SALMON ARM – A food hub in Salmon Arm will provide much-needed processing opportunities to producers in the Shuswap-Okanagan.
In mid-September, the BC Ministry of Agriculture announced $500,000 toward the creation of a food hub in the community.
“The province’s processing sector is seeing success all over BC and we are supporting farmers and food and beverage producers who want to take their products to the next level,” says BC Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham.
The idea for a food hub started two years ago with a feasibility study done by the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society. The study included consultation with local producers and processors to determine the need and demand for such a facility.
SAEDS economic development manager Lana Fitt says they are well aware gaps in the local food processing infrastructure are a barrier to new business development and expansion of existing food producers.
“The ability for them to access shared equipment and shared knowledge and shared space for that initial food production was definitely on our radar for some time before we proceeded with the food hub feasibility project,” she notes.
Salmon Arm mayor Alan Harrison says the facility fits nicely with the city’s efforts around food security.
“This is exactly one of the ingredients that you need in order to process local foods and be able to look after your own area,” Harrison says. “That’s our goal, to have that anchor, the food hub, and then have smaller producers be able to process their products and serve them locally.”
Jen Gamble was the consultant for the food hub’s subsequent business plan and is scheduled to be hired as the food hub’s executive director.
She says providing producers with the means to scale up production and build their businesses will certainly enhance local food security.
“It will allow people that, right now, are creating solutions for themselves that are maybe not the most convenient to adjust and hopefully have something that works very well for them,” she says.
Elderberry Grove owners Jed Wiebe and Louise Lecouffe currently process their syrup, juice and shrub – a beverage made with the syrup, apple cider vinegar and honey – in a small rented kitchen.
Wiebe says the current arrangement is working for now.
“If the scale of our production gets any bigger, it will be too small. And that’s the plan; we grow every year,” he says.
The recent announcement halted their plans to construct a commercial kitchen.
“This is a lot smarter economically and also for the environment: why make two facilities when one can be shared?” asks Wiebe. “If it opens next year, we want to at least try it out and see if it works for us.”
Fitt expects a wide variety of foods, beverages and value-added products to be processed at the facility.
“It’s definitely a multi-use facility so we’ve all kinds of ideas and opportunities coming from this,” she says. “It’s quite diverse in terms of what could be offered in the space.”
Selection of a site was expected in late October. Fitt says the site needs to have the potential to expand.
“We’re hopefully looking to grow the space and offer more services and more activities, more support programs in the space over time,” explains Fitt.
Business development services will be provided through local partnerships with the Salmon Arm Innovation Centre, Shuswap Launch-a-Preneur Program, Community Futures Shuswap and Okanagan College.
“We see that as being a key component of the food hub going forward. Not just the physical space and the equipment but actually the training and support to get that new product to market successfully,” notes Fitt. “Those partners we see as playing a very important role in providing that ongoing support service to businesses either as they’re launching or through growth phases.”
Once space is leased, Gamble will get to work on sourcing equipment, engaging and educating potential food hub users and the public, communicating with the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Interior Health Authority, and monitoring construction.
Gamble says the hub will serve the entire Columbia Shuswap Regional District as well as some neighbouring communities within the Okanagan.
“It’s such a great area for agriculture that it’s a really solid base to build on.”
The goal is to secure an anchor tenant that will ensure year-round operation of the facility to make it financially viable within a two-year timeframe.
“That anchor tenant will help secure and provide stability for the hub and smaller people coming in,” she adds.
Gamble doesn’t expect to have the capacity immediately to serve large dairies in the area but there are many small to medium producers and processors that could benefit from the food hub.
“People like that will hopefully be able to hop right in and make this a piece of their operation that facilitates the business functioning better and allows them to stay a little more local,” she says. “In the end, I think it will build a really strong network and community around our food system here in the Shuswap.”
This is the fifth food hub established in BC supported by the BC Food Hub Network and Ministry of Agriculture. There are operating food hubs in Vancouver, Surrey and Port Alberni. A food hub is scheduled to open soon in Quesnel. The Salmon Arm food hub is scheduled to open in 2021.