London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund: The Western Fair Association Partner Spotlight

  The London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund has been created in partnership with Club House for Chefs and McCormick Canada, the Middlesex London Food Policy Council, Pillar Nonprofit Network, rTraction, Tourism London and the Western Fair District. The fund awards eligible, independent restaurant operators with grants of $1,000 to support their businesses to open or remain open through the difficult times caused by COVID-19. 

For this interview, we were lucky to speak with Mike Fish who is the food and beverage general manager at the Western Fair Association. The Western Fair Association is, first and foremost, an Agricultural Society. It’s a not-for-profit business whose membership is made up of community partners and industry leaders. Their mandate is to push the best interest of the agriculture sector. Their mission is all about creating experiences centred around agriculture with a focus on education and empowerment. The Western Fair Association has been up and running since confederation and has seen many changes. However, what has remained at the heart of the organization is their urge to support the agricultural industry and the community with events and education. It’s been a long-standing staple within the city and county for several years.

The Western Fair Association is commonly known for its fair. Their fair happens every year, and it’s a significant showcasing of agriculture and commodities while giving the community a country harvest fair feel within the middle of the city. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg for this organization! They’re also known for their owned and operated shows. They have one of Ontario’s largest indoor farm shows that happen in March. This event showcases seminars and activities for farmers, suppliers and other agricultural partners. In addition, they run a large scale food service where they provide catering. They also have a top of the fair restaurant that overlooks their racing track and several other food and beverage outlets. They support agriculture through food and beverage. The newest intuitive that the Western Fair’s pursuing is The Grove. The Grove is an agri-food, agri-tech incubator that intends to help smaller businesses launch themself into that agricultural arena. Overall The Grove aims to aid the next generation of agricultural entrepreneurs, educators and leaders. 

When asked why the Western Fair Association wanted to contribute to this fund, Mike explained that this was an easy decision. Mike comes from a long history of working in restaurants and has previously owned and operated his own. Through these experiences, he understands the struggle many restauranteurs and entrepreneurs face right now and how every dime and minute counts. At this moment especially, restaurants can benefit from any monetary support they can receive going though COVID-19, whether it be for keeping staff employed, infrastructure upgrades or personal protection equipment. Many restaurants are well known for supporting the community in immense ways, whether it be giving out gift certificates for events or free meals and just taking care of the community. The Western Fair Association simply knew the importance of aiding these entrepreneurs, which urged them to participate in this fund. 

Within the interview, Mike then explains that the supply chain may not be as strong as we hoped within local procurement all over Canada. To make a more resilient food system, his most significant suggestion is to support local agriculture and movement. For example, instead of purchasing onions that have been shipped across the globe, buy onions grown withing SouthWestern Ontario. The resiliency will come from having this experience and getting through COVID-19 together. It’ll show many entrepreneurs how to survive and teach them lessons within financial responsibility. With that being said, we need to shift the focus to local food security like neighbourhood gardens and teaching people how to grow food and eat clean.

In addition to this restaurant fund, the Western Fair Association is aiding the community in getting through this pandemic with various other areas. The Western Fair Association is always open to having conversations surrounding the food system with national industry leaders to support the Middlesex-London community further. They’re trying to keep engaged with their partners. When the pandemic first hit, they donated food to many food banks and organizations they partner with.

On an individual level, to support our local restaurants, Mike says the best way is to order takeout!  When ordering from these restaurants, try to order directly rather than using third-party distributors. At the very least, you can support local restaurants by calling them and letting them know you’re thinking about them at this time. It’s time for the community to come together. People go to restaurants for special moments and a change from the daily grind of their line. We need to remember the value of restaurants while knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As a community, we’ll get through this!

The London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund has already awarded grants to thirty-three restaurants and is continuing to look for local enterprises to step up and support the fund. To apply to this fund or to make a contribution, please visit lmrsf.ca.

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