Local Journalism Initiative
Deep within an unassuming storage facility in Simcoe, millions of apples are having a slumber party. A few weeks ago, they were hanging off trees in Norfolk County and other Ontario farms. Now they’re sealed inside oxygen-deprived rooms, packed in giant bins and snoozing in a depressurized atmosphere. Lowering the temperature and cutting off oxygen to the fruit slows the release of ethylene gas and halts the ripening process. It’s a high-tech system that ensures Ontario apples can appear on grocery store shelves all year round, said Lisa Herrewynen, operations co-ordinator with the Norfolk Fruit Growers Association (NFGA). “If we’re doing our jobs right, that apple should be as fresh coming out of storage as it is coming off the truck,” Herrewynen said. Storing a million bushels of apples — about 40 million pounds — is just one service provided by the NFGA, a growers’ co-operative founded in 1906 that packs and distributes 12 per cent of all the apples commercially grown in Ontario, along with smaller quantities of pears, strawberries and blueberries. “We store it, we pack it, we sell it, we ship it,” Herrewynen said. “The growers look after growing the best apples and we look after all the business decisions.” At harvest time, the association’s loading docks are rarely quiet. Five NFGA member farms in Norfolk County — along with 25 other Ontario growers — supply a steady stream of fruit to the pack line, where each apple begins a winding journey that will see it scrutinized every which way by observers, both human and mechanical. Apples are notoriously thin-skinned, so they bob along water-filled conveyor belts to keep from knocking together and getting unsightly welts. Hardier varieties like Empires can move at a steady clip, while pricier fruit like Ambrosia and Honeycrisp glide at a stately pace. “You need to find a balance between peak efficiency and treating the apples as best you can,” Herrewynen said. Dozens of workers guide the apples on their way, helped by automatic sorters and robotic arms that gently place bagged and tagged fruit into storage crates. Inside a command centre overlooking the 50,000-square-foot pack line, an employee analyzes 20 images taken of each apple by a high-tech camera that can measure to the millimetre and detect the slightest defect. A different scanner shoots light through each apple in search of internal bruising or a watery core — which lessens the sweetness — while workers in masks and hairnets check for bruises, discoloration and rot. “There’s something to be said for the human eye to look and pick out things the computers miss,” Herrewynen said. Just before they’re packed, each apple is coated with food-safe wax for added protection against bruising during transit. “It makes it look nice on the shelves and gives it that little shine,” said Herrewynen. A typical day sees 750,000 apples run through the line, destined for major grocery chains in Ontario, as well as customers in Western Canada, the United States and Israel. Only the best apples make it to the store, but no fruit is wasted. Lower-grade apples are turned into applesauce, juice, cider, pie filling and apple chips, while others end up in Norfolk County’s signature apple cider doughnut, which are sold in the association’s retail store. “It’s still going to become something delicious,” Herrewynen said of each rejected apple. “You’re just not going to find it on the store shelves.” The smallest apples from the orchards are a popular addition to school nutrition programs locally and in the Greater Toronto Area. To limit waste even more, rotting fruit that can’t be processed is sold to livestock and hobby farmers for use as animal feed. Each bin of fruit gets a unique bar code when it arrives, meaning every apple can be tracked from the orchard to its final destination. That level of traceability helps with food safety and allows the association to tell farmers what varieties sell well, which could influence future planting decisions. Member farms also get advice from NFGA “scouts” who evaluate fruit while it’s still on the trees and advise farmers about managing pests and preventing disease. “That part of the program, with the scouts, allows us to make educated decisions about how we’re going to apply things in the field throughout the season. It’s an added set of eyes in the orchard for us,” said Casey Cleaver, whose family’s 130-acre Simcoe-area farm, Cleaver Orchards, has belonged to the association for over 100 years. Herrewynen said the association’s dedicated employees know the business from skin to seeds. That includes people like Karen Vidler, a quality control expert who has spent 43 years analyzing apples. Measuring firmness, starch content and ethylene level indicates the fruit’s ripeness and suitability for storage, which helps farmers choose what orchards to pick next. “It’s their decision in the end. They kind of trust that I know what I’m doing after all these years,” Vidler said with a smile. At the end of each season, NFGA staff crunch the numbers on how each variety sold and divides that year’s profits between the member farms. “Honestly, I don’t think we’d succeed without the association. It’s always been an integral part of our business,” Cleaver said. “While they manage the packing, the marketing and the shipping, we can really focus on producing good fruit.”J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
Doug Ford rebuffs calls to reopen retail shops at 25 per cent capacity in Toronto, Peel region – The Globe and Mail
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is rejecting a push from prominent retailers to reopen non-essential stores in Toronto and Peel, a day after they published an open letter urging the government to allow 25 per cent capacity in retail shops in lockdown regions.
