Norfolk County is home to many entrepreneurs with an innovative mindset, and we are dedicated to ensuring that the business environment locally is supportive to their endeavours. Over the past few years, Norfolk County has presented Entrepreneur of the Year Awards to:
- Picard Foods – for over two decades, Picard Foods has been providing fresh roasted peanuts and specialty products to their visitors. Owner John Picard is a true innovator. Each year John has expanded the Picard Foods manufactured products line with several new products to choose from. Their unique products can be found at their retail locations throughout Ontario.
- Long Point Eco-Adventures – owners Mike McArthur and Dave Pond could not think of a better location to build their zip line and star-gazing tower. The grounds have been designed for adventure seekers and nature lovers of all ages. Long Point Eco-Adventures now offers night zipping and glamour camping in wilderness suites that include king-sized beds, ash deck flooring, full washrooms and showers.
- At Play Adventures – owner Jeff Bouck has an enthusiasm for this area and an infectious “anything is possible” attitude which has turned “At Play Adventures” into a vacation destination offering luxury cottages, fishing charters, sunset cruises and horseback riding.
- Titan Trailers – owners Mike and Sandy Kloepfer have grown their company to be the largest custom trailer manufacturer in North America offering a complete line of trailers utilizing advanced design and manufacturing technologies.
The Government of Ontario has also presented Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence to many Norfolk County businesses:
- B & C Nightingale Farms Ltd. – When Bill and Caroline Nightingale saw 20,000 acres of fresh vegetables flourishing under a canopy of high tunnels in Europe, they were convinced the idea would help grow a better product and greater yields back home in Ontario. They were right. High tunnels have extended their growing season by six to eight weeks, doubled cropping opportunities, decreased insect and disease pressures, and resulted in a quality, consistent product. The Nightingales have implemented a change in Ontario fresh vegetable farming – helping growers move from conventional field production to covered production, and towards organic production. Their company, Tunnel Tech Farming, makes and markets high tunnels to other growers. When it comes to enhancing Ontario's fresh vegetable growing opportunities – this farm has things covered.
- Blueberry Hill Estate – Blueberry Hill Estate's tourism project introduced by Dale Vranckx in Norfolk County will turn its existing farmers' market into a major tourist destination, by adding an agri- and eco-safari, an education centre, a winery and distillery offering tastings and tours, and an outdoor expo. All this will be topped off with tunnel technology in the blueberry patch. Covering the blueberry patch with tunnels will make a completely sealed enclosure, eliminating pest problems, improving berry quality and increasing yields of organically-grown fruit.
- Debco Ginseng Limited – Douglas Bradley is ‘mulch’ in demand with an invention that is saving time and money and increasing profits for fellow ginseng growers. Spreading straw mulch on ginseng fields in Ontario used to be an extremely labour-intensive job. It now takes a fraction of the time, and is far less hazardous for workers, thanks to a new piece of equipment pioneered by Bradley. More than 90 per cent of the ginseng grown in Ontario is now mulched using this equipment, and there is a growing market in strawberries.
- Florence Estate Winery Inc. – Terry and Margaret Marshall are toasting to their future. They have embraced the idea of alternative crops by growing grapes and establishing a winery in Southwestern Ontario's tobacco belt. The Marshalls showed innovation by modifying tobacco equipment to accommodate grape growing, irrigation, vine staking and harvesting. Their winery is in its second year of full grape production, with 3,000 cases of wine ready for sale this year. With their Florence Estate Winery, the couple plans to attract tourism to the region by conducting tours and demonstrations highlighting the history of tobacco in the area and the unique eco-systems that exist in the property's Carolinian forest.
- Kent Kreek Berries – Blueberries are a popular treat, but picking and preparing them for sale takes a lot of time and hard work. Kent Kreek Berries is using specialized blueberry harvesting equipment that cleans, sorts and grades blueberries on the go and drives itself! The farm has modified equipment to make it more efficient at harvesting mature high bush blueberries, which has increased the yield on the 16-acre operation by five percent, or 10,000 pounds. That's a lot of blueberries! These improvements have encouraged Kent Kreek Berries to expand its acreage and consider more value-added activities like a winery and agri-tourism. Other blueberry growers, and raspberry growers as well, are interested in adopting this technology.
