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Community celebrates partnership, innovation and keeping a school open

Prince Edward County Food Hub committee members and supporters with partners from the Hastings Prince Edward District Board of Education, County staff and councillors pose for a photograph celebrating the new five-year lease at Sophiasburgh Central School. Sue Capon photo

A community’s vision, innovation and partnerships were celebrated Thursday morning on the front steps of an elementary school destined for closure.

A five-year lease is now in place between the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board and the County Food Hub for use of the west wing at Sophiasburgh Central School – keeping its doors open and its students learning in their own community.

The partnership was set in motion following an accommodation review of some of the County’s schools last spring where Sophiasburgh’s facility was facing closure, along with Queen Elizabeth Public School in Picton.

Community members with a vision to create a County Food Hub in 5,800 square feet of surplus space (five classrooms and storage area) led to the creation of a food-based hub which will contribute to the school’s ongoing costs of operation and allow it to stay open, serving approximately 130 students in JK to Grade 8.

Hastings Prince Edward District School Board Chair Lucille Kyle said trustees are optimistic and excited to see the partnership come together.

“We are here today to celebrate an idea, a vision,” she said. “One that can truly inspire a community of children to say ‘remember when?’ One that can open their eyes to a whole new world of business where foodies gather and collaborate; one that could open up our students’ senses to the aroma of foods and for those potential chefs sitting in seats who could create entrees at home and one that would inspire the entrepreneur to be courageous, and to dream big.”

Kyle congratulated all who invested time and resources and said she hopes the province will see the venture “as a true example of a community hub.”

Following an agreement last summer with the school board, the food hub’s steering committee had been given eight months to come up with a plan and $800,000 in funding supporting the venture.

The County Food Hub reached its milestone goal in late August, showing confirmed funding of $856,329.88 – of which, 78 per cent was sourced directly from the area through individual donations, private philanthropic organizations and businesses.

The County Food Hub is to be available to small-scale start up food operations, caterers, food trucks, restaurants, the local agricultural community, entrepreneurs and not-for-profit food security organizations.

Services are to include shared use of a commercial kitchen for rent, or use by businesses and community groups; a food incubator for agricultural operations; business support services for users; food education and cooking classes for community members, and students.

With the goal of stopping the closure of the school last spring, Mike Farrell and Todd Foster first appeared united in the project’s idea, at school board accommodation review hearings. Soon, other community members joined to form a steering committee – including Charles Pascal, a professor, and former deputy minister of education in Ontario – and the idea grew from a Sophiasburgh project, to a vision for foodies across the County and beyond.

“It’s about the community of Sophiasburgh and the County of Prince Edward as a whole,” said Foster during Thursday’s celebration, noting many involved started the process as strangers, and became good friends.

“There’s an old cliche that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This school has a long history of the community being a very big part of it… cub scouts, girl guides, on the ball fields in the evenings, summer camps, 4H… This school wasn’t just a school. So when this concept of a community hub came up it was easy to grasp – this isn’t something new in Sophiasburgh, it’s something old being made new again.”

“It’s a really potent symbol for what can happen when we all pull together to a goal that is practical, and innovative,” said Farrell, thanking all involved for making it come to fruition.

“It’s been a very big learning process… and is now a really great partnership,” he said, thanking the board and trustees “who really rallied the cause when it looked dark.”

He said he talks a lot about cultural alchemy – the interesting mix between people who come together.

“This is a really vibrant represention of that,” he said. “I see people that are semi-newcomers, really newcomers like myself and heritage families that have been here and that really represents all the constitutes not just Sophiasburgh, but the County, and eventually, the Bay of Quinte the have supported this idea… The new and the old – there’s always a little bit of friction but it usually creates something good and moves things forward.”

The County, he said, stepped up early with support and continued assistance through the Community Development Department with Neil Carbone and Todd Davis.

“We had a pretty heavy schedule. Every week our steering committee met and Todd was there helping us organize and helping us identify potential grants, potential pitfalls.. and we are forever indebted.”

Farrell also thanked Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff specifically for his “dogged determination from the start to support us.”

Quaiff, in turn, also thanked all contributors to the project.

“Good things grow in Ontario when you work together… We worked well together and what an accomplishment! Thank you to the trustees, staff, council and the community… This is really exciting for me to see what can happen when people work collaboratively together. I remember at the start that I may not have been the nicest voice at that school meeting that night, but it comes with the passion of being the mayor and saying ‘you’re not closing our school’.

