News

FOOD

The region’s largest food hub links 35 producers with 10 buyers, and funding from the province will help it expand

By Debora Van Brenk, The London Free Press

(MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

(MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

An organization sprung from Ontario’s collapsed tobacco industry is getting more provincial cash to expand the largest of the region’s food hubs.

Driven by an eat-local movement, the SCOR FoodHub is a conduit for producers and buyers in the fertile five-county area within the South Central Ontario Region.

“We’re very spoiled here,” said Art Lawson, executive director of SCOR. “We have some excellent producers with some great products.”

The region also has committed purchasers intent on buying fresh and local, he said.

Until recently, though, there was little organized way of connecting producer and purchaser.

That’s because individual producers rarely have their own distribution networks, while buyers relying on single producers can rarely get guarantees of specific products when needed.

The SCOR FoodHub, operating for a little more than a year, links the two groups. It just received a provincial boost to expand its services, through an $89,000 grant from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.

What that means is that organizations such as Huron University College food services can bring in a variety of meat and produce that meet students’ needs.

“The quality of the product is fantastic,” said Peter Ramsay, director of food services at Huron University College.

The school started using the food hub only this fall, and there are already plans in place for students to visit some farms early next year. “It’s nice for the students to know where their food is coming from.”

Food grown locally often is trucked to the Ontario Food Terminal, with some of it making taking a circuitous route back to the region’s classrooms and cafeterias.

But under the food-hub concept, growers can pool as much product as is needed for buyers and use designated climate-controlled centres. All the food and temporary storage areas are food-safety certified.

“I think what makes us unique and give us a strong foundation is that in our geographic area, there are a lot of products that we can produce,” Lawson said.


Art Lawson, general manager of SCOR and leader of local food hub project with Murray Good, owner of Whitecrest Mushrooms and Jim Oliver, counsellor for Norfolk county and chairman of SCOR, l-r, at the Middlesex County building on Tuesday. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

And though there are other small hubs in Ontario — including in Huron-Grey and Perth as well as micro-hubs called community-supported agriculture (CSAs) — there may well be opportunity to expand and collaborate more broadly, he said.

He expects the value of food traded through the hub to be $500,000 next year.

SCOR began in 2008 as rural communities from Norfolk to Elgin banded together to diversify their collective economy after the collapse of the area’s tobacco industry.

The institutional and food-service customers include about 30,000 area elementary school children through the Ontario Student Nutrition Program.

The university students sparked the demand themselves and Brown’s, the food-service operator that has Huron University College contract, was eager to make it happen, Ramsay said.

The wide variety of food — fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese — and the traceability of food to its local source make the foodhub a concept with staying power, he said.

South Central Ontario Region FoodHub

  • 28 municipalities within Brant, Elgin, Middlesex, Norfolk and Oxford
  • 35 producers and about 10 customers (most of them institutions and food-service providers at schools)
  • Food includes meats, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, onions, shallots, peppers, cheese, blueberries and peaches.

How it works

  • Every Monday, producers submit online how many of each item they can make available for sale that week.
  • Customers order online and each producer gets an email detailing what they need to deliver that week.
  • Producers bring the pre-ordered food to one of five climate-controlled hub sites on Friday afternoon,
  • Food delivered to customers on Monday.