Saskatoon meals cluster selling mentorship will get new identify

Blair Knippel speaks as the new name, Prairie Food Link, for their agri-food networking group is revealed at Innovation Place on the U of S campus on Dec. 14, 2022. (Libby Giesbrecht/650 CKOM)

After its previous name proved too long to be viable, an agri-food networking group shared its new title at an event at the University of Saskatchewan on Wednesday.

Prairie Food Link, as it is now called, has been gathering people in the food industry together since the beginning of the pandemic — online at first, mostly, with in-person gatherings now at the end of each month.

Blair Knippel, co-chair of the steering committee putting on the gathering, said the group is all about connecting food businesses with academics and government agencies that support food and agri-food together in one place.

“Together there is a greater opportunity for us to grow Saskatchewan, to grow the economy, to provide an inclusive environment for businesses to engage with people and the ecosystem,” Knippel said.

He believes the future is food and there is power in bringing together a like-minded cluster of food-knowledgeable people interconnected with those seeking support and mentorship in the industry.

Through networking events and a membership directory, Prairie Food Link is working to create a bigger and broader Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Canada.

“It goes beyond just having a bit of spirits and a bit of celebration at the end of a month,” Knippel said.

He described it as a new entrepreneur having the ability to connect his idea for a food business with a company CEO or facility operator who can answer many of the questions the new entrepreneur might have with their own lived experience and success.

The group is meant to play an important role, Knippel said, as Canada works to cement its position and define itself in relation to food in a global role. Knippel said urgent opportunities are facing the country today with relation to issues like global food security, and a shift is taking place in how food is going to be produced.

While Canada and prairie provinces might want to be shippers of food out now — which is good for farmers — Knippel said the greater opportunity lies in farmers selling their goods to local producers.

“Those macro decisions about where big companies are placing their investments are being made today,” Knippel explained, noting the impact will span decades.

Prairie Food Link is Saskatoon-based but working to interconnect the city and Saskatchewan as a province.

In video messages during the event, Agriculture Minister David Marit, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark spoke proudly of the initiative and expressed their regrets at not being able to attend in person.

“There is going to be a race for food security, there is a race in the indigenous communities towards food sovereignty and if we can create a Canadian solution for this global opportunity, then we can have economic growth, best land utilization, interweave economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, all as part of this new gold rush,” Knippel said.

“The more cohesive our brand is, the bigger and better the opportunity will be to create economic returns and jobs and include indigenous people in the future.”

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