Mr. Ford on Wednesday said he feels the pain of business owners who are forced to close until at least Dec. 20 during the lockdown, but said he is listening to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and others guiding his government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’d switch those things open in a heartbeat. But I can’t. I have to listen to the health experts,” Mr. Ford said during his daily press briefing at Queen’s Park.
“I’m a businessperson. I don’t want to close these down. But health trumps my personal belief.”
As part of the lockdown, big-box stores selling essential items – such as Costco and Walmart – are allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity, while other retail stores and small businesses cannot offer in-store shopping and are forced to sell items for delivery or curbside pickup only.
A coalition of nearly 50 retailers, including Canadian Tire, Indigo, Hudson’s Bay and others, this week called on the Ontario government to lift the COVID-19 restrictions that have shuttered stores just in time for the crucial holiday shopping season.
In an open letter released on Tuesday, the group said that the closing of retailers deemed non-essential in Peel Region, which includes Mississauga and Brampton, and in Toronto is “an ineffective policy” that puts retail businesses at risk of failure. The group called for Ontario to implement store capacity limits at 25 per cent of the building capacity for all retailers – not selective lockdowns with big-box stores open at 50 per cent capacity.
Signatories pushing for the changes said Wednesday they felt unfairly targeted by the government’s rules.
“[Retailers] feel undeservedly singled out as an initiative to stop the spread of COVID-19, when in fact the government’s own statistics indicate that retail is not a significant source of spread,” Leon’s Furniture Ltd. president and chief executive officer Edward Leon said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
David Bensadoun, CEO of the Aldo Group Inc., said the decision to keep non-essential stores shuttered would drive customers to American stores.
“Every time we do a lockdown of specialty stores, we’re hurting Canadian retail,” he said.
“Even though Canadian retailers have terrific online experiences, they cannot compete with the big American players for ad dollars, so when we shift consumers online, we’re largely shifting them to Amazon, Walmart and other American mega-players. I don’t envy Ford’s position, I don’t think it’s easy. But in this case I think he’s made a mistake, and the sooner he corrects it the better, because these are the biggest weeks of the year for shopping.”
Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music Inc., said by funnelling more people into fewer stores, “you actually cause longer waiting lines with chance for closer contact. … This could create higher health risk while doing devastating damage to hundreds of businesses.”
Mr. Ford acknowledged that keeping big-box stores open for in-store shopping is “not fair,” but said they are intended to be a one-stop shop for groceries and other essential items. However, those stores also sell non-essential goods such as clothing, toys and gifts.
Ryan Mallough, director of provincial affairs for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said small businesses are also calling for the government to present data that back up the need to keep independent retailers shuttered. His group has called for limited in-person and appointment-only shopping during the holiday season.
“If there’s any evidence that shopping at a busy big-box store with a couple hundred other people, even at 50 per cent capacity, is safer than at a small business with two or three other people, then show that data. Because right now that is one of the immensely frustrating things,” he said.
Ontario reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as well as 35 new deaths owing to the virus. Toronto and Peel account for more than half of the new infections, with 500 cases reported in Peel and 410 in Toronto. There were 196 new cases in York Region, north of Toronto, which is not in lockdown and still allows in-person shopping in malls and stores.
