Towards a Working Model for a Robust Regional Food Security Network
On September 21st a group of representatives from the food, farming and policy worlds of the Central Kootenays converged on the Sunshine Bay Retreat Centre in Harrop for a day-long retreat consisting of two field trips to local farms, the regularly-scheduled council meeting, as well as a focus group. Columbia Basin Land Matcher Hailey Troock went along to get a taste of what’s happening on the policy side of the local food and farming scene.
The focus group, led by Katrina Lehenbrauer – a consultant with Interior Health, sought to provide insight into a Food Security Network Feasibility Study that is currently underway, looking to the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council (CKFPC) as a working model of this. This regional example doesn’t exist anywhere else in Interior Health.
Participants in the focus group discussion, both members of council and guests like myself with Young Agrarians, included representatives previously or currently working with the following organizations: East Shore Food Roots, Kootenay Food, the Valley Kitchen, Press Fest, Kaslo Food Hub, Lardeau Valley Community Group, RDCK, Interior Health, Nelson Food Cupboard, Kootenay Boundary Food Producers Cooperative, Fields Forward, Kootenay Employment Services, Kootenay Co-op and Kootenay Organic Growers Society. There were also local farmers and business owners from Harrop and Proctor present.
The CKFPC acts as “a link between the work in food systems and our local governments” and seeks to “connect and co-ordinate initiatives across the region, reduce redundancy and enhance the impact of human and financial resources invested in food systems and communities in the RDCK”. With this ambitious raison d’etre up for discussion at the focus group (coffee) table, policy council members took the opportunity to express their thoughts on the value of this type of community organization and network, the benefits of it and the challenges to its success, as well as their vision for its future.
As someone attending their first meeting and certainly feeling like a fly on the wall of a very informed living room, what most impressed me was the breadth of knowledge, diversity of backgrounds and multiplicity of diverging opinions. As one participant pointed out, the combined hours of labour and wisdom in the room should be noted.
Based off of her experience working with small organizations like the Kootenay Boundary Food Producers Coop, Kim Charlesworth of the Nelson Food Cupboard pointed out that many community groups are “trying to do a lot and fast, without enough people and resources”. A perception of a lack of productivity and action during the first two years of the, very crucial, formative phase of the CKFPC was communicated by some participants.
Concerns also arose surrounding the policy triggers that can actually provide for on-the-ground support, an example being the issue of the potable water requirement in certified organic standards and the challenge faced by many small-scale producers to address this issue independently and without adequate policy tools and resources in place. Within the RDCK, for example, this requirement alone is a barrier for many local farmers; there are only 19 public water systems and over 300 private systems.
Other policy concerns raised by members included lack of clarity on retail standards and regulations, the high cost of starting processing and production businesses, the lack of extension services (some now coming to fill the void, such as the Kootenay & Boundary Farm Advisors or Basin Business Advisors), a lack of funding for value-added initiatives, a shortage of farm workers in the agricultural centre of the region (Creston Valley) and dwindling membership in local societies like the Agricultural Society of Creston.
This organizational structuring can be a necessary evil, however. What the council can now offer others is this road map for the emergence of other regional food security networks. Networks like this allow for the development of a template that can be brought to other areas to help other organizations get going faster, in an administrative context.
This is, according to Ari Derfel – GM of the Kootenay Co-op, the value of the council and its network. It is essentially a knowledge broker for policy creation and has the ability to facilitate information and priorities between funders and farmers.
Patrick Steiner – coordinator of the Kaslo Food Hub, described how he sees farmers as activists that don’t have enough time to engage in policy debate. The council provides a link to the community. He understands that we are “all links in the same chain to make this food system strong”. In Kaslo, for example, a food charter has been adopted by Town Council.
Abra Brynne – council staff, expressed her vision for the council – that is was built to serve as a policy body, as a catalyst to help organizations navigate policy realms. The hope is to generate knowledge brokering and not to duplicate efforts with the organizations of its council members. Though the council has limited resources and a limited communications budget it represents, to some members, the importance of local food systems. The FPC can’t do what traditional farmers’ institutes did but can lower barriers. For example, Fields Forward is already putting to use the CKFPC’s Policy Manual.
Like any organization in its infancy, there are growing pains. Questions arose regarding its mandate – is the policy council biting off more than it can chew? Should the goals remain lofty and expansive? Will this inevitably lead to unfulfilled expectations and perceived ineffectiveness? Some suggested that the priorities should be narrowed down but the mandate unchanged. To address the issue of a lack of tangible takeaways, volunteer groups need clear roles with clear projects and focus. Moving forward the council will be convening a policy working group to identify and action these tangible next steps.
What can be said is that the council and its membership speak to a vibrant and resilient local food ecosystem and network in the Basin that is an amazing resource for existing and new entrants into agriculture and farming, ranging from seed saving and permaculture to production or processing and community organization, health and mentorship.
Young Agrarians will be posting more information on our regional YA Facebook group about other events and these organizations so please join our online community! As part of our B.C. Land Matching Program events, Young Agrarians will be hosting the Young Agrarians Columbia Basin Land Link Workshop in Creston on October 27th, which brings together land owners and land seekers and involves an expert panel. Register for this free event here!