Northumberland Innovating on Immigrants and Agri-food

In Northumberland County, the self-proclaimed “Near East” of Ontario, lots is happening on the immigration and agri-food front.  And much of the action is related to Ontario Agri-food Venture Centre, a brand new food-processing centre in Cobourg.  This agri-food incubator with cooking, chilling, freezing, and storage capacity occupies 15,000 square feet of space near HIghway 401.


This blog posts highlights the “Around the World through Cuisine and Food” program which is funded through the province’s Innovative Immigration Initiatives Fund.  But there’s more, including a business mentoring program just getting underway, a newcomer business loan program offered through the Northumberland CFDC, and a June 29-30 tour for persons who would like to know about agricultural opportunities in Northumberland County.  As noted on the Northumberland County website:


DinDin Villarino, Business Immigration & Portal Coordinator, Economic Development & Tourism, Northumberland County, Cobourg, Ontario offers this invitation

“We would like to introduce newcomers to the farming culture and tradition in the County in the hope that, if opportunities exist, they may want to invest and start their business in our community.  We also welcome settlement and immigration practitioners who have clientele that might be interested in this venture.”

Now back to the FOOD.  Around the World through Cuisine and Food is a unique, new program that supports the integration of newcomers and encourages cultural understanding in the Northumberland area.  The program has five objectives:

  1. Promote Northumberland and surrounding regions as an ideal destination for newcomers through its innovative social program for newcomers
  2. Promote locally produced products and encourage the benefits of local food production
  3. Promote the role of a local food processing facility in community prosperity and agricultural vitalization
  4. Encourage immigrant entrepreneurial activities
  5. Provide language skill development and social inclusion activities through a food-based program

dindin  According to program coordinator DinDin Villarino, the idea for the program arose from the interests of an immigrant women’s group that was meeting monthly in Cobourg.  The most popular group meetings were those that revolved around food, with various participants serving as “featured chefs” who showcased dishes from their regions and countries of origin.  At these  sessions, the social engagement was particularly lively and relaxed.

An anthropologist by training, DinDin started thinking about food as a common denominator among cultures.  She wondered if they might be able to offer more structured programming for newcomers that incorporated a focus on food.  In the back of her mind was also a successful immigrant-led catering enterprise she had heard of in Calgary called Ethnicity Catering, and she saw this model of social enterprise as a potential long-term goal for the Northumberland group.

“With the construction of the new Ontario Agri-food Venture Centre in 2015 and the announcement of a new funding stream from the Province of Ontario, the timing was right for this new initiative. The program kicks off in June, and the 8 training modules have been designed. The modules use food preparation as a vehicle for improving the English skills of participants as well as connecting them to community knowledge around agriculture and food-based business opportunities. Among other topics, the modules cover starting a business, budgeting, marketing, and local and ethnic crops. Safe food handling training is given to everyone using the new Centre.”

The goal is to have 25 participants, and the program is open to newcomers and immigrants from surrounding communities of Durham, Belleville, and Peterborough.


The project is truly a community effort.  It is supported by several community partners, including New Canadians Centre Cobourg, Community Employment Resource Partnership of Northumberland, Northumberland Central East Chamber of Commerce, and Newcomer Bulletin magazine which offered full page ads in several issues.  The Business Advisory Centre of Northumberland is assisting with the business start up piece, and the Community Training and Development Centre developed the modules based on the project goals.

Dindin Vallarino - Coburg Crew

To join this program, or for further information, please contact DinDin Villarino, Business Immigration & Portal Coordinator, Economic Development & Tourism, Northumberland County, Cobourg, ON.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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