With a projected start date of September 2020, plans for the Sprout Kitchen Regional Food Hub and Business Incubator are moving forward and coming together.
Amy Quarry provided an update on the project during the Kersley Farmers Institute’s winter workshop Jan. 18 at the College of New Caledonia Quesnel Campus.
Quarry, the founder of Long Table Grocery in Quesnel, and her business partner, Diandra Oliver, who is known for her work with the Home Sweet Home Economic Project, have been contracted by the City of Quesnel as project managers for Sprout Kitchen. The project is funded by the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, which gave the City of Quesnel $500,000 over two years to begin the process of developing a regional food hub.
“The word ‘food hub’ is used to describe a lot of different projects, and so this particular type of food hub is a commercial food processing hub that is designed to support business development of food-based businesses, so things like value-added products for agricultural crops, or things like crackers, baking, products that could be sold in grocery stores, frozen vegetables, even restaurants, food trucks, any business that is selling food, making food, adding value to raw crops or produce, all those types of things,” explained Quarry.
Quarry says the hub will be located in Quesnel, and they are still finalizing the actual location.
There will be a commercial kitchen with a wide variety of processing and packaging equipment, such as steam kettles, big dehydrators, big coolers and freezers, garlic peelers, a grain mill and vacuum sealers.
The equipment in the kitchen will be available to rent, and Quarry says there will also be a co-packing service where a trained professional would be available to process producers’ crops into a product they can sell.
“You could drop off a bumper crop of beets that you have to be pickled, and the hub, for a fee, would process those into jars of pickled beets that you could then turn around and sell at your farmers’ market booth, things like the,” said Quarry. “That is something we see people from the whole region being able to access.”
Although the hub will be located in Quesnel, it will serve the area from 100 Mile House to Vanderhoof.
“Another part of the food hub we’re really excited about is working on trying to get a refrigerated delivery vehicle that will do a loop around the region, hopefully on a weekly basis,” said Quarry. “With that as well, we’d like to build up a network of local food purchasers in the region, so grocery stores and small shops and health food stores and restaurants and places that are interested in buying local food, that we could collectively market members of the food hub’s products into all of those places and then also deliver them to those places through the refrigerated vehicle. I think that will help tie everything together.
“Also, if you were a farmer who didn’t live in the area, you could send your ingredients up to the hub on the delivery van to be processed, and we could send the products back to you, so you can access the services of the hub without ever leaving your house. I think that’s something that has a lot of potential and a lot of potential to grow and grow the number of products the are being made locally.”
Quarry says one of the businesses that is interested in the food hub is Hixon Falls Cracker Company, which was recently purchased by new owners who are very keen to take the business farther.
“There’s no reason a company like that can’t be producing at a level that is selling into Save On Foods, selling into all the grocery stores in the whole region, and I think that is really the long-term vision of the hub is to grow smaller businesses into businesses that outgrow the hub, maybe make their own facilities, maybe make their own situation where they are competing at a really big level,” said Quarry.
Quarry says there will also be a food lab at Sprout Kitchen, where producers can get tests such as allergen tests, pathogen tests for their products.
There will be also lots of workshops and other activities to support business development, marketing and product development, as well as potentially an incubator-type of program that is more intensive, such as a monthly mentorship program, explained Quarry.
Quarry says they are also looking at selling packaging supplies, agricultural and harvesting supplies that they see a gap in the marketplace here.
“There are a lot of different ways we think the hub could impact businesses like yours and farms like yours, and I’m really curious to hear what you guys think, if you have any ideas or you have equipment you would like to have access to,” she said.
The food hub is projected to open this September.
“We’re really grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture for the funding and the City for their support of the project,” said Quarry. “I think it’s a really exciting project for the area. The other thing is it’s only the second funded food hub for the province — the first one is in Vancouver — so we have a really cool opportunity to make it what the region wants and what the region needs because there isn’t a set way we have to do it. They said it has to include certain things, but it’s really up to what the community needs and what the community wants.”
For more information about Sprout Kitchen, visit sproutkitchen.ca or look for Sprout Kitchen Regional Food Hub and Business Incubator on social media.