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The constant battle with cheese

Oddly enough, in the course of column-writing lately, this is the second story I have written about Cheese.
The first one was when Council decided that if a winery served cheese and crackers in its tasting rooms, it should be re-zoned as a restaurant. I can’t quite remember if that was exactly it, but it was an equally bone-headed non-issue issue that the previous Council would come up with on a regular basis.
Now, the new Council is torn on whether to put some dollars behind the development of artisinal cheese factories around the County. This has caused a division along the cheese line, which I assume is made from the kind of cheese that comes in a squeeze bottle.
I have to wonder:
“Two Problem-Cheese stories in one year?” Of course, we know what this means.
Cheese is the Devil.
Cheese seems to present problems in the County whenever it rears its ugly head.
Councillors are not alone in their wariness of cheese. Just ask any hamburger, and it will say: “We do not need extra cheese flavour!” (This marks the first time in my column that I have quoted a talking hamburger.)
Some of the councillors apparently go to JJ’s Texas Grill in Bloomfield and order the Quesadilla … “but hold the quesa, and just bring me the dilla.”
Or maybe they just have a problem with the Economic Development Officer, who helped set up an inter-county push to develop small cheese factories throughout the Quinte Region, which takes advantage of additional government funding. Some councillors think this is money ill-spent.
So let me take you back to 2001, when Ed Neuser and Rita Kaimans made a huge investment in a visionary dream to build a winery in Prince Edward County.
The (at the time) new EDO saw potential in this, and a way to generate a new kind of agricultural-based business in Prince Edward County. Many councillors at the time waved torches and pitchforks at this Fool’s Dream.
Of course we all know how this turned out: No-one was foolish enough to build a winery in the County; no employment was created in the growing, processing and retail aspects of the trade; and thousands of bottles of wine did not go pouring into the car trunks of locals and tourists.
Sorry, I know sarcasm doesn’t play out well in print, so let me state it another way:
Nine years after the Waupoos Winery Grand Opening, we have over 30 wineries in the County. We have become the darling of the Toronto travel writers, especially since the growing industry started to attract related restaurants and services.
Subsequent marketing efforts by the EDO, along with Taste the County, PE Chamber and other local groups, boosted the industry into Disneyland proportions.
Though there’s some local resentment toward all the fuss poured over the wineries, no-one can deny the winery boom has boosted the economy of the County.
But, of course, we now love wine. Or even a big jug of ‘alcool’ if necessary. It’s cheese we hate now.
So let me restate that case. If the County wants to grow businesses, why not grow along the lines of our agricultural heritage?
Here’s my guess.
When we think of ‘artisinal cheese’, we think: “Okay, here’s another big fancy business for big-money Toronto people to dance and sing about.”
I don’t think this, in itself, is a bad thing.
When we think ‘cheese’, we think ‘5th Town Cheese’, Petra Cooper’s super-hot, super-trendy spot in one of the County’s most obscure locations.
Make no mistake, this is a strong and growing business which has lit the same sort of spark as the Waupoos Winery down the road. It not only employs people in the ag. industry, but it is an amazing tourist draw.
I know this because, when I deliver Breakaway Magazine, I use all the backroads to avoid the tourist traffic. I passed six cars on Rock Crossroad! I repeat: Rock X-Road! I haven’t seen a squirrel or possum there for 15 years, but now it’s like the Don Valley!
This place has so much magical draw that people were lined up at the door before there was a door to line up at! They just stood in the open field and asked: “Excuse me, will the construction be done by noon? Cheese by 4 p.m.?”
But, while the focus is on this amazing monument to good marketing, let’s move our view over to something more mundane. Black River Cheese Factory.
No-one can accuse this place of being an upscale phenomenon, or an overnight hit. They built their reputation on a history of good cheese, good service, good County products packed into their retail space and, of course, that damned ice cream.
BR Cheese is my Number One outlet for Breakaway Magazine. They run through 500 copies a week, from May right through to September. The volume of customers is so intense in the summer months, none of the staff sees me come and go on my weekly Breakaway replenishment. They beat out the Ontario Tourism outlet at Atrium on the Bay in Toronto.
The point is: These two businesses (who also work hand-in-hand) are hotter than a pepper sprout. If I were a stock market investor, I’d jump in.
And the County should, too. Sure, we elected you to shave our budget, but don’t take it out on the cheese. (Perhaps a closer look at a quarry – which was purchased at a premium price and can’t be used without additional purchases for excavating and stone-crushing equipment – might fall under the microscope.)
Once again, we have an opportunity to return to our roots as an agri-based economy, and invite sustainable businesses, local employment and increased tourist dollars to every township in the County. It’s not even dependent on location, soil conditions and weather! In agriculture, you can’t get a sweeter deal than that!
There’s no need to be afraid of cheese. It doesn’t hide in your closet late at night, and jump out at you. (If it does, don’t eat it.)
To the councillors who think this is a dead end, I have this suggestion:
Go down to Black Creek (sorry, I’ve called it Black Creek since I was a fetus) and buy yourself a bag of curd. Stroll over to the ‘crick’ and just taste that sweet, salty cheese. Listen to the squeaking sound it makes on your teeth as you chew it. Try to close the bag and ‘save some for later’.
Then say to yourself: “Sure, me and the 175 people standing beside me love it, but I don’t think this has any potential as a growth industry. I think I’ll vote against it.”

