Since its creation in 2005, Ontario’s Greenbelt has become a renowned example of how to protect natural and rural environments in a rapidly urbanizing world. To foster the vitality of more than 725,000 hectares of green space (nearly 50 per cent of which is farmland) surrounding the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation financially supports projects that directly benefit the Greenbelt and surrounding areas. “Our role at the Foundation is to help the Greenbelt thrive as a flourishing countryside of productive farms and vibrant rural communities, a source of clean water and air, and pristine habitat for wildlife,” explains program director Shelley Petrie.

One of the not-for-profit organizations newest collaborations is with the Greenbelt Farmers' Markets Network. Together they are making micro-grants available to individual farmers so they can develop new products and buy equipment such as hoop houses, dehydrators, pie ovens and bag stitchers. "Micro-grants are a great way to fund innovation with little financial risk to us or the farmer, who also puts in money," explains Petrie. “This low-­risk scenario helps farm businesses innovate. It is also means as funders, we can assist a larger number of farm businesses.” In 2012, the Foundation donated $44,000 in micro-­grants to 68 farmers.

With their $1,000 grant, the farmers behind Bee’s Universe purchased a mobile trailer with a pump that enables them to bring their fresh specialty honeys (and other honey products) to eight farmers’ markets in the GTA. Their apiary is located within 90 kilometres of Toronto and Innisfil, Ontario.

P&H Organics used their grant to construct a hoop house (a semi-­circular tunnel made of polyethylene) to produce vegetables for year-round farmers’ markets. They also produce hazelnuts and a variety of fruits and herbs on their 80-­hectare farm, northeast of Port Hope, Ontario.

A micro-­grant helped Red Pocket Farm to cover a portion of the cost for a row cover, which protects against flea beetles. The small buisness, located in Toronto’s Downsview Park, produces a selection of Chinese vegetables that are typically hard to find at farmer's markets and conventional supermarkets. Their bounty includes bok choy, gai lan, choy sum, edamame beans, napa cabbage, eggplants, yard long beans and chrysanthemum greens.

“Food and farming are some of the leading contributors to our local economy, with a $35-­billion annual impact,” says Petrie. “Investing in farmers contributes to a thriving industry and related jobs and revenues for rural communities.

”By creating new market opportunities, micro-­grant recipients such as Bee’s Universe, P&H Organics and Red Pocket Farm can expand their presence in their local food systems. Their contributions to increasing product diversity at farmers’ markets also helps to attract more consumers. “Farmers’ markets are the choice for shoppers wanting to buy local food,” says Petrie. “Micro-­grants can play a role in strengthening the 100-­plus market destinations around the Greenbelt.”

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