Last month, the 21st TCI Network Global Conference — an event that moves continents every year — came to Toronto, bringing cluster experts from around the world to the GTA for three days of collaboration. The conference held “Immersion Experiences” focused on 11 clusters: Advanced Manufacturing, Design, Emerging Technology, Energy, Financial Services, Health, Innovation Ecosystem, Low-Carbon Buildings, Transportation & Logistics, Water, and Food.
The Food Cluster Immersion Experience was hosted by Michael Wolfson, Food and Beverage Sector Specialist with the City of Toronto, and Janet Horner, Executive Director of the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance (GHFFA), which gave the international delegates that joined this ‘cluster experience’ the opportunity to learn about the Golden Horseshoe’s robust food and farming cluster, including the unique GHFFA Action Plan.
More than that, delegates were able to meet and network with other cluster experts from the area, from across Canada, and from around the world, all while seeing firsthand some of our innovative food and farm businesses that help strengthen the economic health of Ontario and Canada.
After all, Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe is home to one of the largest food, beverage and farming clusters in all of North America, making it the perfect grounds for such an event.
About 25 delegates from around the world joined Janet and Michael on a bus that travelled to Food Starter, Ozery Bakery, Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, and Castle Dale Farms.
Food Starter is an incubator in Toronto that helps early-stage food processors commercialize and scale the development of their food products. On the tour, delegates had the opportunity to meet some of the enthusiastic entrepreneurs working in the facility that day, and ask them questions about their products. This paved the way for a real appreciation of such a facility, and the value in supporting small food start-ups. Questions continued back onto the bus, with delegates curious about funding, expanding, criteria and success rates – a wonderful opportunity for sharing lessons, and perhaps even inspiring action elsewhere!
Alon Ozery and his team then welcomed the tour to his bakery in Vaughan with the smell of freshly-baked bread. Ozery Bakery distributes its high-quality bread products across all of North America, and is a great representation of not only food manufacturing in Canada, but also food safety. Alon shared his story and talked about the growth of his successful bakery that opened over 20 years ago. Participants were impressed with the team’s R&D process and how it influenced the finished products. They were also impressed with the level of community involvement. The tour here wrapped up with some delicious samples.
Back on the bus, delegates were able to hear about how the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) assists food companies with exporting their products.
The bus then headed for Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon, where delegates went on a tour of the vineyard and learned about the cider-making process, the history of the farm, culinary tourism, and how Spirit Tree manages to maintain a working farm and production facility on the border of urban sprawl. Planning and infrastructure requirements, as well as zoning issues, were discussed. The eco-friendly and energy-efficient build of Spirit Tree’s main structure and its geothermal solution also piqued the interest of the group. Everyone then indulged in some more delicious treats, including, of course, apple cider.
On the way to the final stop, Castle Dale Farms, delegates were able to learn a bit about our supply management system from dairy farmer Bruce Sargent, and hear about some of the challenges the dairy industry is facing.
The tour at Castle Dale Farms then showed some of the special care and innovation that takes place on a Canadian dairy farm. Castle Dale Farms uses innovation and technology to maximize food production and safety and modernize milking procedures. The group got to see the automatic feed systems and the robotic milking in action.
The GHFFA was grateful to have delegates on the food cluster immersion experience tour from all over, from Australia to Uruguay, Scotland to Trinidad, Denmark, Wales and more. It was a great opportunity to share ideas, lessons, challenges and insight on the significant role that clusters can play in building vibrant economies.
And we were thrilled to be able to highlight some of the innovation, hard work, and coordinated efforts that have gone into building and maintaining the Golden Horseshoe’s robust food and farming cluster.
The one million acres of farmland under production within the boundaries of the Golden Horseshoe generate in excess of $1.5 billion in gross farm receipts annually from a production profile that includes 200 different agricultural commodities. Half of Ontario’s food processors are also located in the Golden Horseshoe cluster, and food processing businesses in the region are now the main economic driver of the region!
The TCI 2018 conference was hosted by the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, an Ontario-based economic think tank, and presented by the TCI Network, a global network of leading cluster experts and practitioners.The event consisted of the 11 cluster immersion experiences, as well as a day of keynotes and panels, and more than 20 interactive breakout sessions.