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Volume 1 - Issue 2

September-October, 2021

From the President
From the President
Dear Subscriber,

For many of our members the Thanksgiving weekend is by far the busiest weekend of the year. With any luck we will have good weather and business will be great. Farms will be filled with family fun; children laughing, families selecting the perfect apple or pumpkin and couples out for a walk or fall dinner date. We can only hope that this fall means a new leaf will be turned over and a more positive few months are ahead as we look forward to turning the calendar to 2022.

While it has been a very difficult year-and-a-half there is much we can be thankful for. Government support, dedicated staff, loyal customers, technology that allowed us to continue selling products online and the health and safety of our family and friends.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is also Agricultural Week in Ontario; a time to shine the spotlight on our members and all those who contribute to the provinces extraordinary agricultural sector. In this edition of Horizons you will see the letter from Min. Thompson recognizing our work. We thank the Minister for her lifelong involvement in farming and her continued support.

As many of you busily prepare for the upcoming long weekend, Farm Fresh Ontario is also gearing up for many activities. They include: a car rally; annual general meeting; and putting together a top-notch educational program for 2022, to name a few.

The car rally is scheduled for November 23 and 24. Hopefully you have all received the Save the Date announcement. This year’s rally takes us to the beautiful Ottawa area where we’ll be visiting some great operations like Stanley’s, Saunders, Valleyview, Quinn’s, Kin Vineyards and Jabulani. Pricing is being finalized and that information, along with accommodation information, will be shared in the coming days. Cost will be comparable to last year. Should you wish to reserve a spot, simply email kevin@farmfreshontario.com.

We are also doing an extensive search to put together a quality lineup of speakers for our AGM to be held in Niagara Falls at the Scotiabank Convention Centre Feb. 23 and 24. We plan to be in-person this year and the OFVC Convention happening at the same time will also be in-person. More information on this exciting event will be released in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, circle the dates on your calendars. It will be great to see people in person!

On the government relations front, our Executive Director, Kevin Vallier held an extensive zoom meeting with two senior staff from the Hon. Lisa MacLeod’s (Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries) office. Kevin had a fulsome discussion with the Minister’s Director of Communications and Director of Policy to talk agri-tourism issues as well as provide them with an update on the recent activities and progress of Farm Fresh Ontario. We also continue to communicate with the staff in the Hon. Lisa Thompson’s office (OMAFRA) and eagerly await a meeting with the Minister to champion FFO members’ needs and provide her with an update on the important work and contribution you all make to the province and your communities.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a big shout out and congratulations to Wes Kuntz and Jenny Butcher, owners of Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm and Store in Brant County, for being named Ontario's Outstanding Young Farmers for 2021. FFO vice-president Jordan MacKay was a judge at this year’s competition. Joran is also a past winner along with several other FFO members. You can read more the competition and its winners in this issue of Horizons.

Wishing you all a happy, safe and successful Thanksgiving weekend,

Thomas Wilson
Little Brown Cow wins big at Outstanding Young Farmers Competition
Little Brown Cow wins big at Outstanding Young Farmers Competition
Farm Fresh Ontario's vice-president Jordan MacKay had a tough job recently and it wasn’t trying to fill staff vacancies, deal with COVID-19 issues or anything to do with running his own operation, Willowtree Farm. MacKay had the tough task of being one of a handful of judges to decide who would take home the honour of Ontario’s 2021 Outstanding Young Farmer.

A winner of both the Ontario and national competition in 2018, MacKay said he had a difficult time making a decision given the exceptional quality of this year’s nominees. In the end, he and his fellow judges awarded Wes Kuntz and Jenny Butcher, owners of Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm in Brant County the top prize as Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmers.

In an interview with the Brantford Expositor, Butcher tipped her cap to fellow farm owners. She said there are a lot of farms in Ontario doing great things. “Farming is a lifestyle,” with farming operations that are “complex, rich and interesting. “It’s an extremely difficult thing to compare.”

Both Butcher and Kuntz grew up on dairy farms and say they have a deep love for the agriculture sector.

Instead of taking over their family farms they decided to set out on their own journey and formed Little Brown Cow Dairy Farm. Both had full time jobs at the time. The journey began in 2008 and when the couple rented a barn and a house trailer in Paris, ON.

“We milked cows before and after work every day for three years,” she told the Expositor. “When we first started our farming venture, our goal was, literally, to make it to the end of each day intact.”

MacKay was impressed with how the winners started from scratch. “They found the best way to maximize the limited resources they had. Their innovation was very interesting.”

Fellow judge Crystal MacKay was equally impressed with all the candidates vying for Ontario’s Outstanding Young Farmer Award. “Judging the Outstanding Young Farmer competition was truly an honour and a tough job,” said Crystal. “Each of the candidates exemplified hard work, dedication and ambition with positive energy that was contagious.”

“I’m in the business of communicating about food and farming. These Outstanding Young Farmers, past and present, represent the whole industry so well,” she said.

