CORNWALL, Ontario – Over 200 attendees to the Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference came to Cornwall to learn about local food trends, agri-tourism, the role of municipalities in agricultural economic development and more.
Running from Wednesday, Nov. 13 to Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Nav Centre, the event was organized by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) through a partnership between the City of Cornwall and the United Counties of SD&G. Kat Rendek of Cornwall’s Economic Development department was a driving force behind the coordination that helped make the event a success.
The first day of the conference saw guests have the opportunity to tour agricultural and local food sites throughout the City, the United Counties, and Akwesasne.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who established Peace by Chocolate with his family after they migrated to Antigonish, NS.
Hadhad explained how his life came to be because of his parents love for chocolate. His father owned a chocolate shop in Damascus, Syria, and on the day his father met his mother, he gave her a box of chocolate. Inside the box was a note that read, “I am not making chocolate, I am making happiness.” Hadhad’s mother fell in love with his father’s passion.
“I was born because of a box of chocolate,” Hadhad said.
He explained how more important than profit, more important than the product sold by a business was its purpose for doing so.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Hadhad said to the gathered audience of entrepreneurs.
Hadhad’s family business in Syria prospered and grew until the Syrian Civil War came in 2011. In 2013, their factory in Damascus was bombed and destroyed, his family fled to Lebanon, and after applying to the Canadian Embassy, Hadhad and his family were granted permission to emigrate to Canada.
“We did not come here to take. We came here to contribute,” Hadhad said. “The war didn’t kill our purpose, our talents, and skills. We are trying with every piece of chocolate to reflect the culture we brought to Canada.”
Peace by Chocolate currently employees 55 people. They are a national supplier to the Sobey’s grocery store chain, they are getting ready to expand into the United States and their product has even been to space thanks to Andrew Feustel, an astronaut with a Cornwall connection.
Hadhad encouraged the entrepreneurs present to do what they could to keep their supply chains as local as possible.
“Success for one local business, is a success for all,” he said. “We want to keep the circle of our economy going together.”
On the evening of Nov. 14, Hadhad was invited to give a kitchen table talk to the Cornwall community on his personal history, entrepreneurship and being a new Canadian by Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement.