After learning this September that it would not be receiving a $500,000 rural dividend grant from the provincial government, the West Boundary Community Services Co-op is now pitching itself to Boundary stakeholders and investors to get a “food hub” built next to Riverside Centre in Rock Creek.
“We now have to think about this differently and how we can pull this off,” the co-op’s executive director Sandy Mark said to the Grand Forks and Boundary Regional Agricultural Society last Thursday.
In short, said the co-op’s executive director, a food hub “is a place where new products are developed,” scaled, and supported before being brought to market. Though, the project’s primary function is meant to be as a cut-and-wrap facility to allow local abattoir Magnum Meats the space to expand to the demand that they’re experiencing. According to the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s Boundary Area Food and Agriculture Plan, developed in 2018, a high priority cited in the Boundary was to “seek grant and community investment opportunities to find investment and ownership solutions to the regional need for additional meat processing.”
The B.C. government has also been prioritizing food hubs more generally, and the boundary co-op was nearly accepted in, said RDKB Area E director Vicki Gee. The co-op’s proposal initially qualified for the province’s program, which offers financial support to get the project off the ground. However, the provincial program requires matched money from the community, and that disappeared with the rural dividend grant cancellations this year.
“Recognizing that the Boundary used to feed lots of people, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get anywhere close back to that again?” said Marks.
The province defines a food hub as “a centralized shared-use food and beverage processing facility that provides business owners with affordable access to production facilities, specialized equipment, new technology, research and development, expertise and services,” and Mark said that the co-op is trying to bring many of those resources into the West Boundary project.
A food technologist is just one idea, Mark said. Technologists can advise upstarts on how to scale up their recipes to meet demand and keep taste and texture. The provision of a food safety lab, separate from the meat facility, was another key aspect that piqued the interest of many in attendance at the agricultural society’s meeting on Thursday. Mark said that she’s already arranged for equipment for a food safety lab for the co-op, which could evaluate and test food based on standards set out by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an organization that is recognized by the Standards Council of Canada.
Mark is hoping to have a lab established in the Boundary in early 2020.
Attendees at last Thursday’s meeting also expressed interest in having canning and drying facilities for other crops, but Mark said that those sorts of options aren’t in play right now.
“That would be just lovely to have,” Mark said, “but I think if we started to scale up whomever we can scale up, […] it’s a question of moving forward overtime because that would really make a huge difference.”
Mark said that the facility in Rock Creek, once money is secured, will survey meat farmers to see what sorts of products they would like to produce, beyond simple cuts.
Until then, she said, “part of it is just sort of running on hope, but the other part is running on the feedback that we got on our food hub plan from the ministry.”