. Pearson, who has experience in that area in past positions, was surprised early on when her board seemed daunted by the need to raise only $15,000. Her attitude is that the needed money existed in the community. The obstacle is merely that no one has been asked to donate it. By engaging the community, the Yates County Arts Centre was able to listen carefully and designed a program that responded to community needs. As a result, funds are raised, educational programs are expanding, and workshops now take place in an upstairs space, as well as on the organization’s Sunny Point retreat property located on Keuka Lake.

Next, Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Corp. hopped on the bus. His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County. Steve gave us a tour of some of the town’s new developments, including three hotels and two high-end condominiums. The Microtel hotel is almost complete in the downtown core. Last month, developers received approval to proceed with a 72-room Hampton Inn on the waterfront.

Economic Development Officers

Photo: John Christensen, Chronicle-Express

Asked how the town could sustain so many rooms, Steve explained that Penn Yan only has one hotel currently, and lots of sports tourism business and corporate overnight stays were being lost because of the lack of accommodation. Steve’s organization was able to offer hotel developers grants, tax abatement and other incentives to sweeten the deal.

One person on our tour would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.” Steve’s tour of downtown Penn Yan was the voted favourite stop of Day 1 among the tour group, in a survey.

During the dark days of the flooding of Penn Yan in spring 2014, many people in the area rallied together to get through the catastrophe. It is obvious that the folks of Penn Yan don’t sit around and complain. They work hard and improve! These are great lessons to be learned by any small town in the U.S. or Canada.

“Much of the success of the businesses was based on the theme of build it and they will come,” said another of our tour participants. “We don’t even know what markets we are missing out on if we don’t take a chance and create experiences for people visiting our are.”

While we were in Yates County, John Christensen, reporter for the Penn Yan Chronicle-Express, followed us around and wrote a nice article about the tour.

These were just a few 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.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

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

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

Fruitful road trip for rural EDOs

Each fall, economic development professionals from rural and agricultural communities across Ontario gather to compare notes. Last year, Norfolk County had the honour of hosting. This year, we all went to Northumberland County. It was a superb learning experience. Day One on October 29, 2014 included a tour of the area’s agricultural highlights, which is the focus of this post.

Municipality creates IDEAHUB to foster startups

Port Hope IDEAHUB / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Port Hope IDEAHUB / Photo: Clark Hoskin

First stop was a tour of the Port Hope IDEAHUB, a full-service business incubator led by the municipality of Port Hope to foster new business startups. Graduated tenancy has a maximum of three years, with the first year’s lease costing $8 per square foot plus $6.50 TMI. The folks at IDEAHUB explained the facility is at 50% capacity, has produced six successful graduates, 69 full-time equivalent jobs and $1.2 million in local spending. Current tenants include Kalgene Pharmaceuticals (developing an Alzheimer’s disease therapeutic), The Apple Crumble Co. (successful dessert food processing company), Clipless (launching phone and tablet mounting system) and GEL – the Gaming and Entrepreneurship Lab, which includes companies such as Skopworks.

Burnham Farm Market

Pie at Burnham Farm Market / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Pies draw traffic to family-owned farm market

Next stop was Burnham Farm Market, winners of the BMO Farm Family of the Year in 2013. I was happy to see so many Norfolk County products for sale at this market (Cider Keg, Kernal Peanuts) as well as Shabatura tomatoes. Anne Burnham showed us the ovens that bake hundreds of homemade pies each year. In fact, the market received 725 orders for pies for Thanksgiving. Although the margins are low on pies, they create traffic in the market, which generates sales of fruit and vegetables, where margins are higher. Burnham Farm Market employs about 20 workers from May 1 to December 23. Anne and her husband Paul are also 2014 Campaign Chairs for United Way Northumberland County, which funds programs such as the Food 4 All Northumberland, a non-profit centralized food distribution warehouse promoting food security. It was great to hear that the United Way accomplished its goal to fundraise $970,000. For a community of 73,000 people, that is phenomenal.

The Big Apple earns its smile

Big Apple

Before and After – The Big Apple … which do you prefer?