“You all worked so hard to get this to become a reality,” he said, also offering special thanks to Davis who “worked day-in and day-out to save this school.”

Quaiff spoke of working with his wife Susan Quaiff Wednesday to clean out the HUB Child and Family Centre’s materials at Queen Elizabeth School.

“Walking through that school brought a lot of memories, too. And hint, nod, wink, when that surplus building comes up, I think County council should be taking a look at that for other purposes we could use it for.”

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    The only negative comments made were from the guy speaking on behalf of The Hub. The questions asked were pretty straight forward and should have been easily responded to. If this isn’t the forum to ask questions and to discuss the news articles posted, then what is the purpose of having this news site and a write-in section? Makes me appreciate what the trustees had to deal with.

  2. snowman says:

    Just can’t believe the negativity that has crept into this
    forum. You guys could find fault with just about anything and everything.
    This is a great initiative, broadly supported, why not just accept that and move on?
    If you have questions, why not pick up the phone and call somebody involved?

  3. Emily says:

    Well, a well learned School Trustee was certainly questioning the viability.

  4. ADJ says:

    Sincerely hope this thing works…still do not get the purpose of it but hey, when you work with donations everything looks rosy the first year in. I wonder if this group will be all smiles, waves and thumbs up a year from now.I didn’t think the Dennis Fox questions #4 +#5 were answered honestly..too vague.Just too many if’s, and’s and but’s for me to get all hyper about it. I’m surprised the County councillors were not anxious to drill down for more solid evidence before cutting a cheque.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    Just to clarify my position…

    By asking the kind of questions I asked earlier, I was hoping to gain some insight into how the $800K raised for the “Hub” was going to help with the declining enrolment situation at Sophiasburgh PS. I was hoping my questions would assist me and the community to understand this operation a little more clearly. From the responses given, I doubt that The Hub has been planned for this purpose.

    What needs to be remembered is that over 60% of Ontario taxpayers no longer have children in the school system – without a doubt that number is higher here in the County. According to Stats. Can. our population is dropping and our community is aging, so if this Hub initiative results in a few tough questions to be asked and answered, then that should neither surprise nor offend anyone. From Mike Farrell’s comments, I gather that Trustee Inch also asked some tough questions – and isn’t that his job?

    So I will repeat my original question from my previous comment… Is there a long term plan or hope for Sophiasburgh PS in this brave new world?

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    Mike Farrell –

    As far as I know and from what I have read on this site, no one has made any kind of disparaging comments about you, or about The Hubb. In fact, people have congratulated the efforts of all involved, and wished THe Hub success. Yet you have referred to anyone who has asked questions or commented on the Hub as the “County Live Five” who have asked questions in a “curmudgeonly fashion.” Then you proceed to comment about how this information was available to the public by a wide number of media sources – at best it may have been disbursed over a long period of time, by a wide variety of sources – making it next to impossible for the general public to follow. If you really believe that the public have been hanging on every word about this Hub, and following this issue daily, then you are mistaken.

    I don’t know Mr. Inch, but I have heard positive things about him and how he has worked hard for PEC and for the students and taxpayers. You claim that he didn’t support the efforts for The Hub and as a result, are encouraging people in the southern part of PEC to support someone else because of this. You need to remember that Mr. Inch is a trustee to administer first to the needs of the students and to the education system. Perhaps he might have felt that The Hub could become a drain and a distraction to the system and to the education of students – wich it still could be.

    Dennis Fox

  7. Chuck says:

    Not speaking to the value and hard work but all those grant’s be it Federal,Provincial or Municipal are taxpayers dollars.

  8. Rob says:

    Mike, at one time there was some talk of the County opening a library branch in that building. Is this still a consideration?

  9. Mike Farrell says:

    One last point.

    Dennis Fox, you mention that acknowledgement and thanks should go to local PEC school Trustees Jennifer Cobb and Dwayne Inch. You are 50% correct.

    Our admiration and thanks to Trustee Cobb (representing PEC North) has been ongoing and present in a variety of letters and acknowledgements across various media and events over the course of our developing project and, specifically, this past week of great achievement. Jennifer Cobb has been a great advocate for the students and parents of PEC North, including those in Sophiasburgh and we thank her deeply for this.

    Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Trustee Inch who was NOT an early, nor an ongoing, supporter of the County Food Hub concept and actually advocated for the closing of Sophiasburgh Central School and the consolidation of its students to PECI from the outset.

