Building Local in the Thompson-Shuswap

While the Thompson-Shuswap’s favourable climate, promising land and diversity of production points to agriculture as a potentially major player in the local economy, regional farming resembles more of a David and Goliath dynamic, competing in a global marketplace where large food distribution systems dominate the sales of food to local residents.

Though public support for local agriculture continues to grow, including carbon emission costs into food costs helps emphasize the economic case to buy locally.

To investigate and present a more comprehensive picture of the price of food and connect major buyers to local producers, the Community Futures Development Corporation of Thompson Country led this project in an effort to diversify local farm production and expand local markets.

Three regional institutions  were examined for the type and amount of food consumed (as well as relevant carbon emission costs), followed by local producer canvassing to determine if food demand could be supplied by regional farms and food processors, and whether a central food processing facility was feasible.

While the research did not support these as viable options for building agricultural capacity and sustainability, it nevertheless provided a path forward for local farmers like Dieter Duty, who grows mixed crops at Thistle Farm in Northern Kamloops.

Though Duty admits that competing products from international marketplaces will continue to pose a challenge, there are now alternatives outlined which are more suitable to the smaller scales characteristic of regional operations and the limitations currently facing an aging farm population.

“The success of local farmers lies in the opportunities available through direct farm-gate sales,” reports Duty. “We’re now exploring recommendations to enhance agri-tourism and food networking opportunities, as well as consumer education.”

Shirley Culver, Community Economic Development Coordinator for Community Futures, couldn’t be happier with the results and is excited about the next steps.

“The project has provided an impetus towards implementing some ambitious but feasible initiatives, such as organizing a central food hub, hosting a regional food forum to engage consumers, facilitating networking opportunities such as farmer-chef collaborations, and encouraging agri-tourism through events that are conducive with producer capacity,” says Culver.

She is especially thrilled to report that the connections facilitated by the project have yielded a new five-year local purchasing agreement for meat products with Thompson Rivers University!

For Culver, opportunities like these will allow farmers to sell a bigger percentage of their product locally and for a better price, while contributing to regional economic development.

“The momentum fuelled by this project will continue to enhance and grow the local food movement and diversify local agriculture, not only for Thompson-Shuswap communities but for other regions interested in similar initiatives” she predicts.

The report is available online at: http://www.communityfutures.net/agriculture.htm.

Funding: $38,796 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (A0683)