The Comox Valley Regional District board has approved a $576,340 grant application to the Agriculture Ministry to establish a Rural Community Food Hub project at the Merville Hall.
The vote was not unanimous.
Area B director Arzeena Hamir said a presentation at committee of the whole Nov. 17 by Comox Valley Economic Development Society executive director John Watson was unclear, and did not involve the LUSH Valley Food Action Society and other organizations in the application process.
“It saddens me they were not included,” Hamir said at the Nov. 24 CVRD board meeting.
If funding goes ahead, she fears the needs expressed by LUSH for a food aggregation hub won’t be met.
“It will be highly unlikely that another grant will come to this community for a food hub.”
During Watson’s presentation, Hamir was under the impression the application did not exceed $500,000. Since it exceeds that amount, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certification is required.
“Quite frankly, I was a little bit in shock at the poor quality of the presentation. I had no idea how much money I was approving, and for what exactly.”
Area C director Edwin Grieve said the district should be grateful for any grant money received. He noted that LUSH executive director Maurita Prato has met with representatives from CVEDS and the Comox Valley Farmers Institute. While the needs of LUSH are more along the distribution side, Grieve said the producers are more oriented to preparation and primary processing.
“I would say don’t turn your back on this, we need to support it,” Grieve said. “It’s saddening for me to see there’s a campaign out there to nip this thing in the bud, when in actuality it’s going to benefit everybody. It may not be perfect, but it could move this whole thing forward, and make better food security available for the Comox Valley and beyond.”
Area A director Daniel Arbour agreed with Grieve’s comments.
“I think it’s going to take more than one project to attain our ambitions around food security, and increasing farmland and viability in the Valley,” he said.
Besides Hamir, Courtenay director Wendy Morin — a member of the CV Food Policy Council — opposed the application. Along with LUSH, Morin said the council received feedback from the Mid-Island Farmers Institute, which represents numerous small scale producers not in favour of the proposal. She noted another pending application for $978,301 — submitted to the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program — will address commercial kitchen upgrades at the Merville Hall. However, she would liked to have seen research about food hubs that are more pertinent to the diverse needs of the community, and that employed the expertise of the Food Policy Council.
Morin is also concerned about mixed use at the Merville Hall. She also notes the district has many existing buildings that could be explored as potential food hub sites.
Along with Grieve and Arbour, Comox directors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift, and Courtenay directors Will Cole-Hamilton, Melanie McCollum and Doug Hillian support the grant application.