By: Lilian Schaer
Published: Guelph Mercury, August 31, 2011

Photo Credit: Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association

Lavender, hazelnuts and sweet potatoes are not crops we commonly associate with this province.

Yet they’re starting to emerge in Ontario’s south coast area, the fertile sand plains in Norfolk, Brant, Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties where tobacco used to reign supreme.

As the decline of the tobacco industry continued over the last decade, agricultural and economic development leaders in the area began grappling with key questions governing the future of their region, which is a key producer of many Ontario foods, including fruits and vegetables.

How can we bring new life and new value to this farmland? How can we keep farmers profitable and sustain the rural and regional economies? At the same time, is there an opportunity to bring new products to Ontario or to grow crops here that we’re currently importing from other places around the world?

This soul-searching led to the development of the Erie Innovation and Commercialization initiative, a project supported by the provincial and federal governments, various municipalities in the region, and by farmers through the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Its goal is to foster new opportunities in the sand plains and help the agri-food sector revitalize a local economy that for too long had depended on the strength of a single crop for much of its prosperity.

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