The frozen tundra of northern Alberta is the setting for a hot new idea that’s poised to foster innovation, create jobs, support livestock production and give young people an entrée to the business.
Do you want to help foster positive change for the animal agriculture and meat processing industries? And support your local economy? And create jobs? And provide opportunities for a younger generation to enter the business?
Of course you do. There’s no downside to that agenda.
This week’s conversation is with a man who’s developing a project is aimed at doing all of the above. Best of all, despite his academic credentials, what he’s developing doesn’t involve rocket science. Or brain surgery — just an innovative partnership between farmers, producers and processors and the resources of a local community college that’s thinking big and acting boldly about the future of its local economy and the job prospects of its students.
The man’s name is Paul Pelletier. He’s the Dean of Food Sciences at Portage College in St Paul, Alberta, Canada, which for anyone who’s visited the upper reaches of that prairie province, is located so far north even Canadians admit it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
Pelletier’s project is developing what’s being called the Food Sciences Training Centre and Business Incubator at Portage College, and he took some time out from enjoying the area’s below-zero temperatures last month to discuss the potential of his project with Contributing Editor Dan Murphy.
Q. Let’s start with a little background on northern Alberta. What’s it like there and what are the region’s economic drivers?
Pelletier: Well, we’re one of the few areas in Canada with virtually no unemployment. There are so few people here, relative to the size of the energy industries, that anyone who wants to work can get a job. But the regional economy is also based very strongly on agriculture, mainly cash crops, such as grain and soybeans, and cattle production.
Q. And farming and ranching was the basis of this “incubator” idea?
Pelletier: Yes. We have a lot of small farmers’ markets here in our area. They’re successful, but they’re very small, very local. We started to think, why not turn this kind of activity into an actual industry? That’s when the idea of creating a “regional brand” was first developed, a brand unique to northeast Alberta. At that time, an older school building in the area was about to be demolished, and so we floated the idea of turning the property into a food sciences and business development center.