Seven agri-food entrepreneurs from across northern Ontario have been chosen as finalists in the Northern Ontario Innovation Challenge run by Bioenterprise Canada, a national accelerator known as Canada’s food and agri-tech engine.
The seven agri-businesses will showcase their innovations at a public demonstration day in September with short pitch presentations to a panel of judges representing the agriculture, business and research communities.
Why it matters: The agri-food sector is a key pillar of economic development in northern Ontario and considered essential to helping boost food security in northern regions.
“We know there are many innovative businesses and start-ups in northern Ontario who are active in the food and agri-tech sector, and our goal with this challenge is to identify them and help bring them to the forefront,” says Bioenterprise Canada CEO Dave Smardon.
“The challenge is part of our ongoing commitment to find, encourage and advance innovation and economic development in northern Ontario.”
The grand prize winner will be awarded $5,000, and the top three finalists will receive an upgraded membership to Bioenterprise Canada, with its business mentorship support and access to its national innovation network.
AgriTech North of Dryden is one of the seven finalists. The vertical farm is a social enterprise and the first of its kind year-round wholesale-scale grower of fresh produce in northwestern Ontario. Its mission, according to CEO Ben Feagin Jr., is to reduce fresh produce costs in far north Indigenous communities by 25 per cent and provide year-round access to fresh produce.
“In the short-term, we want to support about 50 remote and fly-in communities in northwestern Ontario, but our longer-term goal is to be serving more than 600 rural and remote communities across Canada,” Feagin says. “We want to be a centre of excellence for food security.”
AgriTech North converted a surplus municipal property into its pilot vertical farm facility, growing more than 70 varieties of leafy greens, herbs and small fruiting crops like cherry tomatoes and strawberries. Production in its 2,000 square feet of space is equivalent to about five conventional or 15 organic acres of land.
Produce is sold online, and deliveries are made using existing farmer or community-owned distribution networks – as well as novel methods like drones – to help keep costs as affordable as possible. However, its project for 3D printing tools and materials used in indoor farming is what AgriTech North has entered in the challenge.
“We want rural communities to be able to make their own parts so they don’t have to rely on a slow and expensive supply chain,” says Feagin, adding the goal is to seek patents and protections to make the technology available exclusively to Indigenous communities in the north.
Other challenge finalists include:
- TECC Agriculture Ltd. of New Liskeard, a precision agriculture company
- Dalew Farms Inc./Click Fork of Lavigne, an online farmers’ market for local food
- Cramer Dairy Farms Inc. of Slate River, an innovative farm diversifying into beef production
- My-Pride Farm of Thunder Bay, a producer of locally raised meat
- BioNorth Solutions of Thunder Bay, developer of plant growth promoting bacteria
- Northern Vinter Inc. of Thunder Bay, a boutique fruit winery
The challenge is the latest initiative of Bioenterprise Canada’s Northern Ontario Project. Early in 2021, the organization launched a pan-Northern Ontario pilot hub based out of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to serve as a single source of agri-food sector networking and business acceleration services.
The hub is focused on connecting northern Ontario start-ups and early-stage businesses with services and targeted resources across Ontario and Canada. An advisory committee of agri-food and innovation stakeholders from across the region provides input on hub activities and program.
“There is tremendous potential in northern Ontario’s food and agriculture sector and our goal is to complement the activities of existing centres and initiatives across the region with our national innovation network so we can provide additional support that will encourage growth and success in the north,” says Smardon.
The Bioenterprise Canada Northern Ontario project is a two-year pilot that is receiving funding from FedNor’s Regional Growth Through Innovation Fund.