by Deron Johnston
The local food community received some disturbing news recently with the announcement that the Two Rivers Food Hub in Smiths Falls was shutting down its distribution operations. This means that Two Rivers will no longer distribute local food products made by small to midsize farms and food processors to area restaurants, stores and institutions. This will leave a number of farmers and local food businesses looking for alternative ways to get their products into the hands and mouths of consumers.
Two Rivers will continue to rent commercial kitchen space to farmers and food processors, as well renting space in their long-term freezers and cool storage facilities. This institution has provided a much-needed link in the local food system by allowing small to mid-size farmers a way of selling their products outside of places like community farmers’ markets. Quite often, these farmers aren’t able to produce the large quantities required to be able to sell at the reduced cost that is demanded by the large wholesalers, who currently dominate the distribution channels to almost all restaurants, large food retailers and institutions across Canada.
Rather than look at the announcement as a “doom and gloom” scenario, maybe this creates an opportunity for another group, private company, or organization to learn from the Two Rivers experience. If someone else stepped forward with a different business model, or perhaps with more private money, this story could have a happy ending for all. Food hubs are best described as initiatives that support the local food value chain (system) by creating a direct link between smaller scale local farmers and customers in larger markets who are interested in the kind of delicious, nutritious, high-quality foods that these smaller producers can deliver.
The upcoming announcement of the acquisition of the former Kemptville College by the Municipality of North Grenville pops into mind. Is a local food distribution centre a good fit for the new Kemptville Campus? There’s an industrial kitchen there in the main cafeteria that could be used, and a number of unoccupied buildings that could be adapted as short-term or long-term storage. The Kemptville Campus is closer to potential producers in Grenville County and neighbouring areas like Dundas County and the rural areas of the City of Ottawa. The close proximity to the 416, the 401, and the US border could allow for easier access to major markets like Ottawa and beyond to Montreal and the US.
There are enough potential pieces to begin a food hub on the Kemptville Campus, but it’s doubtful that there is enough local food capacity right now to support two food hubs within thirty minutes of each other. However, even if the Kemptville Campus option just did local food distribution, it would go a long way towards preserving the trail blazing work done over the last three years by the group at Two Rivers. There appears to be potential in this area with Two Rivers having distributed over $1 million in food since it began limited distribution activities in 2015. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been very supportive of the Two Rivers operation, so it would be logical that they would continue that support at Kemptville Campus. This could go a long way towards gaining access to grant money for the new operation.
With a door closing in Smiths Falls, could one open in Kemptville?