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Charity tree festooned with Dr. Strang's ties fetches $8K at auction – CBC.ca
As Nova Scotians get ready for Christmas, one anonymous person is celebrating with a tree like none other after winning it at auction for $8,250.
Instead of snowflakes or angels, this tree is adorned with ties from Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang.
Strang’s eclectic tie collection has been thrown into the spotlight during the province’s regular COVID-19 updates, which are streamed online. It was his wife’s idea to wear a different one every day.
“It became a part of the briefing, me wearing a different tie each time,” said Strang, who started receiving ties as gifts from people as he became a household name among Nova Scotians.
“I don’t think of myself as famous. In some ways, it’s kind of embarrassing. I just happen to be, because of my job, I’m the front face of this.”
‘Light bulb’ idea
A few months ago, Strang was at a book launch and ran into Starr Cunningham, president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.
Cunningham said she’s always trying to come up with ideas to decorate items for the charity’s big Festival of Trees fundraiser. That encounter led to what she called a “light bulb moment.”
“I thought, ‘Wow, what if we got those ties and got them on a tree?'” she said. “I just reached out to him on a whim and he replied immediately and said, ‘How many do you want?'”
Strang dug through his collection and found 22 ties, each with their own story. One was from Sawyer Burke, an 11-year-old from Hatchet Lake who has become Strang’s penpal.
“He was very excited that what he’s given to me, I was then giving forward to contribute to the fundraiser for broader contributions to mental health,” said Strang.
The tree, trimmed with ties and bottles of hand sanitizer, was placed on the auction block where Cunningham said it received an immediate response.
“We were amazed,” she said. “We were watching the bids all night, because the auction closed at 8:30 and it just kept growing and growing and growing.”
The final price tag was $8,250 — the highest price for any item in the auction.
A timely cause
Strang said the tree was the first direct request he’s received to support a charity, and he was particularly interested in the cause.
“As part of our pandemic response, we need to be paying attention to the mental health impact,” he said. “There’s significant increases around stress, anxiety, depression — particularly in young people.”
Cunningham said the money raised from the tree’s sale will be used to create grants for various programs. This year, the foundation has helped connect people to their families and clinicians during the pandemic through technology.
“Something as simple as a phone in their hand has helped them cope in the pandemic,” said Cunningham.
So far, she is tight-lipped about the tree’s anonymous buyer. But she said people will soon know who spent thousands on Strang’s ties.
“We’re not able to say at this point in time, but it will certainly be shared with the community very soon.”
Pfizer cuts COVID-19 vaccine delivery by half for 2020 due to supply chain issues – Global News
Pfizer has confirmed to Global News that it will be distributing half the amount of COVID-19 vaccines that it had originally proposed for 2020 due to supply chain issues.
In an emailed statement to Global News, the pharmaceutical company confirmed what was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, that it will be delivering up to 50 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020 worldwide, down from the 100 million doses previously promised.
“Based on current projections we expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021,” Pfizer said in a statement.
Pfizer said there are two reasons the number of doses expected has changed.
“For one, scaling up a vaccine at this pace is unprecedented, and we have made significant progress as we have moved forwards in the unknown,” the company said.
“Additionally, scale up of the raw material supply chain took longer than expected.”
Coronavirus: Canadian officials expect Pfizer vaccine ‘likely’ to arrive first
Pfizer also noted that results of its clinical trial were received later than expected.
The company said finished doses are currently being made at a “rapid pace.”
“We are confident in our ability to supply at a pace of approximately 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021,” Pfizer said.
Pfizer had adjusted its supply outlook in 2020 from 100 million to 50 million in November in publicly available statements, but had promised up to 100 million doses as late as September.
The vaccine has been found to be 95 per cent effective against COVID-19 in recent tests, and the United Kingdom became the first country to approve the vaccine on Wednesday.
Canada is set to receive up to four million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine between January and March 2021, and will finish its review of the vaccine “soon,” according to Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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