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County Food Hub would bring community together at Sophiasburgh’s school

The County Food Hub steering committee co-chairs Mike Farrell (left) and Todd Foster presented the plan for a food-based community kitchen project at Sophiasburgh Central School Wednesday night at the Demorestville Town Hall.

Story and photo by Olivia Timm​​
​​Business owners, parents and community members met at the Demorestville Town Hall to learn more about a proposed food hub that, if successful, would keep Sophiasburgh Central School open for students and Prince Edward County at large.
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​​County Food Hub steering committee co-chairs Mike Farrell and Todd Foster updated the crowd on the project.
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​​”It is not at all just about saving the school – that is how it started, but it is something a lot bigger,” Farrell said. “It is going to be a shared-use commercial kitchen for rental and used by businesses and community groups … It is going to be a food incubator for agricultural operations, business support services for users, food education and cooking classes available to community members, and opportunities to incorporate food and culinary education activities for the students of Sophiasburgh Central School.”
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​​Farrell said the agriculture and food-based program would be an enriched opportunity – similar to French immersion and Venture programs in other schools.
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​​”Part of our goal here is to make this a magnet for new families who might be interested in the enhanced learning opportunities here for their children.”
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​​Another goal of the shared-use kitchen, according to Farrell, is to be a model for the province on how to strengthen rural education while keeping schools active.

​​Hastings-Prince Edward has the second highest food insecurity rate in the province, a concern Farrell says they want to tackle head-on.
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​​Sophiasburgh ward councillor Bill Roberts says the County is doing a good job at setting this example.
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​​”Just to the south of us, we have a very powerful country and they’re having some terrible and unprecedented problems working together,” he said. “That is exactly what is not happening here in the County.”
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​​Roberts read a message on behalf of Charles Pascal, former deputy minister of education, who sits on the food hub’s steering committee as the education advisor.
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​​”This County Hub concept and how it is developing is a superb example of diverse community partnerships coming together to support economic, social and education aspirations,” he wrote. “As a former deputy minister of education, I have always supported the importance of strengthening the relationship between our schools and communities. Let the County lead the way.”
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​​Local politicians have also been doing their part in representing the project at all levels of government.

Sophiasburgh school

MP Neil Ellis shared interest in alleviating food security in the riding, noting “it’s something we can solve as a community and projects like this can be a big boost.”
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​​Hastings-Prince Edward MPP Todd Smith says it is because of the spirit of Prince Edward County that this local school has the opportunity to stay open.
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​​”We were quite concerned as members of the official opposition at Queen’s Park when we heard that as many as 600 schools would be closing across the province as part of this process. Because of efforts like yours here in Prince Edward County, there’s only 300 that are closing,” he said. “If the communities hadn’t rallied around and tried to support keeping their school in their community then we probably would have had 600 close,” said Smith.

“So, it’s people like you that are stepping up to answer the call; to make sure that there is a really viable use for this school and this is a real interesting proposal that you have brought forward.”
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​​County mayor Robert Quaiff said he attended the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference on the weekend, and was given four delegations.
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​​”Our focus was specifically on the school closures, affordable housing and Pinecrest School and the possibility of having affordable housing for seniors there.”
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​​He said the minister of infrastructure and the minister of education were both up-to-speed on the County Food Hub project, and told the group that they have been well-represented and will continue to be well-represented.
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​​”We will do our best to try and get this to be a success.”
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​​Even before the project is up and running, there is interest from groups in Napanee, Belleville and Waupoos – which is why the co-chairmen decided to change the name of the project from the Sophiasburgh Opportunity to the County Food Hub Project – to encompass everybody.
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​​The group also hopes the hub is a magnet for other innovative ideas around the community to make use of the incubation space. Groups like Pyramid Ferments, who experience a lack of food preparation and incubation space, have indicated they would find the hub useful.
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​​The group got a reprieve from the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board for this school year. The K-Grade 8 school was to be closed following last year’s accommodation review process.
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​​”Students in Sophiasburgh are enjoying that for this year, but we have until April 30 to source capital and transitional funding, establish a governance structure and develop a sustainable business model around this exciting hub concept and we will do this,” Farrell said.

Phase 1 of the project is projected to cost about $905,000. If that cost is met, and the project is approved, the group hopes to begin construction in June once students are finished school and be up and running by January 2019.

The co-chairs said their business plan will be on their Facebook page once it is complete.

The group is working with BelCon Design Builders Inc. to come up with a site plan, which includes adding a second entrance to the school to enter the hub. Foster said the southwest wing of the school is where the hub will be located, and will replace 124 student spaces – bringing Sophiasburgh school back to school board standards of the students-to-space ratio limit.

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    Mike –

    Thanks for the info. If I am understanding it correctly the one time capital improvement cost is the $905,000 mentioned in the article – which you hope will come from the municipality and province. Would this be a 50-50 split? I’m still unclear as to where the municipality will get the money to do this(given the other community projects needing money (i.e -Picton Town Hall). If there are any cost over-runs (which is likely) – where does that money come from? Who will run this facility on a year round basis and at what cost? If the Bd. of Ed wants the space back for educational purposes – what is the process and who pays for that conversion?

    At the end of the day, the school was built to accommodate the education of children – how will the remaining children be impacted by sharing the building with a commercial kitchen, a business incubation unit, a training kitchen, a food storage and distribution centre etc..? The reason the Board of Ed was faced with the decision they had to make was due to the lack of children attending this school- resulting in less funding. Now it appears that more tax dollars are going into it for an alternative use. If so, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Will the Bd. of Ed./taxpayers make a return of their investment that they have already placed in this building? What is the long term plan for funding this operation? The $40K per year, you mentioned won’t come close to funding it.

    Thank you for asking me to contribute to the cause, but like many taxpayers and citizens, I have already donated to the education system for many years – you are just starting. I have taken part in everything from helping with fund fairs to coaching teams, lobbying government to protect the public education system, plus paying taxes for the last 50 years – it all counts towards supporting our school system. Perhaps once the dollar figures and the intent of this initiative becomes clearer, I might be more open to making a contribution – but not now.

    Peace – Dennis

  2. Theresa Lennon says:

    This project is a fantastic use of space, and I applaud the determination and enthusiasm that is making it happen, keeping a school open and gaining momentum.

    I hope the kitchen will be available for individuals or small collectives to rent once or twice and not exclusively a commercial venture contract space.

  3. Dennis,

    These are one time capital improvement costs to transform 5400 sg feet into a shared commercial kitchen, business incubation unit, teaching and service training kitchen, food storage and distribution centre.

    All ongoing costs will be handled via our business plan which is driven by rental of shared commercial kitchen and training facility, long term rental of business incubation units, food security group funding. We’re already near signing in >$40,000 per annum as we speak from longer term arrangements.

    Capital improvement funding is in process from municipal and provincial grants we are applying for, private donors, philanthropic organizations and a soon to be released go-fund-me page.
    Feel free to contribute in any way you can.

    peace and respect – mike

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    It is stated within the article that an amount of $905,000 is required for the first phase of this project. Is this a one time cost or an ongoing yearly cost? Obviously neither our school board nor municipality has this kind of money for such a venture – where will it come from and is it sustainable?

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