Kuntz and Butcher rented for three years and during that time cobbled together enough capital to finally buy a 40-acre farm in Brant County. A lot of construction was needed – two years’ worth - to make the necessary changes. In 2017 they purchased an old auto body shop which again they renovated to turn it into what is now the Little Brown Cow. Products sold in the on-farm store are sourced from within 100 kilometers.

The business has grown significantly over the past couple of years and the couple says they truly feel like it’s part of the community.

It’s a feeling MacKay says comes with not only owning and growing a successful local business but also being a part of the Young Farmers alumni. He said the 2018 group still gets together once or twice a year. “It’s like a club,” he explained.

MacKay said judging the competition and hearing the inspiring stories gave him motivation. “I left inspired. Looking at these great operations doing great things. It’s not about comparing your farm to other farms. You just see how well they’re doing, and it makes you want to be better.”

The other nominees were Mike & Danielle Cornelissen, Twin Creeks Greenhouse Inc from Watford and Ryan & Romy Schill, Circle R Lamb from Wallenstein.

Kuntz and Butcher will now compete for the national title.

For a list of past winners, including several Farm Fresh Ontario members click here.

By Kevin Vallier
Farm Fresh Ontario is a finalist for national marketing award
Farm Fresh Ontario is a finalist for national marketing award
Earlier this year Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association launched a new brand. A new name, tag line and website were created. The bold new look designed by Geddie Advertising was recognized this week when the Canadian Agricultural Marketing Association named the Farm Fresh Ontario project one of the finalist for its annual national awards.

“We are thrilled to be a finalist for a national marketing award,” said Thomas Wilson, Farm Fresh Ontario’s Board President. “A lot of work went into this and I want to thank our board for their input as well as Doug Geddie and his team for their creative magic.”

Wilson said the process started when the need for a new brand was identified during the strategic planning process. “We had a lot of important input from past board members and key stakeholders. It was time for a refresh. Their input was incredibly valuable,” explained Wilson.

Doug Geddie said it's a great honour just be a finalist and that it'll be tough competition. "Geddie advertising is pleased and honoured to be among the finalists for the CAMA awards. Having looked over the other finalists, we realize we’re in good company."

Farm Fresh Ontario is one of six finalists in the Corporate Identity category.

The winner will be announced during a live virtual event on Thursday, Nov. 18.

CAMA (Canadian Agri-Marketing Association) is a network of agribusiness marketing professionals from across Canada. With chapters located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, CAMA offers valuable opportunities to people in the agri-marketing industry.
Funding to support technology and equipment advances for food and beverage processors
The governments of Canada and Ontario are investing up to $3 million to help Ontario food, beverage and other agri-food businesses improve the productivity of their operations. This funding will make the sector more competitive by helping businesses purchase new equipment, adopt innovative technologies, and automate processes.
Applications will be accepted under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), to support projects that will help the food and beverage manufacturing industry improve labour and production efficiency, and waste reduction. Funding is available to agri-food businesses that are ready to implement advanced manufacturing technology.

Some examples of projects include:
  • the purchase and installation of equipment and/or technology to improve input efficiency by automating a food or beverage manufacturing process like a cookie or cake baking line;
  • the purchase of new equipment to automate process technologies such as a bottle/crate washing and bottle filling system for beverage businesses that improve labour productivity, improve food safety and reduce environmental impact;
  • the purchase and installation of a waste-water reduction management system;
  • the transition to automated, advanced manufacturing and/or robotic processing technology to enhance labour productivity.
“This funding to improve productivity and efficiency is an important step to ensuring food and beverage processors have the supports they need to stay competitive as they navigate the pandemic and grow for the future,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Today’s investment builds on previous CAP intakes and Ontario’s funding support to drive innovation in the province’s agri-food supply chain and continue to build our world-class agri-food industry.”

This funding builds on other supports extended to the province’s food processing and agri-food sector during COVID-19. Examples of recent initiatives include:
  • commitment of up to $3 million in additional funding under the Partnership to food and beverage processors to improve their operations, increase their competitive edge and adapt to challenges.
  • A more than $7 million investment to boost production and capacity in the meat processing sector under the Meat Processors Capacity Improvement Initiative.
  • A $2.25 million investment in provincially licensed meat processing plants to better protect employees and Ontario’s food supply under the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program.
  • A $22 million provincial investment to increase the adoption of technological innovations within the agri-food sector to enhance the health and safety of workers and improve the sector's efficiency and productivity through the Agri-Tech Innovation Program.
"Food and Beverage Ontario appreciates the timing of this announcement which follows closely behind two reports we recently released that also received support from our provincial and federal colleagues, said Chris Conway, CEO, Food and Beverage Ontario.

“We learned from the Study of Automation in the Ontario Food and Beverage Processing Sector and Technology Implementation Guide for the Ontario Food and Beverage Sector, that innovative technology does improve competitiveness for food and beverage processors. With this new funding it will be possible for businesses to make the necessary investments.”

