Food system alliance equals an economic opportunity

A report called “Towards a Regional Food System Alliance Development Strategy for the West Kootenay” could mean opportunity for the region.

Food security is a hot topic in many parts of the West Kootenay, but for the first time the seeds of speculation and debate have sprouted into something tangible.

In what could become the soil for a regional food system alliance in the West Kootenay, a report called “Towards a Regional Food System Alliance Development Strategy for the West Kootenay” has been grown.

The report looks into how food councils, non-profits, and initiatives are formed in North America and how they function. Back on the West Kootenay farm, a recommendation to determine how a West Kootenay food system alliance would function was the main harvest of the report.

Jon Steinman of the Kootenay Co-op radio show, “Deconstructing Dinner,” took the lead on the report and gathered a team from throughout the region to advise on the process, determining what should come next to create a made-in-the-West Kootenay alliance.

“We see this as one of the greatest economic development opportunities for the region,” said Steinman.

He said focusing more attention on the food system as economic development — trying to keep more of our food dollars within the region — would grow support for all new and existing farmers and other agricultural-related businesses.

“(An alliance) would create jobs; foster greater resilience within the regional economy; and, reinstate the importance of being strong stewards of our soil, forests and watersheds,” he said.

Though Hanne Smith of Rossland REAL Food has yet to sink her teeth into the report, she says working together as an alliance would greatly benefit local growers and producers.

“I think it’s a grand idea that would really, really help all of us in the region,” she said, noting the effort in Rossland to eat and shop local which is highlighted in the summer with Rossland Mountain Market.

“Local people just flock to it and apparently the businesses downtown also benefit because with that kind of positive energy and people, they get some spillover business,” she said. “People tend to make a day of it. It’s good not only for the local producers but also for the businesses.”

Steinman pointed to the range of individuals, businesses and organizations that were already producing food for local consumption in the West Kootenay, but felt there was a disconnect between them and the markets in the region.

He said economic development in agriculture is the sustained effort among all people within the region to support and develop the infrastructure, knowledge and skills, to increase the amount of food produced and processed in the region.

And the wherewithal is there. Using average per capita food expenditure figures, Steinman estimated people in the West Kootenay spent roughly $266 million per year on food, but only a small percentage was spent on locally produced products.

The function of a food system alliance for regional economic development would include:

• coordinating and initiating a local food market economic analysis;

• researching best practices/feasibility for an annual West Kootenay local food guide;

• region-wide consultations to narrow in on what within the local food economy is in need of the greatest attention.

The advisory committee supporting these recommendations is made up of Corky Evans (former MLA Nelson-Creston), Sheila Dobie (Spencer Hill Orchard), Jocelyn Carver (Kootenay Country Store Co-operative), Wayne Harris (Kootenay Alpine Cheese/Mountain Valley Farm), Mike Stolte (Centre for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Leadership) and Carolee Colter (CDS Consulting Co-op).

The report was made possible by funding and support from the Columbia Basin Trust, the Hume Hotel, Nelson and District Credit Union, Heritage Credit Union, Kootenay Country Store Co-operative, Kootenay Co-op Radio, Kootenay Food Strategy Society and Deconstructing Dinner.

To read the report and the recommended next steps, visit Feedback is welcomed and encouraged.