- Kernal Peanuts Ltd. – Back in 1977, farmer Ernie Racz was looking to exit the tobacco business and planted a few rows of peanuts as an experiment. Today he is the largest peanut grower in Canada. In addition to harvesting peanuts, he hosts tours and has added a processing plant and retail store to the operation. Kernal Peanuts Ltd. continues to be innovative. Used peanut oil is stockpiled for use as bio-diesel fuel, peanut shells are recycled on-site for fuel, and the farm has developed a new strain of black peanut that will be marketed as a novelty item. While the imported peanut market is a tough nut to crack, this business is helping to move more Ontario product into consumers' hands.
- Norfolk County Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS Pilot) – ALUS is greening agriculture in Norfolk County. ALUS, or Alternative Land Use Services, compensates farmers for putting in place environmentally sound practices. It is voluntary, developed by farmers and has achieved impressive results. Funds were raised from foundations, wildlife groups and government agencies to formally launch this pilot project. Twenty-eight farmers have active projects that range from planting trees and tall grasses on marginal farmland to preserving wetlands for bird habitat. And word is spreading. Nearly 700 people have toured demonstration farms. This program serves as a model that could be expanded across the province.
- P. & S. Van Berlo Limited – Peter Van Berlo of P. & S.Van Berlo Limited is Canada's largest grower of sweet potatoes. After working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and North Carolina State University, the former tobacco producer started growing sweet potatoes on 30 acres of land in 2000.There are now 400 acres, which is produced and distributed using facilities and machinery that were modified to better suit this crop. The business is also involved in marketing and distributing products from other sweet potato growers.
- Persall Naturals Ltd. – Diversification was the name of the game in 2000 when Persall Naturals Ltd. owners began producing a premium line of edible oils.With the adoption of a European cold pressing method to create highly flavoured soybean and canola oil, the business is looking to pursue national distribution, and make inroads in the U.S. market.
- Spring Arbour Farm (Ken McMullen) – How would you like your groceries delivered fresh from the farm – straight to your door? Spring Arbour Farm does just that by supplying fresh organic food to more than100 families in Norfolk County region. Families who wish to become members of this co-operative provide a deposit which is used to cover spring start-up costs. This farm works on a local food premise, buying crops from neighbouring farms to build their inventory. It’s a low-cost, low-risk entry into farming which can start small and scale up quickly. Happy farmers and happy customers share the benefits of this innovative farm management and local food marketing approach.
- The Cider Keg – An apple a day keeps the doctor away – but branded, value-added apple products keep consumers asking for more. The T & J Haskett farm in Norfolk County has developed a brand for its line of apple products that includes cider, jellies and relishes that can be found on the shelves of a national grocery retail chain. A recently published cookbook featuring ideas for drinks, entrées and meal enhancements encourages consumers to up their apple intake and enjoy the health benefits. These value-added ideas have led to increased apple sales, and a diversified income source that generates income for three households plus staff.
- Wholesome Pickins – David and Jennifer VanDeVelde’s idea for converting their tobacco farm is bearing fruit and incomes well beyond their expectations. By planting ever-bearing strawberries and raspberries, and retrofitting the equipment they already had, these innovative growers built a business that has three part-time student employees and several part-time and full-time labourers. In 2008, they saw a 45 per cent, year-over-year increase in customer traffic. The VanDeVeldes are looking at an even bigger 2009 with a new website, radio and print advertising, and more outdoor signs.
- Y U Ranch – Home on the range in Ontario. Texas Longhorn Cattle now graze on former tobacco fields as part of Bryan Gilvesy's farm. He has diversified his business into a whole farm, eco-agricultural system by integrating to a value-added, direct to consumer farm enterprise. The operation conducts eco-agricultural tours and Gilvesy speaks to farm, environmental and consumer groups about the role of the farmer in environmental and community health. The farm also uses solar power for water pumping and has plans to contribute power to the grid through the Standard Offer Program.