Filed Under: Steve Campbell

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  1. Janet Davies says:

    I believe this is a short-sighted decision to kill an existing program with big potential (but no instant results) I fear the decision was made largely because it was the first budget request to which they could shout NOOOO!!!! That the request came from the EDO was icing on the cake for some who, rather unsubtly, let people know they were out to clip his wings.

  2. Doris Lane says:

    Kudos to council for sticking to their vote in December.
    Provincial grants comes from our Income tax base as well as the extra money to match the grant from the County Tax Base.
    As well as cutting back on staff which we need to do. The County has too much staff.
    Hope the council continues to stop as much spending as possible.

  3. Chris says:

    From Quinte News – Jan. 13 Council Meeting.

    “There was lobbying and a representative from partner Hastings County at yesterday’s meeting, but, Prince Edward Council is sticking with a decision to pull out of a business expansion program. In a tie vote recently, County Council said no to investing 47 thousand dollars in an “Invest in Cheese” program which would have led to a 93 thousand dollar provincial grant. The program allowed staff to be hired to attract specialty food producers to this part of Ontario. However, yesterday, the committee voted not to re-consider. Economic Officer Dan Taylor says he hasn’t given up on the program yet.
    Prince Edward is partnered with Hastings County and Lennox and Addington in the programs. Two staff members may be effected by the decision.”

  4. Richard Parks says:

    Steve: You have the same info available on The Ridge Road Pit that I do/did.
    I am amazed at how many people think council business
    is conducted in the dark when in fact, the information can be found on The County Website if you
    want to take the time to read it.
    I realize that throwing out loose numbers (ie.”i wouldn’t have paid him half that amount”) makes for a good story,
    however decisions need to be made on hard facts not gossip.

  5. Steve Campbell says:

    There’s a whole pile of good points being made here.
    Just to let everyone know … the column was sent to County Weekly News at the same time as County Live.
    I encourage you to present your cases, pro and con, as a Letter to the Editor by Tuesday deadline for the Thursday paper, when the column will appear there. I can take the heat.
    It’s going to be peculiar to have a column debunked in the same issue in which it appeared … the readers will think you’re all psychic!
    But it’s all about constructive debate, and this is certainly a good forum for that.

    Two Quick points: Lori Smith has a rather fresh approach, and I like her thinking a lot. Without the references to the previous writers, this would make an excellent Letter to the Editor, to get people thinking in a much more down-to-earth manner.

    To R. Parks: I have a hold on the Quarry column … I’m sure you have the inside info, but it goes against what my sources have told me, so I’ll check it further. Still, how many excavators do the County need? Can’t they shuttle their existing machines? I know they have them, and they’re under heavy demand, but surely there’s enough down time to park it at the quarry for a few days.
    I’d like a second $145,000 machine myself, but I have to ‘make do’.

  6. Gary Mooney says:

    Re Lori Smith’s comment, the County does not invest in new businesses. It invests money to attract new businesses to the County and assists owners in finding sources of external funding.

    My reference to investments that generate revenue was to distinguish between costs like snow clearing and costs like promotional activities that will attact businesses which will then generate economic activity and municipal taxes.

  7. Lori Smith says:

    I think Willem has hit the nail on it’s head – cheese is not the issue, how council spends our taxes is.

    re Gary’s statement that “…it is necessary to distinguish between expenditures that do not generate revenues and investments that will.”