Our next stop told the story of how community pride in a local icon, coupled with commitment by new owners, revitalized a derelict asset. Over several years, The Big Apple fell on hard times and gained a reputation for poor customer service, creating an embarrassment for this community on the 401. The new owner (John Vince Foods, which owns the Planter’s Peanuts brand in Canada) completed significant renovations and modified the focus to local food. Part of the turnaround was recognition that the apple pies baked on-site were not well received. The new owner read reviews from consumers and rebuilt the apple pie recipe — filling and pastry — from scratch. Now, The Big Apple hosts up to 50 buses per day in the high season, selling as many as 1,500 pies a day. (October 29, we were told, was a 500-pie day.) One small touch the new owner implemented was the painting of a smile on the apple statue. It was a small touch, but a symbolic achievement. The Big Apple is now a must-stop destination between Toronto and Montreal.

Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre

Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Unprecedented County commitment

The final stop of the day caused jaws to drop among economic development officers from other communities. We had the priviledge of touring the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre. Northumberland County’s Economic Development and Tourism Office is completing the construction of a 15,000-square-foot niche food processing centre on agricultural lands just north of Hwy 401. The farm sector asked for it during a County-led Business Retention & Expansion project, so the facility will become a pay-to-play centre for product development and food processing. The project is budgeted at $2.3 million, with Northumberland County (yes – the actual county) contributing $1.15 million and operating the centre as a direct function of the municipality (yes – more jaws drop). The Local Food Fund, CFDCs, Ontario Trillium Foundation and the local federation of agriculture also invested. Currently, about four enquiries are being received per day from businesses interested in using the facility. For EDOs from municipalities that must be seen to be supporting agriculture (but spend as few tax dollars as possible) this is a game-changer. Northumberland County has set the bar high for all other agricultural communities. They listened to their farmers and food processors – and invested courageously. Hats off to Dan Borowec, Trissia Mellor, Joe Mullin and the entire team at Northumberland County Economic Development and Tourism!

The Conference begins

The day wrapped up at the Ganaraska Forest Centre with talks by Steve Peters of Food and Beverage Ontario, Jamie Reaume of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association and Pat Learmonth of Farms at Work. This session included lots of great information, insights and not-so-gentle kidding among the speakers. In a nutshell, the message was that rural communities and agriculture stakeholders must band together to get their collective voices heard in a government regime that now has an urban bias.

Hopefully, in a future post, I can summarize the learning moments from the actual conference on October 30, 2014. Stay tuned for information on next year’s event.

Getting your community noticed: Do your homework

Getting your community noticed: Do your homework

Clark Hoskin

Clark Hoskin

By Clark Hoskin

Article originally written for economicdevelopment.org:

At the 2014 annual conference organized by the Economic Developers’ Council of Ontario (EDCO), Norfolk County staff were asked to speak on a panel of communities about getting noticed in a crowded marketplace by highlighting our unique qualities.

Rather than delve into the detailed tactics used by Norfolk County to garner attention, we pondered some basic lessons learned over the course of ten years. At the EDCO presentation, three tips were presented.

1. Do your homework.

Sometimes, it is difficult to value the need for research when your world is turned upside down. Norfolk County encountered this challenge when it was presented with a threat to its primary agriculture crop.

About ten years ago, tobacco production in Norfolk County fell off a precipice. Marketed poundage of the Golden Leaf dropped from 158 million pounds in 1997 and bottomed out at about 14 million pounds in 2009. At the time, one local councilor bristled at the use of the phrase “demise of tobacco” in discussions. He was correct, in that tobacco is still grown here. However, our community is no longer defined by tobacco. The journey to that destination took a long time.

An economic development strategy developed just prior to those dark days pinpointed tourism as a potential alternative economic driver. There was pressure to do something, anything, to renew the economy of Norfolk County.

Turning desperation into action could have been disastrous, but luckily Norfolk County has many innovative, forward-thinking people willing to take risks. We established an agricultural networking team and discussed how to activate the strategy. The concept of a “Taste of Norfolk” event kept popping up, over and over.

flavourfestNot wishing to create a whole new event, we reached out to the organizers of the Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show, held every October since 1840. It is the fourth largest fair in Ontario and likely the largest – and most truly agricultural – fair in Canada. In 2004, a corner of one building was set aside for a new exhibit, Norfolk FlavourFest. Norfolk County farmers assembled at the Fair, created a marketplace for consumers to sample and buy their produce and food products. Fair organizers handled the cash, took a commission, and everyone was happy with the first year’s results: about $9,000 in sales of produce.

