Keeping It Local

The EDA Breakfast Panel for Inspiring Innovations In Agriculture consisted of (from left to right) Vincent McConnell, Kelly Starling, Sean Royer, Ken Gossen, and Moderator Natalie Gibson.

 

 
In a different and interesting four person panel format, the Leduc-Nisku EDA's fall breakfast focused on the innovations in food production that are taking place in our own back yard.
The breakfast, which was held in the Leduc County Agricultural Services Building, featured all local produce. The eggs came from the Morinville Colony, the potatoes from the Ferry Bank Colony, bacon and sausage from Leduc Meat Processors, several different kinds of gourmet granola cereal from Gourmet Granola, and an amazing hot barley cereal from Progressive Foods. 
The moderator for the morning was Natalie Gibson, President of InnoVisions and Associates. With her extensive agricultural knowledge and having worked on everything from new food product launches, to international marketing plans, and local food projects, Natalie was a natural choice to moderate the morning's panel.
Her first responsibility of the day was to introduce everyone on the "Inspiring Innovation In Agriculture" panel. The four people welcomed onto the platform were Ken Gossen, Executive Director, Food Processing Division, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Vincent McConnell, Business development Specialist, Government of Alberta, Kelly Starling, 100k Kitchen Party, Brazeau County, and Sean Royer, Executive Director, Industry Investments (ALMA).
Ken began the discussion by informing the crowd that the Food Processing Development Centre (better known as the Big Orange Building on the corner of 65 Ave. and 45 St. in Leduc) is an absolute gem within the Province of Alberta. At 140,000 sq feet, it is the largest of it's kind in the world. Inside this building everything takes place from product development, to research, seminars, workshops and demonstrations. 
The FPDC provides food based businesses that are just starting up, with a government space to begin their operation for the first four years. Scientists and specialists work with the businesses to develop their products, and a high priority is placed on educating on food safety. 
There are currently six businesses working in the building right now, and Ken stated that they generally see the spin off of 4-5 companies per year. 
He also shared that approximately 150 products are developed there every year, and with people willing to explore more exotic tastes, a lot of ethnic foods are being produced here. Ken finished his presentation by saying that it was very gratifying to help with the development of local food companies and to see their graduation into stand alone businesses.
Then it was Kelly's turn to speak of her passion about eating locally grown, organic foods, produced on small scale diversified farms. 
In her former position as Director of Economic Development for Brazeau County, she saw a number of health issues cropping up in people's lives, which is what inspired her to begin the program called the 100K Kitchen Party. After receiving $170,000.00 in grant money for the program, Kelly began teaching the three main components of her program which are; teaching people how to safely process their own food, ie: pickling and canning, etc., the goodness that comes from eating locally produced food, and educating farmers on the viability of small scale diversified farming.
This program also developed an Eat Local Directory that lists local producers and was distributed by mail to 72,000 households. 
Kelly completed her talk by stating that this program is safe, environmentally friendly, and supports local people, that is why she is so passionate about this.
Next up to the microphone was Sean, who spoke about just a couple of the over 100 companies he and his team work with, and how he helps local companies develops new products and markets for Alberta produce. ALMA has an annual budget of $40 million dollars that is primarily focused on research and development, commercialization, marketing and industry development.
Last year ALMA worked on 197 different projects, and have helped to increase meat and dairy production by millions of pounds. For instance, Agropur is one company that ALMA works closely with and they are positioned to be the #1 specialty cheese producer in Canada.
Another company they work with is Cargill Meats in Spruce Grove. This company provides every burger that McDonald's uses in all of Canada, and all of it is from Alberta beef. This translates into the plant producing 1.2 million burger patties every day.
In closing his speech, Sean stated that the sheer amount of projects and programs ALMA has to help food and Agro businesses truly is impressive.
Last but not least, Vincent came forward to introduced the Food Industry Tracking System (FITS) iPhone app and plug in they had created for small scale food producers. FITS enables producers to create bar codes for their products, so they can simply scan their products with their iPhone and accurately track their inventory. This app and plug in will enable, for example, a farmer's market seller to scan through their customer's produce, ring up a total, and when paired with a wireless printer, create a receipt as well. This would also allow for online sales and inventory control, making small producers more efficient.
Finishing his presentation, Vincent joked that this app could help garden market sellers check out their customers just like Walmart.
A very unique and pleasant surprise for everyone, at the end of the breakfast everyone attending received a fresh head of cauliflower that had been grown at a market garden in Leduc. That was a very innovative way to bring the theme home of supporting your local producers.
Kudos to the EDA and Leduc County for putting on a wonderful event. Overall, it was a great breakfast with a wealth of information being presented that was relevant to people in the agro/food industries as well as to those of us who just enjoy eating it!
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