    That said, I was happy to see that Trustee Inch eventually voted in favour of a 4 month extension for our group to hit our financial viability milestone back in April of this year so, perhaps, our community’s passion for this practical and innovative response to our imminent school closing has started to strike a chord there.

    It is important to note that Inch is being contested by Alison Kelly in the upcoming municipal election to represent PEC South as part of the HPEDSB Board of Trustees. I urge residents within that southern jurisdiction of the County to look long and hard at the record of the current Trustee there as well as the platform and promises of Alison Kelly as they prepare to vote in the upcoming municipal election. Trustees matter and they carry a lot of power in our communities. None should ever get a pass.

    Peace and respect – mike

  10. Mike Farrell says:

    Greetings to the “County Live Five” and all others interested in the County Food Hub!

    Mike Farrell here again from The County Food Hub.

    Most of what you’re asking here in the comments, in typically curmudgeonly fashion, has been covered widely in various news stories and interviews, features on County FM and Ontario Morning, at public town halls and in depositions to the HPEDSB and PEC Council.

    I’m happy to address each of your points in one place to allay any concerns and satisfy your understandable curiosity about this remarkable story of community involvement and civic engagement.

    1/ This $800K – is it a one time payment – and who receives it? How much of this amount came from either the municipal or provincial governments?

    > In the past 9 months our group, Prince Edward County Food Hub Inc. (a federally incorporated NFP now),has managed to raise $856,000+. ~$740,000 of this goes towards our first planned phases of capital improvements in the ~5,400 square foot space we are leasing from the School Board. Another ~$100,000 prudently goes towards covering our first year operational expenses.

    >22% of this money raised has come from governmental grants (no loans) and this is all on the public record. $90,000 from the Rural Economic Development grants program managed by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), $25,000 from the federally run Prince Edward County, Lennox and Addington Community Futures Development Corporation and, finally and importantly, $75,000 from Prince Edward County as part of their annual Community Grants Program.

    >The remaining 78% has been raised from our local community members, businesses and philanthropic organizations in the form of cash donations and support-in-kind. We are SO grateful for this support and we look forward to honouring these contributions publicly shortly.

    > As per our Board-approved and PEC-vetted business plan these funds are what we need to get the County Food Hub ready to serve our community and to position ourselves to run our business plan in our Phase 1 of operations. As needs increase and/or new needs arise we will move into our next phase of operations.

    2/ The “official Hub Board” is appointed or elected by who and who are they accountable to?
    3/ Is the President’s position an elected one and by who?

    > As a federally incorporated not-for-profit we are obliged to follow standard governance protocols. We are working with one of the region’s foremost governance advisors to establish our Board, cement our by-laws and move to invite the community and users of the County Food Hub to become members of our organization.

    >We are currently working within an “acting” Board member framework with many members of our volunteer Steering Committee happily evolving o become volunteer Directors and Executives of our formal Board. We will be convening our first Board meeting and appointing, through recorded vote, our official Board Executive, including President / Chair, and Directors. Official minutes have been, and will continue to be, kept for ALL meetings.

    >Ultimately we will be accountable to our members and will hold an Annual General Meeting that covers finance state, tactical and strategic performance, updated net new expenses needed / desired to fulfill our mission /vision and the growing needs of our community and users. We are also very cognizant that we are accountable to the community, users and tenants that we serve as well as the School Board that we lease from in partnership. We gladly accept the faith the community has put in our group and we will always strive to do nothing less than exceed all expectations and keep our NFP business viable now and into the future.

    4/ Who will run the day to day operation of this Hub and is it a paid position – if so how much is that person paid?
    5/ Will the Hub require paid employees?

    > Our hard-working group of volunteer supporters and our volunteer Board will be managing the capital improvements process as well as developing our user base, sourcing and selecting incubation hub tenants, defining our 5 year strategic plan and the like in the immediate term. There is LOTS to do right now.
    >We will, of course, be needing a very tightly controlled paid staff to manage day-to-day operations and we expect that this initial position will be in the form of one highly active “general manager” or “executive director”. We currently have around 25% of our operational budget dedicated to to this and will expand this budget only when we can fund it internally and/or we can source private, provincial or federal funding opportunities to support.

    6/ If the school population requires more space within the five year lease period, how does this impact on the Hubb and on the school?

