A plan to save Harvest Algoma from the brink of closure is back on the table, but only if city council agrees Monday to float part of the funding shortfall the program has been experiencing for years and eventually transform it into a self-sufficient entity.
The Harvest Algoma program was put in place by United Way of Sault Ste. Marie in 2018 to help address food insecurity in the city, but required a change in operator to continue into the future.
“If we can’t find someone in the very near future, yes, we will be closing the building. We just can’t afford to run it,” said David Gearing, president of the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie & Algoma District board of directors, in an August interview with SooToday.
Earlier this year, the United Way went to community partners for support, eventually ending up with a potential partnership with the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), a division of Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC).
That partnership fell through last month when SSMIC executive director Peter Bruijns penned a letter saying his organization would not move forward with the plan because not enough community partners would sign on with financial support.
“We needed this thing to get on a path where it could at least break even down the road and I didn’t see that happening at all,” Bruijns said at the time.
A new plan will be presented to Sault Ste. Marie City Council on Monday in which SSMIC would acquire the assets, staffing and operating mandate of the Harvest Algoma program from the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie, including purchasing the building.
Contributing partners under the plan would include community partner agencies, government funders, the private sector, Algoma District Social Services Administration Board and Sault Ste. Marie and District Social Services Administration Board.
Under RAIN and SSMIC, Harvest Algoma would grow from its current skeleton crew of two full-time employees to creating 13 new jobs. It also plans to develop the social enterprise aspect of the plan by launching at least five distinct food products in local retail outlets and online platforms.
That plan will require city councillors to vote in favour of a three-year commitment totalling $180,000, or $60,000 per year, to support the transformation of Harvest Algoma from a charitable program to an eventual social enterprise. If approved, that funding would be pulled from the city’s Community Development Fund, which holds a current value of $1,190,340.
”This allocation of funds will allow Harvest Algoma/SSMIC to continue to provide an avenue to address food insecurity in Sault Ste. Marie and grow opportunities in the future,” said Rick Van Staveren, the city’s director of Economic Development, in a report to council.
If approved, SSMIC is expected to complete the takeover of Harvest Algoma on Oct. 3.