You are currently viewing Gulf Island Food Security – Planning for Thetis Island

Gulf Island Food Security – Planning for Thetis Island

Table of Contents

Among breathtaking beauty and a close-knit community, small island dwellers face the complex puzzle of building and sustaining food security solutions. The Thetis Island Food Cooperative is taking charge of this pressing issue by developing a Cooperative model to build viable farming and food options to support seniors, the local economy, and job creation on their island.

Leading the charge on this initiative are Elisabeth and Noah Bond. Fourteen years ago when they moved from Victoria to Thetis Island to grow their own food and raise their son, it was the beginning of a new life. They were excited for their 10-acre property with a house and cabin and great food growing potential. It was rural, safe, and had a one room school house.  Today, they are inspiring and encouraging locals to embrace a sustainable living approach by supporting various local food-related activities.

This initiative has morphed and changed since early days as a for-profit package and delivery service to a social enterprise as a community service co-op. Covid slowed things down, but today Elisabeth and Noah have established a new diverse board of directors to create a culture for education and a concentration on food security.

The Situation

Thetis Island has a population of almost 400 people, about 40% are seniors. Older farmers are retired or slowing down, so the group is trying to encourage young farmers to take up residence. Many people have to go off island for work to supplement their income, and there are random farm stands and alternative places to buy produce. A few farmers take their produce by ferry to bigger markets on Vancouver Island to wholesale outlets. The Co-op’s plan is to take these disparate selling points and move them into a cohesive system on Thetis Island. 

Co-op Mission

Growing and keeping food on the island and circulating it within their own community is the goal – sustainability and food security. If farmers can keep their produce on Thetis Island, they can better plan their Saturday Farmers Market sales, and collaborate with Co-op chefs to develop and test recipes for local consumption. Prepared meals are particularly attractive for seniors and low-income residents, and any excess food can be creatively turned into value-added products, like jams, spreads, pickles, sauces, etc.

Ultimately, there are four areas of focus:

Circular Economy – Instead of food waste from excess or aging produce, the Co-op can develop delicious, nutritious, ready-to-eat meals and creative hand-processed products

Food Security – With a determined intention to grow more and make more products that stay on the island, a farm-to-plate program supports farmers and the community.

Job Creation – As the Co-op program expands, they can create 2-4 local jobs, and farmers and other entities may have that requirement, as well.

Community Support – Seniors, low-income families, and single-parent households get support with access to subsidized healthy meals. Farmers can realize more viable income streams through guaranteed sales (less marketing, less packaging, less transport, more growing).

Co-op Evolution

Food production goes beyond just fruit and vegetables. Several years back, a few islanders successfully ran a pig and poultry co-op with an idea to expand into milking goats, and raising more chickens, sheep, and ducks. The cooperative part of the project was short lived as the work load proved too much for most people and too many responsibilities ended up in one or two family’s hands. It wasn’t sustainable.

Today, there is an organized approach to bring a new generation of animals, starting with a few pigs in a more controlled method. Other protein is currently sourced from surrounding islands.

To supplement what they grow and produce on Thetis Island, there is also a weekly truck run to Vancouver Island to pick up additional eggs, Cowichan milk and yogurt, and fresh bread. The goal is to expand on what can be produced on Thetis Island.

Education and community involvement will be a big part of the success for the Thetis Island Food Co-op. It takes new ideas and a commitment to the concept so that most islanders support the co-op – including food producers, support teams, and consumers.

Co-op Collaboration

Having enrolled in a cooperative education program, Elisabeth was able to get connected to a community of fellow organizations. The core culture being Co-ops helping Co-ops. Whenever possible they try to work with other farm or food Co-ops, even energy co-ops, including Gabriola Agricultural Co-op, and Harvest Salt Spring.

Together they learn the co-op model, how to do projects together, and share information on best practices and funding opportunities.

Business Planning

The Bonds, on behalf of the Co-op, approached Farm Food Drink so they could organize the business aspect of the Cooperative. Farm Food Drink was engaged to provide strategic guidance, process facilitation, and a comprehensive business plan that includes feasibility and financial analysis and a marketing strategy for the prepared meals program.

“The Co-op has great knowledge and intentions,” explains Greg McLaren, Farm Food Drink Managing Director. “We look forward to helping them establish a strong foundation from which to grow.”

Launching Co-op 2023

Most people know about the farm co-op, but many don’t really know what they do. So, the Thetis Island Food Co-op is planning a launch to formally introduce themselves and share their mission, vision, and values.

At the writing of this post the date was not yet confirmed, but attendees can expect to:

  • Meet Farmers who grow the food and make stronger connections
  • Share their ideas with the Board members
  • Enjoy samples of meals that have been created and tested
  • Sign up for the ready-made fresh meal program (6 weeks)
  • Have a chance to join as a founding Co-op member

“We’re excited to host this community event to educate our neighbours about the Co-op,” says Elisabeth Bond. “And it’s also an opportunity to talk about our hopes for the future and how others can be involved.”

The future looks like 50-75% island-based ingredients for meals, viable employment to attract more young people, and most importantly – active, engaged Co-op members. Thetis Island Food Co-op is nurturing local pride in keeping food dollars local.

To connect with Thetis Island Farm Cooperative:

Do You Have a Project?

Do you have a food security, or local food community initiative you’d like support with? Farm Food Drink is involved across the province with growing agri-food businesses to support local economies. Contact us to have a conversation.

If you're a good person doing good things with food, we want to hear from you!

Do you have a story to share or a project you're interested in?

Get In Touch