Looking back at 2019: Supporting York Region’s Agriculture and Agri-Food sector

Monday, December 16, 2019

Blog post provided by Meena Hassanali, Agriculture and Agri-Food Business Specialist, York Region

York Region is home to a thriving agriculture and agri-food sector. The broader agri-food sector – everything from farms to processors, grocery stores and distributors – provides approximately 57,000 jobs and generates $2.7 billion in GDP in York Region.

Looking back at 2019, we have made positive progress in supporting our local sector and delivering on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector Strategy. With support from our partners and stakeholders, we’re happy to share some of our 2019 achievements.

Established the Agriculture and Agri-Food Advisory Committee

In September, York Regional Council appointed members to the new Agriculture and Agri-Food Advisory Committee and updated the terms of reference governing this group.

Formerly known as the Agricultural Advisory Liaison Group, this committee was created by Regional Council in 2001 as a way to support the agricultural industry and promote healthy rural communities. The name was changed to reflect the committee’s balanced representation across the value chain, including producers, suppliers, food processors, distributors and food retailers.

The Agriculture and Agri-Food Strategy (endorsed by Regional Council in October 2017) sets direction for long-term growth in the agriculture and agri-food sector and guides development of policy and program initiatives. With five strategic goal areas accompanied by 45 recommended actions, the strategy is an ambitious framework designed to achieve results, and demonstrates York Region’s commitment to the sector.

Continued public outreach and engagement

A key component of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector is strengthening communication and collaboration between York Region, our local cities and towns, farmers and industry stakeholders. Getting out into the community is one of the best ways we can achieve this. With the development of a new communications strategy, we also began sharing successes, sector information and much more through our social media channels and at various events. Highlights include:

  • Hosted or participated in over 50 workshops, events and meetings, engaging over 3,000 stakeholders to raise awareness of our strategy
  • Attended the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair with Central Counties Tourism and York Farm Fresh to showcase the best our local sector has to offer
  • Generated over 100,000 views and more than 2,300 likes, comments or shares on social media posts related to agriculture and agri-food
  • Developed case studies to celebrate and showcase local farmers and businesses
  • Supported the revitalization of York Farm Fresh and executed a local food promotional campaign
    – York Farm Fresh grew their social media followers by 94% and distributed over 60,000 maps in 2019
    – Grew membership base to 33 farm organizations

Supported businesses and research

Earlier this year, we collaborated with York University’s campus-linked accelerator and innovation hub YSpace. Through this partnership, we supported the launch of a Food Accelerator Pilot. This pilot program helps scale promising food and beverage ventures through workshops, mentorship and peer-to-peer circles. The program also provides founders with the tools, skills and connections they need to thrive in the consumer-packaged goods industry and better access new markets.

Looking ahead to 2020

While 2019 had its share of successes, we still have work to do. In 2020 we will continue to deliver on the action items contained with the Agriculture and Agri-Food Strategy, including:

  • Exploring readiness to conduct a Business Retention and Expansion study in York Region in collaboration with local cities and towns
  • Continuing to strengthen communication and collaboration between York Region, local municipalities and the agriculture and agri-food sector
  • Showcasing and celebrating innovators in the Region through spotlights and case studies
  • Continue to promote local food along with key partner York Farm Fresh

To learn more about York Region’s agriculture and agri-food sector, including an overview of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Strategy, visit york.ca/agrifood

If you’re interested in collaborating or have any ideas and feedback, please reach out to me anytime at Meena.Hassanali@york.ca