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Kootenay Food Hub, Growing Food Opportunities

Kootenay Food Hub, Growing Food Opportunities

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The BC food industry is very near and dear to our hearts, and supporting the evolving Food Hub culture is incredibly rewarding. An ongoing relationship with Creston-based Fields Forward led us to get involved in the launch of their project for the Kootenay Farms Regional Food Hub and Innovation Centre.

Our introduction to working in the Columbia basin was our involvement with a venture to reduce food waste by juicing culled cherries, and providing finished product to local and regional food banks. With fond childhood memories of Kootenay cherries, Farm Food Drink managing director, Greg McLaren, leapt at the opportunity of supporting, planning and developing a Kootenay Farms brand and marketing strategy for a line of juice products and a mobile juicing operation.

After the cherry project, Farm Food Drink had the opportunity to collaborate with other agri-food experts on a Columbia Basin Trust project to develop a food hub assessment and feasibility study for the Columbia Basin.   As expected, Creston was determined to be one of the critical and best placed locations for a hub in the Basin. The next steps were led by Fields Forward executive director Elizabeth Quinn, who started the planning process, applied for funding and began the initiative to launch a Creston-based food hub.

Jocelyn Carver, Chair of the Columbia Basin Trust, Elizabeth Quinn, Executive Director Fields Forward, and BC Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham at the Kootenay Farms Regional Food Hub grand opening in Oct 2021

Kootenay Food Hub & Innovation Centre

As we have showcased in a previous post about the BC Food Hub Network food hubs have unique characteristics dependent on the region, and what is being grown or processed. In one aspect, Kootenay Food Hub operates as a quasi co-packer where they can do first-step processing, like cleaning, dicing, cutting, and freezing. It gets produce retail-ready or food-service ready, quickly and in larger quantities. It’s not a new way to process carrots; it’s a way to get to more institutions and retail outlets.

It’s very practical, very targeted to the needs of this vibrant agri-food region. Located in the breadbasket of the Kootenays, there are many farms and orchards growing produce from the rich soils of the Creston Valley.   Food service, institutions, retail and farmer’s markets can all better and more easily enjoy the bounty from this distinct farming area. Farmers can add another sales channel and value-added product line and extend their selling season. It’s what farmers need, what processors need, and what B.C. needs.

The Kootenay Farm Food Hub also provides processors with equipment not previously available in the region. They’ve established a bottling line for liquid and viscous products like juice and jams. Jars or bottles get filled, labelled, capped, and lot-coded for traceability, then are put in boxes and on pallets.

 

The game changer for the Hub and their 10 clients is the availability of a colleague’s truck to facilitate product distribution outside of Creston. The Kootenay Meadows organic dairy regularly delivers their milk, and can now pick up other products at the food hub to distribute outside the valley. This has significantly increased sales opportunities for many processors.

Although the Hub has applied for CFIA certification (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), some producers are already certified and actively selling into Alberta. Some are CanadaGAP® certified (food safety for fruit and vegetable growers) enabling sales in large grocery retail like Save-On-Foods in Cranbrook. Other Hub clients sell into the Nelson area, and some sell from their farm stand and in the regional farmers’ markets. This food community is a vibrant, diverse group.

Food Hub Marketing Development

Farm Food Drink has enjoyed building relationships with businesses in the Columbia Valley, and is excited to see the Kootenay Food Hub come to life. Having been connected or involved with various aspects of the BC Food Hub Network, we’ve worked with several who have been conducting:

  • Feasibility studies
  • Business planning
  • Business model
  • Business financial models
  • Branding

Although we have contributed in multiple ways, such as market research, and supporting Kootenay Farms in the development of their own business plan, this local group was absolutely running the show and knew what they needed and what to plan.  We have been grateful to support where we can and to learn from them as we hope they learned from us.  We are excited to maintain and continue to grow our long-term relationship and are proud to see their developing success.

After providing some guidance to submit qualifications for the grant, Farm Food Drink was engaged to brand the food hub and has since developed a logo, brand/market materials and is completing a soon to launch website.  Exciting times for the Creston Valley!

“In a part of the province where population is small, and there are distribution issues, creating the Kootenay Food Hub just made economic sense,” explains McLaren. “We were thrilled to be able to help them with their brand development and messaging.”

The Result

With new high capacity, value added production and packaging faculties and equipment, a developing distribution program, and keen customers, the future looks very bright for the Kootenay Farm Hub. There are more farmers who want to try processing and create value-added products and many others are discovering the value add and distribution possibilities that enable them to grow their business.

“The initial impact of the Food Hub has been both exciting and encouraging,” exclaims Elizabeth Quinn. “The community has been tremendously supportive and it’s fun to see where we can go with this venture.”

Castlegar Chef – Instead of hand-filling small batch products in their own kitchen, Chef knows they can make a whole year’s worth of products in the hub facility.

Creston Seed Society – In a fenced in area outside the hub building, they are looking to put up a greenhouse as a teaching facility to offer workshops.

College of the Rockies – The college is considering how to use the hub to complement current programs and develop new opportunities.

Miscellaneous Group – A group who gleans produce from the valley has a refrigerated unit to store that food. But they need a place to store the unit, and then process all the food they pick up in the commercial kitchen – freeze dry, bottling, etc.

Final Words

It was such a delight to support the farmers and processors from Creston and further into the Columbia Basin. And, we look forward to other projects being considered in the region.

As passionate food business advocates, our values are reflected in our work and our respect for the clients we serve. To discover how you can grow your food business, contact us to start a conversation so we can learn where you want to go.

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