Since June 2018, both the federal and provincial governments have committed over $100 million in cost-share support to more than 5,000 projects through the Partnership to help eligible Ontario farmers, processors, businesses and sector organizations innovate and grow. 
A difficult hurdle to anyone trying to qualify for a medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine
A difficult hurdle to anyone trying to qualify for a medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine
At this juncture, the temporary pandemic rules under the regulation to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) continue to be in place until January 1, 2022 for unpaid IDEL through the most recent extension of the “COVID-19 period” and paid Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Benefit until December 31, 2021.

Under the first, the constructive dismissal conundrum has been delayed for full consideration (again) until January 2, 2022. Meaning as of January 2, 2022 employees who were deemed to be on an IDEL no longer are, and, will have their temporary lay-off clock reset to January 2, 2022 when all of the regular rules regarding temporary layoffs under the ESA resume. In the interim employers are hopeful that either the Court of Appeal or the Ontario legislature will provide much needed clarification to assist with addressing the mixed decisions of our Superior Court judges and what may be a tremendous onslaught of constructive dismissal claims by non-unionized employees.
Given the pause placed on the foreboding possibility of a tsunami of constructive dismissal claims, the current significant issue in the minds of many Ontario employers is whether or not their employees qualify for a medical exemption to their mandatory vaccination policies and how to respond to such requests for accommodation on the basis of a disability or for a medical reason.

Thankfully what also might have resulted in a tsunami of requests for such accommodation has been avoided through the proactive publications of the Ontario Ministry of Health, the Human Rights Commission, and the applicable guidelines under the regulations.

These publications make it clear that medical exemptions will be rare and their clarity has dammed much of the potential difficulties relating to responding to such requests in response to workplace mandatory vaccination policies that employers are currently in the process of rolling out, or, have recently rolled out.

What is the test applicable for a medical exemption?
To be exempt from such a policy the employee must currently qualify for a medical exemption to being vaccinated by ANY of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Given there is more than one vaccine – it is highly unlikely and very rare that an employee will qualify for a medical exemption to each of the vaccines as they do not all have the same ingredients.

What is sufficient evidence to qualify?
First, only 1 of 3 categories of medical practitioners’ medical notes are acceptable in relation to providing medical documentation to support a medical exemption. Further, if the exemption is based on an allergic reaction, to qualify the employee must have had an expert consultation with a specialist and:
  • had a documented and evaluated allergy by an allergist/immunologist to the vaccine or an ingredient in it;
  • had a discussion with an allergist/immunologist on potential options for immunization with the same or alternative vaccine. Such an assessment is to be based on investigations/diagnosis, individualized risk-benefit analysis, and recommendations/options for immunization by the specialist;
  • the allergist/immunologist must determine that the employee is unable to receive any COVID-19 vaccine.

Second, the medical note must be based on current medical information available. Meaning that updated medical assessments and notes must be periodically undertaken and provided to the employer as the context and evidence on COVID-19 vaccines evolves and medical guidance is updated.

Third, clear medical documentation must expressly be connected to one or more COVID-19 vaccines. If the medical note addresses vaccines generally, that is insufficient. Meaning, for there to be an exemption, the medical note MUST satisfy clearly three requirements. These requirements are that it must:
  • indicate the clear medical reason why the individual cannot be fully vaccinated against COVID-19;
  • be based on clear medical documentation specifically addressing the current COVID-19 vaccinations themselves and not to any other vaccinations; and
  • cover an appropriate effective timeframe, including the time period that the employee is seeking access to an organization’s facilities or work functions.

Based on the most current medical information available, most individuals can at least be immunized with one of COVID-19 vaccines safely without a duty to accommodate under the Code/exception to employer’s workplace mandatory vaccination policies being triggered.

As such, employers who wish to maintain the protection from liability afforded to them under the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020, will need to ensure they are and keep up to date on current laws and public guidelines when responding to such requests an in applying their workplace policies.

About the Author: Sheryl L. Johnson is a partner with Sullivan Mahoney LLP and is a member of our Employment and Labour Law Group.
Celebrating Agriculture Week
Celebrating Agriculture Week
October 4, 2021

I want to take this opportunity during Agriculture Week to express my gratitude and
admiration for the work you do. Thank you for your unwavering dedication to our
communities by bringing high quality food to our tables.

The last year and a half have been challenging and I want to commend all the agri-food
heroes across our province who have continued to grow, raise, process and distribute
Ontario foods and have done incredible work keeping our food supply chain operating.

As Minister of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs and a farmer myself, I am proud to
support our sector by focusing on creating the opportunities that ensure rural
communities and agriculture businesses are competitive at home and abroad, and that
rural economies, of which agriculture is key, are respected and protected.

I believe that our sector should be proud of what we contribute to the province – not just
the great food that we produce, but to the hundreds of thousands of jobs we create and
the billions of dollars we contribute to the provincial economy.

Your dedication deserves our thanks every day, not just during Agriculture Week.
Please know that I am as passionate as you are about our sector and I will continue to
listen to your needs and concerns as we build on our successes together.


Lisa M. Thompson
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs


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