    I have never thought that a municipal government should be in the business of investing in businesses, but rather to invest in the infrastructure that will encourage business and the people who are employed by those business to move into the area, thereby increasing the tax base. Maybe we should be focusing on reviewing impediments facing a new business moving here – high development fees, limited industrial zoned space, very high water & sewage taxes in town where a business can find an established work force, etc.

    What holds back business from locating in rural areas? rezoning? disruption of a rural community? lack of cellular and high speed digital communications? bad roads? lack of water? sewage disposal? noise bylaws? heritage restrictions? What attracts business? low taxes? municipal services such as water, sewage, garbage removal? educated workforce? apprenticeship programs? heritage district?

    Two large projects now underway; summer cottages on East Lake and the residential development/golf course in Wellington, both went through a laborious process before finally getting approved and still face resistance. Was that process better or worse, longer or shorter than in other similar communities? What can we learn from them?

    Remember “If you build it, they will come” ? Maybe we need to focus on building a better environment for business to come, by first building the businesses that are already here and trying to grow (Fields on West Lake is good example of bylaws holding back a business venture, with a proven track record).

    “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

  8. willem maas says:

    Mr. Mooney et al seem to have a real problem with cheese. It should be remembered that the council’s decision was not about cheese at all, but about the pernicious process that allows Federal and Provincial take credit for influxes of funds that load additional and non-negotiable costs on the rural communities, who do not have the tax base or the means to pay for this.
    All this issue is about is having Councillors do their job of oversight and questioning the validity and priority of proposals. To do that, any proposal, economic or otherwise must be measured on what it will accomplish, by when and how much it will cost the community and where it fits in the list of priorities. Let Council do the job they have been hired to do. Prematurely second guessing them is not helpful. As I said before, if cheese survives the kind of examination I have been talking about. – bring on the cheese but not before.

  9. John Thompson says:

    Counter points to Gary Mooney’s four.

    1. Council declined the grant money because it would have cost $46,000 plus admin expense to accept it and there was no discernable return from the Cheese ititiative to date. The supporters of the program defeated a more approptiate motion which would have deferred consideration to the budget process where this request would have needed to compete with other requests for available funds.

    2. The Council vote is final and does not need to be consistent with the Committe of the Whole vote. Otherwise, Council meetings and votes would not even be required.

    3. There would be no benefit to the dairy famers. All of the cows milk is produced under quota and marketed through Dairy Farmers of Ontario. It’s end market has no relevance to the farmer. The goat milk producers are not able to supply the current artisanal needs and no new producers have been starting up.
    4. I don’t see much incrased employment as we don’t see and increased supply of goat’s milk on the horizon. It would be better try and boost the supply side as who would want to start artisanal cheese production without a local supply of goat’s milk?

  10. Gary Mooney says:

    Re reducing expenditures, we need to agree on why this should be done.

    Much of the recent attention to Councy finances has been on the County’s debt, which has resulted from major capital projects relating to wastewater and water treatment — I think at least $40 million. This debt has NO effect on our taxes, because it will be paid off by user fees, not taxes — i.e. by monthly water and wastewater charges.

    In my view, there should be much more attention paid to the County’s internal operating (not capital) costs — i.e. day-to-day operations where the County has complete control over costs. These expenditures have been increasing at much more than the cost of living for many years.

    We should not be reducing expenditures on internal operating costs because of increases in capital debt. This debt is the responsibility of residents of Picton and Wellington only. It isn’t fair or reasonable to cut back on services for 100% of County residents because of costs allocated to 25% of the population. And any such savings can’t be used to pay user fees anyway.

    But we should focus in on internal operating costs and prioritize those costs based on where we get the most bang for the buck. And, in prioritizing, we should also take account of whether or not particular expenditures will generate offsetting revenues.

  11. Richard Parks says:

    Steve Campbell: Better do your homework on the
    Quarry. Surveys as to quantity and quality were done prior to purchase.It is a Sand and Rubble (stone) pit. You screen the sand to separate it from the stone.Ask the previous owner who he offered to sell the Quarry to at a price of $1 million dollars.Go to the source.Everyone knows his name !
    Sand was the major component in this quarry, for winter road sanding (10%rock salt and 90% sand) Crushers are rented by the tonne for yearly requirements, so crushing and screening costs are known. If the County bought screening and crushing equipment it would sit idle for most of the year .This is a 100-150 year investment. The county has frozen the raw cost of material for future generations by purchasing this pit .Aggregate costs will
    continue to rise and trucking sand from outside the County to our storage will become costly as fuel prices rise 10-20% a year. Delivery costs (from distant pits) are much more than the sand is worth, let alone the environmental
    issue of needlessly burning fossil fuels. I would like to know your long range alternative plan to purchasing this pit.The last several years there had been no real competitive bids for
    supplying winter sand by tender.

