Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery and VG Meats of Norfolk County have both won regional recognition in the Ontario Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
In 2008, Steve and Anita Buehner harvested their final crop of tobacco. Today, their Norfolk County farm is nearly unrecognizable. Purple lavender blooms cover 3.5 acres, while another 10 acres have been converted to cold-hardy grapes. Meanwhile, naturalized wetland, wildflowers and native tallgrass attract biodiversity. A steady stream of visitors arrive to wander pathways, inhale the heady scent of lavender and pick up a bottle or two of wine. The Buehners haven’t forgotten their heritage, however. One former tobacco kiln houses an essential distiller. In another, lavender dries on old tobacco racks, while the 5,000-square-foot former tobacco barn now houses a winery and a retail store. More about Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery.
For VG Meats, the best school uniform is a butcher’s apron. When they couldn’t find the skilled staff needed for the family’s processing and retail operations, they teamed up with an Ontario grocery chain to create their own training program. Within a week, 300 applications poured into “The Chop School.” Ultimately, nine students were accepted into the inaugural class for 100 hours of fully paid training. The program includes classroom sessions, plenty of hands-on practice and even time on the Van Groningen beef farm. The school proved so successful that VG Meats is now launching a second class. They have also developed a two-week “Farmer in Training” program to help retail employees understand exactly how the VG Meats’ meat they sell is produced. More about VG Meats.
The Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates the agri-food producers, processors, organizations and rural communities, who through their innovative ideas and projects are helping strengthen our communities, support a sustainable environment, create jobs and boost our economy.