    >Part and parcel of our plan is to maintain and, ideally, expand school population. Simply by keeping our vibrant K-8 school open in the region we are anticipating that more young families will consider moving here and enrol their children. There are also many young families already established here that have children in line to join the student base. There is currently room within the new and reduced operational school space to accommodate dozens and dozens of new students and, should we encounter an even more pronounced need for students that will be a problem I’m sure the Board and administration will be happy to address with professionalism and with the safety and quality education needs of our students firmly in mind.

    7/ How will the Hub conduct its business during school hours, without being disruptive to the education environment?

    >The County Food Hub will be operating as a separate private NFP within the school. Code accessed safety fire doors will separate our wing of the school from the rest of the active student population and our wing will also have separate user and vendor access entrances.
    > That said, a key part of our mission and vision is to work with the Board, school administration and the teachers of Sophiasburgh Central to identify a variety of exciting enhanced learning opportunities around agri-food knowledge, nutrition, food cultivation and preparation and entrepreneurial inspiration.
    >We look forward to integrating deeply into the student life of the school all the while making sure that this is controlled and safe via deft planning and scheduling of official access. This is exactly the type of “disruption” we’d like to be a part of.

    8/ How much will the groups using the Hub have to pay? Will the taxpayers be asked to help fund this new operation – or is it self-sufficient?

    >Our model is self-sufficient and fairly simple to understand. The health-certified commercial grade kitchen will be offered for our planned user base (everyone from individuals that just want to up their own production of food for personal use to those value-added food producers interested in amping up production to accommodate farm stand, farm market and local grocer needs right up to and food truck / catering businesses that need a home base for regular or episodic food prep) to rent on a scheduled daily basis. The rate is planned to be in line with day rates offered in similar professional grade kitchens within the region and will be slightly below this. The current introductory rate is ~$200 for a full day rental.
    >We will also offer storage for user gear /equipment /food stuffs in the form of lockers and dry / cold /frozen storage that can be rented at a very reasonable weekly or monthly rate.

    >Our incubation spaces (currently two ~1000 square foot, high load bearing spaces with pallet-ready access for delivery and distribution) will be leased to carefully selected value-added food businesses that are established but need a professional grade home base, and an evolving set of business expansion tools and resources we are eager to establish with partners, to expand their operations.

    > We are also happy to have a letter of intent in place with the good people at Food To Share who will be leasing space in our facility as their home base and operating their dearly needed food security mission from here.

    > We are also planning to rent out our space for use as a teaching kitchen, a nutritional education outreach centre and as a food prep and food safety accreditation location. We are sure new food-based revenue stream opportunities will continue to present themselves.

    > Finally, it’s important to note here that our group is leasing the wing of the school from the HPEDSB. Our annual lease rate covers, almost to the dime, exactly what the annual operating costs for the school are. This is a practical and innovative response to a well researched community/regional need for food prep and food business support AND one that, so very happily, allows our students to learn in place here in the rural community of Sophiasburgh while enhancing their overall educational experience in a wide variety of exciting ways.

    There will be plenty of opportunities for community members here in the County and the Bay of Quinte to use our facility and to get involved with our organization and we look forward to meeting with you all in the future as we work together to chart an interesting and efficient new path for the future of rural education here in the region and in Ontario.

    With respect – mike

    Mike Farrell
    Prince Edward County Food Hub (County Food Hub)

  11. ADJ says:

    I think there are people who don’t know exactly how this “Hub” is to operate. Is it a food bank of sorts? Is it a teaching school on how to prepare meals? What does the term Food Hub mean? I’ve read what has been published in the papers etc. and I still don’t understand. How does it pay it’s way? Nice to think it could operate on donations but that soon runs out.The public gets weary of the constant request for donations etc. I question whether the County should be involved at all…look at the millions spent over the years on the Regent theatre, Rex-Plex(PEFAC), Roc centre, and some new groups just formed this year who have and will continue to come to County Council for a grant, but really it’s tax payer money that is an out and out gift. County needs to tighten the purse strings considering the debt we are accumulating not to mention the interest on borrowed money.
    All this new proposed low rental housing is great. If it’s for the senior on a fixed income and the basic minimum wage earner will they contribute much to the overall tax base or will the build and maintaining be carried by the County? This type of information is usually skipped over and a more glossy pictorial is pitched to the public. I will side with Dennis on this one…his questions are valid.

  12. Gary says:

    Excellent questions. We really haven’t been told costs and the impact if any on County ratepayers.

