CORNWALL – The Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network hired Louis Béland in July 22 as the organization’s executive director, replacing Tom Manley of Berwick who had worked in this position since November 2020.
The EOAN is a non-profit organization which seeks to co-ordinate and develop the local agri-food sector in the United Counties of Prescott-Russell, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, the City of Cornwall and Akwesasne.
Béland comes from an entrepreneurial background having business experience in the agricultural field, as well as extensive experience in customer service. He has worked for the Société Économique de l’Ontario as a regional director and is currently very involved in community work with both the EOAN as executive director and the Eastern Ontario Training Board as the regional director for Prescott-Russell. During a recent interview, Béland explained he applied for the EOAN position as he has a passion for developing a local identity in Eastern Ontario in the agri-food sector and feels his farming and entrepreneurial background will help to provide incentive both to this and the following generation of agri-food producers.
When asked about his goals for the EOAN, he noted Manley had set a high bar within the organization, growing it to a more stable organization with funds to hire employees. His goal is to have a budget large enough to provide support to the EOAN membership and community projects. Béland noted how the EOAN should be the first place to seek out ideas, support, and connections for anyone in or interested in the local agri-food sector.
“We’re working on a new local food brand that will be consumer focused,” commented Béland. He continued, this will help to connect consumers with local food producers, bridging the gap between the two groups “which at its base is what the Agri-Food Network does.” He explained the new logo will be used at events and grocery shelves so it will become easily recognizable by consumers. “People will see it in advertising, and they’ll be able to quickly identify food and local producers, local restaurants, anyone in the sector, if it’s local from Eastern Ontario, it will be recognized.”
Béland commented how there are currently big displays in some grocery stores in Prescott-Russell that identify local food and local food producers, but there is no brand associated with it. He feels that if the brand is powerful and believed in, people will promote and support it.
He continued how other areas have similar organizations to promote local agriculture, before mentioning the EOAN is developing a relationship with the Culinary Tourism Alliance. Béland noted the CTA is somewhat concentrated around the Greater Toronto area, but there is interest in the sector growing, focusing on local food and local food producers. In Quebec, where the government has financially supported the tourism sector, there are several communities showcasing local products on a large scale by working together.
Core funding for the EOAN comes from P-R, SDG and the City of Cornwall, with membership fees and grants that also support the organization financially. Béland explained the membership fees vary in amount, noting that anyone can join the organization at the supporter level. The $25 annual supporter level provides individuals with the opportunity “keep up with the news, be part of the newsletter and come out to some of our events,” with other levels of support including a stakeholder level of $100, community partners and other non-profit organizations $250 and a sponsor level of $2,000.
Béland explained the agricultural membership of EOAN includes all types of farm operators, market gardeners, beekeepers, maple producers, and many other types of producers. The organization provides a newsletter every two weeks with information on local producers and projects included with upcoming events and an opportunity for the reader to learn about local agriculture. There is the opportunity for members to have assistance in completing grant applications, connecting with research facilities and “some of our members offer discounts or additional services to our other members.”
More information on the EOAN is available on their social media sites.