Honora Bay permaculture operation receives Premier’s Award for innovation

Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute Executive Director Justin Tilson is presented the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence by Sudbury MPP and Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.

SUDBURY—The Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute has been making plenty of ripples on the sustainable local food front on Manitoulin Island over the past couple of years, and now those ripples are starting to build momentum into a tsunami of accomplishment. On December 1, that impact was officially recognized by the province with a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation during a ceremony in Sudbury.

The Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates agri-food producers, processors and organizations who are helping create jobs, boost our economy, strengthen our communities and support a sustainable environment through their innovative ideas and projects.

“I am pleased to be part of today’s celebrations and to have the honour of meeting the innovative recipients of the 2017 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence,” said Sudbury MPP Glen Thibeault as he presented the awards to Northeastern Ontario recipients. “These individuals, and many others throughout the North, are helping Ontario’s agri-food sector thrive with initiatives that not only benefit their businesses but also grow our northern economy.”

“Year after year, these awards showcase outstanding individuals across the province whose innovative ideas are helping grow Ontario’s agri-food sector for today and tomorrow,” said Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal in a release announcing the awards. “I’d like to congratulate this year’s recipients and thank them for their commitment to strengthening Ontario’s world-class agri-food sector and positioning our province for continued economic growth.”

“It is incredibly energizing and affirming,” said Mr. Tilson when contacted by The Expositor on Monday.

The award came as a bit of a surprise for the NOPRI team. “I thought it was a bit of a long shot when I applied,” admitted Mr. Tilson, “so I wasn’t anticipating anything. When I got the word, it came as a surprise.”

The award’s citation notes that “The Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute (NOPRI) is on a mission to supply fresh, nutritious produce to northern communities year-round. To achieve this goal, the not-for-profit organization designed a solar-powered, four-season greenhouse made with recycled materials like “styrocrete”—a blend of concrete and Styrofoam diverted from landfills. This would enhance local production of fresh food throughout all seasons – a benefit to food security, the environment and the promotion of healthier lifestyles. NOPRI has future plans to build multiple micro-greenhouses on Manitoulin Island, allowing local producers to grow crops and raise fish in a controlled environment. The low-cost structures are scalable, helping create food hubs with increased availability of local food in northern communities.”

The award comes with more than just some nice words on a fancy certificate. NOPRI is depositing a nice $5,000 cheque that will help go a long way toward furthering their mission.

“It will pay for the engineering plans for our next prototype,” Mr. Tilson said.

That prototype will be a 960 square-foot greenhouse, location yet to be finalized. The 48 by 20 foot greenhouse will take the NOPRI all-season local food concept to the next level. “That’s the goal,” said Mr. Tilson. “We are still working on the control system.”

Another bonus of the award was the interest generated the NOPRI work has generated with the energy minister and his office. “It was a good networking opportunity,” agreed Mr. Tilson. “We will hopefully see something good come out of that.”

The award money will also be used to revamp the NOPRI manufacturing facility’s electrical system.

The Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute joins a number of Manitoulin businesses and organizations that have received Premier Awards in this category, including two for Manitoulin’s Mike Meeker for his work in aquaculture, Manitoulin Streams, Burt Farms and the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association.

Since 2007, the Premier’s Award program has received more than 1,700 nominations, with $4.25 million distributed to 525 award-winning innovators. Ontario’s agri-food sector supports more than 800,000 jobs and contributes more than $37 billion towards the province’s gross domestic product.

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