Food tourism co-ordinator keeping it local
By Chad Ingram
Published Dec. 24, 2018
Haliburton County’s food tourism co-ordinator is preaching the power of keeping it local as she goes about creating a food supply chain in the county that pairs producers with purveyors.
Lila Sweet was recently hired to the position, which at this point is a three-month contract, and which the county is hoping to extend through attaining more grant funding.
“I also see myself as a stakeholder, and I have gone ahead and laid down, or tried to lay down, some infrastructure that will hopefully continue beyond my term,” says Sweet, who runs a catering business.
That infrastructure is human infrastructure, and Sweet has been trying to establish connections between local food producers and businesses, as well as educating stakeholders about the benefits and popularity of local food and culinary tourism.
In recent years, food tourism has exploded in Ontario, and many travelling consumers relish the experience of locally produced food, unique to the areas they are visiting.
“They are educated foodies,” Sweet says, noting that a third of all tourism dollars are spent on food. “We have what they are looking for. We have the real deal up here. There are incredible producers.”
Sweet has created a business-to-business Facebook page “that allows direct conversation and collaboration and education,” she says. “One of the projects is to encourage collaboration in the off-season.”
Sweet has also organized a series of events, featuring food and music, designed to bring stakeholders in the culinary industry together.
“I have some events that are really community-building events, it’s all about making connections,” she says.
Sweet has also been working to achieve some consistency around the way local food experiences are offered.
“In order to have the county appear more as a whole, I’m looking at linking up different offerings from different areas, and giving tourists a more holistic experience,” she says.
Sweet has also been encouraging more collaboration by and cross promotion of businesses.
“There is a bit of an air of competition, that’s been identified as one of our challenges up here, and it’s my belief that that’s because, generally, with the seasonality . . . people are on the edge,” she says.
“The timing is right now for the conversation,” she says, of the stakeholder network she is trying to create.
Sweet has been conducting a survey of local culinary businesses through in-person interviews regarding the extension of the shoulder season, and the creation of a labour pool, “so there’s a platform where employers and employees can reach out to one another for needs.”
She uses the example of herself as a caterer. Perhaps she is doing an event where she requires 20 people to help serve. The creation of a labour pool could help address such needs.
Sweet has other ideas too, such as the creation of public food gardens within the county’s communities, where vegetables and herbs could be grown, and picked by anyone passing by.
“I want kids to walk by every day and see the different stages of growth,” she says, explaining that such gardens can come with a coloured signage system – red for not ready, yellow for almost ready, and green for ready to pick.
Sweet has a few more events planned for January. On Jan. 17 at Abbey Retreat she will host an event featuring a local, pop-up food provider, live music and the screening of a TED talk on vegetable tourism. That event is from 5 to 7 p.m.
On Monday, Jan. 28, there will be a chef/producer meet and greet and beer-tasting at Rhubarb in Carnarvon, that event also from 5 to 7 p.m. Sweet is also working on a tourism event for this winter’s Frost Fest.