After many months of research, interviews and discussion, the much anticipated first step towards what will hopefully become a regional food system alliance for the West Kootenay is now complete.
In April of this year, funding and support was secured to carry out research into organizations in Canada and the United States which are seeking to improve their communities’ access to local, healthy and responsibly produced food by bringing together stakeholders within their local food system.
The West Kootenay is already home to a diverse community of individuals, businesses and organizations who contribute to the production, processing and distribution of food for local consumption. All combined, these efforts, their accompanying relationships, and the very act of eating, make up what can be referred to as our ‘food system’. In recent years, the contribution of local food systems to health and well-being, the environment, the economy and culture has become widely accepted to be of critical importance. But how do we define this ‘system’ and how do we identify the relationships within it to make sure that the system is functioning in the best interest of the people it serves?
With no efforts currently underway in the West Kootenay region to consistently bring together those involved within and outside of the food system, a regional food system alliance was believed to be an ideal forum to help enhance our regional food supply.
Jon Steinman of Deconstructing Dinner took the lead on the initiative and gathered a team from throughout the region to advise on the process and contribute to what has become a strategic recommendation on what next steps should be taken.
Now available on-line is this in-depth report – Towards a Regional Food System Alliance Development Strategy for the West Kootenay. The report looks into how food councils, non-profits, and other food system initiatives are formed and how they function. The accompanying recommendation, which is also found within the report and as a separate document on-line, is driven by the committee’s belief that determining the function of an alliance prior to determining its form is essential. The committee then narrowed its attention on economic development, believing it to be the greatest opportunity for our regional food system. This focus of attention has proven to be very successful with organizations like The Center for an Agricultural Economy in Vermont and the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition in Oregon. These organizations offer great examples of the opportunities to be found from more coordinated, cross-sector work within the food system. The committee believes this should become the primary focus of an eventual regional food system alliance in the West Kootenay.
By ‘economic development’, the committee is referring to a sustained effort among all people within the region to support and develop the infrastructure, knowledge and skills, necessary to increase the amount of food produced and processed in the region. It’s also essential that this effort be informed by and contribute to an ecosystem-centered approach, culture, health and social well-being. Namely, the committee believes that through better coordination among individuals, organizations, governments and businesses, a regional food system alliance would be an exciting tool which could carry out a mandate to take on, stimulate, and/or partner on activities which would capture the millions of food dollars leaking out of the region every year. What is meant by ‘leakage’? Using average per capita food expenditure figures, the committee estimates that the population within the region spends roughly $266 million per year on food, with only a small percentage of that being spent on locally produced products. “We see this as one of the greatest economic development opportunities for the region,” says Jon Steinman. “Focusing more attention on the food system as economic development and trying to keep more of our food dollars within the region, means increasing the support for existing, new and emerging farmers, businesses and co-operatives; it would create jobs; foster greater resilience within the regional economy; and, reinstate the importance of being strong stewards of our soil, forests and watersheds.”
To better determine the function of a food system alliance focused on regional economic development, the committee proposes a number of initial strategies, which include, among others, coordinating and initiating a local food market economic analysis, and researching best practices / feasibility for an annual West Kootenay local food guide for both the public and businesses/institutions. The results and recommendations generated through a local food market analysis would be followed up with region-wide consultations to narrow in on what within the local food economy is in need of the greatest attention. At that point, the form which a regional food alliance could take to carry out those strategies could be determined. The Towards a Regional Food System Alliance report will offer a strong direction on how to proceed with that stage.
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 (Center for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Leadership) and Carolee Colter (CDS Consulting Co-op). The committee believes that the report and accompanying recommendation will offer strong support for a West Kootenay food system that shows an increase in the percentage of locally produced food each year, is robust and versatile in the face of ecological and economic pressures, and is an inspiration for a vibrant and resilient culture of food in other regions.
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.
Start-Up Advisory Committee, Proposed West Kootenay Regional Food System Alliance