  12. Richard Parks says:

    Just a thought. If this initiative is so attractive and
    beneficial to dairy producers and cheese makers ( as I have been reading about) why don’t all the Stakeholders,ie.
    industry partners in the Quinte area pool their resources
    to find $43,000.00.
    I’m talking about the 200+ Dairy Producers in The Region,
    the several existing Cheese factories, 6 dairy goat and sheep farmers, truckers, retail stores, storage facilities,farm supply outlets etc.. I am sure the list would contain over 300
    such “investors”. At $150.00 each -problem solved. Ratepayers of the hook. Investors run their own show, and are involved at the very beginning, and can make their decision to further invest or not.
    Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?

  13. Doris Lane says:

    Thanks Steve for the Info on the Quarry. I read somewhere were one of the councillors had expressed a desire to sell some of the rock but you are correct we cannot use taxpayer money to go in competition with county business.
    Someone suggested that there was a move to get Dan Taylor. I do not think that this is so. I think we have to cut down on staff wherever possible and if some of the staff is on contract then we should do what we can to cancel those contracts when they are up. We have to save money anyway that we can. The debt has to be reduced.

  14. Steve Campbell says:

    Just a quick note on Doris Lane’s comment on the quarry issue, as I’m working on a column on that.

    First, the County overpaid for the quarry. Two County quarry owners have told me they turned it down at $1 million.

    Second, a quarry is a big pit of rock, and the County staff forgot that you need an excavator to turn the rock into big chunks of rock.

    Third: Big chunks of rock are useless in road work, so they also need a stone crusher (which hasn’t even hit the Council table yet) to turn the big chunks into gravel.

    To your point, The County can’t sell gravel to the public, or they will be going into direct competition with the half-dozen businesses in the County who have provided this service for years. Using taxpayer money to go into competition with other County corporations and drive them out of business is sort of a no-no, even by Council standards.

    This is a boondoggle of major proportions.

    Thanks for listening.
    Steve

  15. Chris Holder says:

    Regarding the Cheese issue, I beleive this is more about getting The EDO Dan Taylor than about the county spending the money on cheese.

  16. Doris Lane says:

    Did the County pour money into Petra Cooper’s cheese factory and into Ed and Reta Winnery. I think they both were organized and paid for by the owners.
    We also have many wonderful market gardeners. Did the County fund these busineses to start up?
    We could probably use a couple of more cheese industries and some market gardeners but does the taxpayer of the county need to be involved in their start up?
    There are grants available for start up industry.
    Let Council concern themselves with making the County function, fixing the infustructure to encourage business to come here. Making sure they do not allow industry that would be determental to the County to locate here.
    Sell some of the gravel that we might not need for another 20 years and get some money we need now. We need help to pay down the debt and help with the high interest rates on our loans. Every country in the world is facing the same problem but we have to start at the grass roots.

  17. Chris says:

    Mr. Mooney – Council did not turn down “free” money – there’s no such thing. This is money another level of government picked out of our back pockets!

  18. Gary Mooney says:

    Four things that I found surprising in the recent Council decision:

    1. The motion voted down by Council was to accept a grant of $93,000. Council turning down free money?? Well, it’s not exactly free, because it would be necessary to spend an equal amount of money to get the grant. Note: The County’s share of both grant and expenditure would have been 50% of the total.

    2. The motion at Council reversed an earlier decision by the Committee of the Whole (which includes all members of Council) to accept the grant. Why accept then reject?

    3. The Invest in Cheese initiative would benefit dairy farmers (cow/goat/sheep) in the area, who would have additional buyers for their milk. Why the lack of support for our agricultural base?

    4. The County wants to increase local employement. Doesn’t it make sense to look more favourably on expenditures that may increase jobs.

    It’s a good thing that Council is now more focused on total expenditures and the total tax levy — definitely confidence-building. But it is necessary to distinguish between expenditures that do not generate revenues and and investments that will.

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