The Comox Valley is on its way to establishing one of three pilot co-operative food hubs in the province with help from the B.C. Co-operative Association (BCCA).
According to Rick Juliusson, who is a consultant for the association’s Local Food Hub Co-op project, the hope is that food hub co-ops in the Cowichan Valley, Comox Valley and Kootenays will inspire other food producing communities to develop their own.
“Also, we’ll have shown them how it’s done,” he added, after a community dialogue meeting Thursday in Courtenay. “Right now, I’m finishing a feasibility study in the Cowichan Valley and that’s going to form the basis of the work we do here. So, all the background stuff — research on models in other places, some financial models — will already be done.
“So now, here locally, we fill in the local details; who are the major purchasers here, what are the unique characteristics here, so it’s still going to be their own plan, but a lot of that background research is done.”
Juliusson met with Comox Valley farmers last Thursday to discuss the idea of a food hub co-op, whether one is needed for the Valley, ideas for how it could work and potential pros and cons.
According to the BCCA website, many new consumer food co-ops are cropping up around B.C., but this pilot project focuses on addressing the challenges small-scale farmers face. The project is based on the U.S. model of food hubs, which look at not only supply, marketing and distribution, but also “consumer and producer education and support for community food security initiatives.”
Comox Valley farmer Arzeena Hamir, who owns Amara Farm, is interested in creating a food hub co-op here. She joined forces with Ripple Farm this year, creating Merville Organics, and together the two farms supply over 40 clients with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes. Clients sign up at the beginning of the year and receive a weekly box of fresh produce during the growing season.
Hamir sells her produce at the Comox Valley Farmers Market, too, but she says she would have extra if she only sold there because, “There’s a ceiling in the Comox Valley as to how many people purchase at the market.”
On the flip side, she says she doesn’t have enough product to supply grocery stores or institutions by herself, or even with Ripple Farm via Merville Organics.
“They need a consistent supply over a long period of time,” explains Hamir. “And for each of us, maybe we can only supply one day, but together, we could all do year-round kind of thing.”
Hamir says Comox Valley farmers need some more infrastructure, and a centralized cold storage they could share is one idea that came up at the meeting. Another idea was to have one person who works as a liaison between farmers and local grocers and restaurant owners to increase local food supply.
“We’ve come up with some ideas that are easy, that we could probably start implementing tomorrow,” she says, noting many farmers don’t really like group work, preferring instead to focus on growing produce on their farms.
“So, there has to be something easy, something that’s not going to cost us very much time or energy or money, and then everybody’s on board.”
Juliusson will compile the list of ideas and e-mail the attendees to see who is interested in forming a working group for the project. Once a working group is formed it would start on some of the most popular ideas that came out of the meeting.
For information about the Food Hub Co-op project, visit www.bcca.coop/foodhub.