The County of Simcoe, along with other regional partners, is taking a closer look at the roots of the food we consume.
They are running a business retention and expansion study on the agri-food industry, looking at all aspects from farming to farm supply to farmers’ markets, farm gate operations, restaurants and restaurant suppliers.
Agriculture and food make up a large portion of the economy in Simcoe County, so the economic development team is seeking to create an action plan that will support that industry and offer ways for those involved to have better opportunities for success. Simcoe has paired with Grey and Bruce counties, the cities of Orillia and Barrie, Georgian College and local business support industries for this study.
“We want to make sure that the action plan we produce is in response to industry identified needs and opportunities,” said Simcoe County economic development manager Rachel Sullivan. “This will be very much built around what the industry sees as important. It will be a local plan, it will be what makes sense for us.”
The plan is to interview 300 to 350 participants – at least 200 from Simcoe County – on their experience in their business, their plans for the future and the challenges they see already and in the future.
The average survey is about two hours long. The group has already conducted about 20 interviews with four more scheduled this week. The focus now is on primary production since that’s mostly farmers who will have to plant crops very soon.
“We want to make sure we’re not making that Ivory Tower mistake,” said Sullivan. “We want to ask the industry what’s happening, ask them ‘what are some of the challenges you’re facing and what can we help with?’”
Often in the case of a retention and expansion survey, a group will hire consultants to come in, conduct the interviews and present a report on their findings.
“We wanted to participate in the interview because we think it’s important in building a relationship,” said Sullivan. “This is information we’re getting from the grassroots… and we’ll help be part of the solution, too.”
In addition to providing resources for the interviews, all of the partners also supplied funding for the endeavour. Simcoe County provided $10,000, Bruce and Grey counties and the City of Barrie each provided $5,000. Orillia, Georgian College and South Georgian Bay Small Business Enterprise Centre each contributed $1,000. The county also secured Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) funding to the tune of $23,000.
The county will be conducting interviews into the summer, and expect to put together a plan proposal by the end of the year or early next year. According to Sullivan, the plan will be presented to those who participated in interviews in order to get feedback on the results of the study.
To participate or to learn more about the Agriculture and Agri-Food Value Chain BR&E, contact the County of Simcoe’s economic development office at 705-726-9300 ext. 1206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.