  13. Dennis Fox says:

    I too would like to thank those who have worked so hard to make this happen – it is an unique opportunity for sure. I believe our trustees Cobb and Inch should receive a little more recognition,considering at one time 6 out of the 8 County schools were threatened with closure. They must have done a great job in protecting and in selling the value of our schools – and also in supporting The Hub.

    The practical side of me has to ask a few questions…

    1/ This $800K – is it a one time payment – and who receives it? How much of this amount came from either the municipal or provincial governments?

    2/ The “official Hub Board” is appointed or elected by who and who are they accountable to?

    3/ Is the President’s position an elected one and by who?

    4/ Who will run the day to day operation of this Hub and is it a paid position – if so how much is that person paid?

    5/ Will the Hub require paid employees?

    6/ If the school population requires more space within the five year lease period, how does this impact on the Hubb and on the school?

    7/ How will the Hub conduct its business during school hours, without being disruptive to the education environment?

    8/ How much will the groups using the Hub have to pay? Will the taxpayers be asked to help fund this new operation – or is it self-sufficient?

    The reason for my questions is to bring into light the financial reality that is needed to make this venture work and to succeed – money will be needed to run this place and where will it come from? We (residents and taxpayers) haven’t been told that yet.

    As sad as it is, this new venture (The Hub) has come about due to a lack of children in our neighbourhood. If it is the intent of The Hub to buy Sophiasburgh some time for more children to appear,then great – but The Hub in itself won’t make this happen and it is not the solution to this problem. In fact, it will be interesting over the next few years, to see how the Hub impacts on student enrollment of Sophiasburgh PS. Is there a long term plan or hope for Sophiasburgh PS in this brave new world?

    Personally, I hope The Hub succeeds, but I do not want nor expect to see tax dollars used to support it. I am happy to pay my taxes to support our schools, but not to support a private business venture occupying school space – space that has already been paid for by the taxpayers.

  14. Mike Farrell says:

    Thanks to all who have supported us throughout this great exercise in civic and community engagement. The future is now.

    Big thanks to Hastings & Prince Edward District School Board – all Trustees with special nods to Trustees Jennifer Cobb and Lucille Kyle and the administration including, of course, Mandy Savery-Whiteway, Nick Pfeiffer and Kim Horrigan – for their spirit of openness and partnership.

    Special unending thanks to Mayor Robert Quaiff and the entire Prince Edward County Council for believing in and supporting this initiative in almost every way imaginable.

    Councillor Bill Roberts (Sophiasburgh) must be singled out for complete devotion to, and guidance for, this project from its inception to this great occasion and beyond. A true friend of our organization. Thanks as well to Councillor Kevin Gale (also Sophiasburgh) for his support and context / contacts.

    Certainly, our message of special thanks would not be complete without offering Dr. Charles Pascal full honours for his voluminous educational and governmental experience – a privilege to have you on our Board Charles now and into the future.

    Thanks to MPP Todd Smith for his support of the project from our infancy – right there with us at our town halls in Sophiasburgh.

    Sophiasburgh Central School Principal Robert McFadden must also be thanked for his active engagement and help. The teachers of the school should also be applauded for working hard and amazingly with our County’s future leaders even while the cloud of uncertainty was over the school.

    And then there’s those of us who were dancing in the dragon’s jaws… This starts with our parent and community members who were part of our ARC Committee “back in the day” Jennifer Lynn, Jennifer Byford and Clay Byford. And then the dream team we have assembled as our Steering Committee – Todd Foster, Albert Ponzo Christine Winiarz Searle, Bill Roberts, Todd Davis (really, our QB in many, many plays), Neil Carbone, Paula Teixeira-Leite, Kelly Purves, Melissa Tran, Dr. Charles Pascal and, new to the team and so very welcome, Sacha Squair. Many of these fine people will be BACK for more as we assemble our official Board.

    Finally – and most importantly – we thank the people, businesses, governmental groups and philanthropic organizations of Prince Edward County and Bay of Quinte for….EVERYTHING. Your interest, enthusiasm and support (of all kinds) have made this project possible. Simple as that. With great pride and humility we accept the faith you have put in our group and our vision for the future and we will do nothing less than try to exceed your expectations.

    With deep respect, and on behalf of our Steering Committee and our Board,

    Mike Farrell
    Prince Edward County Food Hub (County Food Hub)

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