The second regional food hub in a provincial network that is being established will be developed right here in Quesnel.
Provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham was in Quesnel Wednesday, July 31 to announce the Province is committing up to $500,000 for Quesnel to develop a regional food hub, which will help the local economy recover and diversify following devastating wildfires, timber loss and mill closures.
A food hub is 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.
Popham says the new Cariboo regional food hub will help new processors get started and will help existing food processors expand their product lines and develop new markets. She says it will also bring more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and wild harvesters to increase revenue by adding value to their products.
“Two summers ago, when we became government, this area was facing one of the worst forest fire seasons that we’ve ever seen. At that time, as agriculture minister, I promised we wouldn’t just respond to the emergency at hand, but we would try to commit to be part of a longer-term recovery strategy — and I believe the announcement today demonstrates that promise made to the Cariboo,” said Popham. “This announcement will help bring new economic opportunities to this region by embracing the potential of farming, ranching and food processing.
“I know how hard it is facing the challenges this area is facing now. It’s a serious challenge, and communities like Quesnel are looking at new economic opportunities where they can. But as a community faces hard transitions in their economy, it’s best to have new tools in that toolbox — and today, I’m not just announcing a new tool, but I’m announcing a new toolbox to keep it in.”
The first regional food hub in B.C. officially opened in Vancouver in February at Commissary Connect’s Laurel Street location, the pilot and demonstration hub for the food hub network. The second food hub in Quesnel brings opportunities to grow and diversify the region’s economy and provide skills training and development for people affected by recent challenges in the community, like the Tolko mill closure.
“We believe in this region,” said Popham. “We believe in this community. We believe in the power of the food sector.”
Over the next two years, this regional food hub will be tied into the provincial network being established right now, explained Popham. The network will grow to include hubs in different regions in the province, and the hubs will connect local food producers, farmers, ranchers, food and beverage processors with cutting-edge technology, production facilities with specialized equipment and business support.
“It was really important for me that the second regional food processing hub be in rural B.C.,” said Popham. “Our government knows that Quesnel is ready for this opportunity. Approximately 1,600 farms operate in this region. Twenty-three per cent of those farms sell direct to consumers, but only nine per cent do value-added products, so there is so much potential to increase that number. The current value of the value-added food sector in this region is about $30 million, and with the Cariboo regional food hub in place, those numbers are going to move. We know there are gaps in this region for value-added production. We know the area lacks commercial kitchen space, cold storage, milling, food distribution systems. We know the potential of the Cariboo is here, and that’s why we’re so proud to bring this initiative.
“We know the best way to support communities in the Cariboo is to help diversify the economy and help strengthen the business sector to create new, good-paying jobs. We have a very strong focus on increasing food production in the entire province, and this means supporting farmers and ranchers that provide the primary products and ingredients that go into creating these amazing value-added B.C. products.”
The day before, July 30, the Ministry of Agriculture announced $275,375 for food hub feasibility studies and business plans in Kamloops, Victoria, Hazelton, Deep Bay/Nanaimo, Courtenay and North Vancouver.
The food hub is part of the provincial government’s Feed B.C. program, which aims to increase the use of local food in all aspects of the food supply chain — farmers and food producers, processors, distributors, and public facilities where food is prepared and served, liked hospitals.
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson spoke about what an advocate and champion Popham has been for the Cariboo region.
“From that first roundtable discussion we had here with Minister Popham, this germ of an idea that we could move more quickly into agriculture production and processing, into local marketing, into doing the kinds of things that Amy [Quarry] is really driving at Long Table, of making sure we get the most value out of our productive capacity throughout the entire North Cariboo, that vision was a collective vision,” he said. “It’s something we all came to, but, I think, pushed by the minister saying ‘you need to keep moving.’
“I think the timing is right. I think our community understands we need every sector firing on all cylinders, and the time for not being courageous, the time for not being visionary is over. We have to be going after any opportunity we can to expand our economy, and this is a vital shot in the arm for us to work on that.”
Florian Bergoin of Kersley, who owns and operates La Belle Vallee Fromagerie, said he is very pleased to see a push to help the food processing industry innovate, grow and hopefully thrive.
“Like the minister said, we have a great diversity of agricultural products in the region and great potential, and I think we need to add value to these products to sustain the farming and industrial jobs in the region,” he said.
Bergoin said connecting producers and processors through the food hub will be beneficial.
“As a food processor operating a small business, I know it can be a bit of a lonely place sometimes — you have to wear many hats and work around many challenges,” he said. “There are lots of regulations. You have to run the business, do the marketing, try to diversify and try to balance your books so you can make a living.
“So if the industry is able to access some expertise, it will help the existing businesses stay on the right track and help the new businesses have a strong start and thrive. I think it’s really vital that we can make the connections and share the knowledge we have, share the processing facilities and achieve our full potential.”