The Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network is one of several like-minded organizations in Ontario hoping to bring the marketplace closer to home for residents. Courtesy Photo

CORNWALL – The United Counties of SD&G along with City of Cornwall have each agreed to fund the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network (EOAN) $25,000 for one year.

The food network already receives funding on a yearly basis from the United Counties of Prescott Russell in the amount of $40,000 each year.

The executive director of the EOAN, Tom Manley approached SD&G and Cornwall councils in late 2020.

“We had been talking to the counties and the City of Cornwall for over a year and a half about this,” he said.

The arrival of the pandemic caused discussions to stop but as soon as the covid dust settled he took up the conversation again.

The EOAN started up in 2010 and this new funding will be the first time three municipalities committed to the network.

The new funding will help the network expand existing marketing activities and member services and develop new programs.

“We have been working closely with the EOAN since 2011, and we are proudly joining the City of Cornwall as well as the United Counties of SDG in continuing to support the regional agri-food sector,” said Stéphane Sarrazin, warden of the UCPR in a press release.

“For the last ten years the network has been largely supported by the United Counties of Prescott Russell and with occasional province and federal grants from time to time, but not by SD&G and Cornwall. Prescott Russell took the initiative ten years ago and all the more power to them. It was great, and a good thing to do.

The other municipalities were not on board yet,” said Manley.

Cornwall and SD&G will be sending a representative to sit on the EOAN board of directors.

The funding adds up to $90,000 this year which, according to Manley will result in a good year for local food in Eastern Ontario.

The EOAN mandate is to help raise awareness about the availability of local food to consumers.

Manley said, “Our mission largely is to promote local food. We want to develop the local food economy from field to fork so that the smaller scale farmer, direct marketers, and small food processors have direct access to markets and local consumers can give some priority to local sources of food as opposed to always lettuce from California and tomatoes from Mexico.”

The network covers the same area as the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and includes mostly agricultural lands and markets.

In the announcement about the new partnerships Manley stated: “Local governments realize that a successful grassroots food movement must be sustained with multi-year core funding that can leverage further grants and sector assets.

 “Agri-food is the number one economic sector in Canada,” he said. “Twelve per cent of farmers in SDG sell directly to consumers and 44 per cent of the farms have farm sales of less than $55,000.”

Outside of Ottawa, Eastern Ontario is a mixed geography of rural communities, farming, and small cities. Given the economic importance of agri-food, municipalities see local food as an economic development engine.

“Municipalities are responsible for regional economic development. Together, we see the EOAN as a partner in the local food sector. Cornwall and its neighbours look forward to witnessing the EOAN in action,” said Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement.

“Given the pandemic’s impact on long-distance tourism, local communities recognize that their tourists will be local or a few hours away. Therefore, agritourism and culinary tourism are critical elements in the rural economic recovery,” said SDG warden Frank Prevost.

There is the intention to make it a three-year pledge but there is the condition that Manley go back to them in December to report on accomplishments.

“They want to make sure the money is being spent on things that are deliverable and are of value,” said Manley.