Local Food Networks Help Build Sustainable Economic Resilience

Posted on Friday, 5 November 2021 under Stories Featured

Community food hubs provide local farmers and food producers with additional beyond farm direct marketing opportunities as well as physical infrastructure to process and distribute their goods. These networks have the potential to support sustainable, local food systems through the creation and retention of entrepreneurial jobs that prioritize local inputs for products from within their communities. This food system model can also meaningfully reduce the amount of emissions agricultural products generate in their journey from the farm to our plates.

There are a number of grassroots food networks across the province that have sprouted and operate within their community. The Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust (SSIFT) promotes agriculture on the Island and Southern Gulf Islands through a number of community-based ventures.

One of the Trust’s upcoming projects is a community food processing, storage, and general local food spot called The Root. This state-of-the-art facility aims to improve the Island’s ability to produce, process, preserve, and distribute local food. Trust co-chair, Sheila Dobie says collaborative educational opportunities, such as workshops, are key components of the space.

“How can we work together to make this work for all of us? We’re wanting to bring the community in to share expertise as well as give folks some fundamental knowledge and provide the necessary infrastructure to assist food businesses and wannabe producers with their success,” says Dobie.

The Trust prioritizes the interests of its community and recognizes the benefits of collaborative action. A recently released survey aims to provide valuable feedback from residents about how The Root can best serve their needs.

“This is another centralized place where local eaters, perhaps even restaurateurs and grocers, can go to shop local food. That would benefit farmers hugely, partially because delivery costs would be down,” says Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust co-chair, Sheila Dobie.

outside of a large wooden and metal building

Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust's (SSIFT), The Root facility. Photo courtesy of SSIFT.

Trust board member and local farmer, Daria Zovi adds, “The Root has so many ways it can support the different needs of producers and consumers because it has refrigeration and frozen storage, which is a big obstacle for smaller producers.”

Zovi has been an organic inspector since the early days of BC’s organic movement and also co-operates The Quarry Farm. Her farm’s numerous community partnerships with local stores, delivery programs, and chefs have helped create a network of local food businesses that contribute to the Island’s food security. Zovi believes that a strong connection between consumers and growers will help change the way eaters think about and consume food.

Don’t think of going to the farm as going to the grocery store; think about it as a philosophical choice. You’re supporting people and that’s more important than the food itself. It is a movement that is happening and is needed,” adds Zovi.

The global pandemic, recent provincial seed shortage, and annual drought conditions highlight the need to create community food networks to help build resilience in our local food systems. Fellow SSIFT board member and farmer at Duck Creek Farm, Ella Bronstein says there has been an increase in receptivity for local food on the Island.

“Supporting people with the skills, land, and equipment will help us weather through these times. I know buying local is a privilege but it’s also important to continue to educate consumers about the true value of food. That broccoli has been sitting in the field for four months, hand-watered through the drought by us,” says Bronstein.

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women holding a box of fresh radishes

Ella Bronstein with fresh radishes.

The recently launched BC Food Hub Network, developed by Commissary Connect in collaboration with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, the University of British Columbia, and industry partners, aims to shorten supply chains by connecting entrepreneurs with local food processors and suppliers. This reduction of food miles helps strengthen local economies and supports more self-reliant food systems.

According to our report, Climate Change Mitigation Opportunities in Canadian Agriculture and Food Systems, emissions from food sectors in BC, including distribution and processing, are projected at nearly one million tonnes of CO2e. This includes refrigeration, energy use (electricity and natural gas), waste, and fleets. Shared-use facilities reduce a large barrier for medium to small businesses in respect to processing equipment and the resources needed to bring their products to other communities across the province while also reducing carbon emissions generated throughout food distribution and processing.

Small entrepreneurs can now sell their products to major retailers. Being a shared-use facility allows them to only pay for what they use. We’re tracking all inputs, like temperature, directly to the technology,” says Commissary Connect Founder and CEO, Sarb Mund.

The technology created by Commissary Connect is unique because it follows a pay-per-use model which tracks who is using what piece of equipment every hour. Commissary Connect’s technology even allows entrepreneurs to offer their own equipment for a fee to other small businesses that share the space.

Commissary Connect is a solutions provider for shared-use spaces, in large part, because their technology allows sites to maximize their efficiency and capacity. In collaboration with a growing number of community food hubs that are part of the BC Food Hub Network, they look to create a chain of local food businesses that will provide a level of input traceability that could also support local farmers.

Goodly Foods at Commissary Connect, Laurel St. Photo courtesy of Commissary Connect

“If we can collate where these entrepreneurs are buying, then we could create a collective supply chain. We can trace right to a particular batch and how much of that product was actually bought from a local farm. There’s a whole bunch of layers that we are still developing,” says Mund.

There are numerous ways you can build resilient food systems by shortening supply chains. Support your local food network and economy by shopping directly from local farmers at their farm stands or farmer’s markets. You can also find businesses whose inputs come from other community food producers with the help of organizations such as Support Local BC.