Relief is on the way for Vancouver Island farmers caught out by the closure of restaurants and other organizations that usually buy their product.
A rapid relief fund administered by the Victoria Foundation will help the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRfair) establish what‚Äôs currently known as the South Island FoodHub at 808 Viewfield Road in Victoria.
‚ÄúThese startup funds will allow us to set up the infrastructure and systems required to sell your produce through a summer home delivery service and at the same time, to develop new marketing avenues through the wholesale distribution of local produce,‚ÄĚ says Susan Tychie, a consultant with the organization who‚Äôs leading the project alongside Lauren Searle.
An initial meeting with farmers at the end of March drew a positive response. Tychie says 97% of local produce is sold direct to the buyers, with some farms deriving 40% of their sales from local restaurants, which provincial health orders shut down in March.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre hoping this will take some of the pressure off them, and we‚Äôll be able to sell it for them,‚ÄĚ says Tychie. ‚ÄúIt will make a big difference for them, and their farm businesses, to have those sales completed and going through.‚ÄĚ
Tychie said the initial focus will be developing relationships with wholesalers, then starting up a box program June 1 as production ramps up.
‚ÄúThis might be a way for them to diversify their sales into a new market, a wholesale market,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúWhile we did receive the rapid relief funding to assist farmers, we‚Äôre also planning on this being a long-term market for them so we can grow more local produce in the region and be more food secure.‚ÄĚ
The funds for the food hub are part of a $200,000 grant to the Mustard Seed, which has a long history in food recovery. It operates a food bank and operates a community kitchen. The relief funding will also help it maintain health protocols and purchase personal protective equipment.
The relief fund was established March 21 by the Victoria Foundation and local business organizations, to quickly raise and disburse funds to assist programs and operations hit hard by COVID-19. A total of $5.3 million has been collected to date, and $3.5 million in grants announced.
Many of the 54 recipients are involved in providing access to food. Besides the Mustard Seed, the Food Share Network, Cowichan Green Community and Victoria Community Food Hub Society received grants.