Remember: this happened in 2004 — a year before the term locavore was coined and two years before the 100 Mile Diet was published.

Norfolk County Cookbook

Norfolk County Cookbook designed by Tracy Haskett

The success of the exercise helped fuel the development of our popular map and local food guide and later, a recipe book. Everyone talked about Norfolk County being an agricultural powerhouse and, strangely, we were accustomed to hearing ourselves described as “the most diverse agricultural region in Canada”. Those words spell boredom to a tourist. The challenge was on to find unique characteristics about Norfolk County that would make it special to an urban audience of potential tourists.

2. Discover your edge.

Unfortunately, there was little detail in our files about what we grew other than reams of data about tobacco poundage and lists of seasons for fruits and vegetables. Norfolk County had the hunger for an edge, the intuition that we were an agricultural leader, and the need to know more.

We had no budget for research, but the internet provided free access to Statistic Canada’s data, including the Census of Agriculture.

Homework led to our first discovery: Norfolk County grows more strawberries than anywhere else in Canada. This early epiphany intrigued us, so other crops were researched. Without any cost (except staff time – mainly spent after work) data also emerged to support Norfolk County’s status as the nation’s leading grower of sweet corn, peppers, ginseng, asparagus, pumpkin, cabbage, and tart cherries used for baking.

Energized by these results, more research was done. We discovered that Norfolk County is a leading grower of apples, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries and specialty vegetables in Ontario. Our hunch proved to be correct, and we have the numbers to prove it.

Norfolk County baskets

Norfolk County produce packaging

Kitchen table meetings with wholesale growers led to the use of the Norfolk County brand on produce baskets and boxes destined for grocery chains and the Ontario Food Terminal.

An agricultural marketing program was developed, including road signage, website (norfolkfarms.com), email newsletter, social media (facebook and twitter), radio ads, detailed farmer profiles, newspaper inserts, videos and more. Eventually, the Fair would launch a separate Eat & Drink Norfolk event every April.

Farmers and local food suppliers pooled funding with the County to support the program. Farmers too busy to represent Norfolk County at consumer events were glad to see the emergence of the Fairly Fat Guys, two local volunteers who enjoyed cooking and talking about Norfolk County farmers and food.

fairly-fat-guys-300x240

Norfolk County’s Original Local Food Ambassadors: The Fairly Fat Guys

As local wineries began to open, we adopted the new “Norfolk County: Ontario’s Garden” brand – a legitimate, authentic slogan that we could back up with numbers.

3. Reach out to stakeholders … and listen to their wisdom!

Doing our homework now meant checking in continuously with those who were wiser than us: the farmers and businesses that helped shaped the program. We made outreach a habit through monthly advisory board meetings, annual marketing plan focus groups, emails to partners, ongoing calls to individual businesses and farms, and our annual economic development symposium.

Norfolk FlavourFest won an award in 2007 from EDCO for Best Tourism Special Event / Campaign. By Year 9, the food marketplace portion was grossing over $50,000 in sales and, next door, the new Eat & Drink section featuring wineries, microbreweries and local restaurants was equalling those sales.

Norfolk County’s overall agricultural marketing campaign won an award of merit in 2008 from EDCO. Website visits to norfolkfarms.com continue to grow annually. Participation in the Norfolk County agriculture marketing program has increased from zero in 2003 to almost 100 in 2013. Many new businesses have established themselves in the area, including wineries, breweries, lavender farms, and restaurants catering to locavores.

Our community and its agricultural sector always possessed those unique attributes that we were able to turn into a successful marketing program. By doing our homework, discovering our edge, reaching out to our stakeholders and – most importantly – listening to their wisdom, Norfolk County, Ontario’s Garden, found a way to be heard in a crowded marketplace.

© 2014 Clark Hoskin