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Agriculture to get strategic support

Having an organization solely for the promotion and preservation of agriculture in the Shuswap is one of three key recommendations Columbia Shuswap Regional District staff will be considering.

This is in response to a Shuswap Agricultural Strategy that was presented to the CSRD board of directors at their June 19 meeting.

The report, prepared by Sustainability Solutions Group, was presented by Jeremy Murphy, who noted the document contains five themes, 19 recommendations and 40 actions, many of which support each other and are related.

Murphy cited three “transformative” and key strategies in realizing a successful agricultural strategy in the Shuswap:

• Establishment of an independent, non-political Shuswap agricultural organization, with staff, to represent the region’s agricultural interests;

• Initiate an agricultural economic development process including the marketing and branding of Shuswap-grown products;

• Provision of agricultural education services through Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus.

Among the many recommendations is the need to develop a common brand for all agricultural products originating in the Shuswap, something Murphy said would fit well with Shuswap Tourism’s marketing of the region.

The vision for an agricultural economic development process is that it would consider individual farm opportunities as well as longer-term, region-wide approaches.

“Focus on the key recommendations,” said Murphy, noting the recommended actions support each other.

“Hire staff, build relationships, get funding, begin the economic development process and monitor the progress.”

Murphy was adamant in his recommendation that staff be hired specifically to work for the new agricultural association, even if only part-time, in order to move the process forward.

The report addresses the municipalities of Salmon Arm and Sicamous and CSRD electoral areas of South Shuswap, Deep Creek/Falkland, Malakwa/Eagle Valley and North Shuswap.

CSRD economic development officer Robyn Cyr says she and Economic Development Society manager Lana Fitt began the process by holding an agriculture discussion group in 2011 out of a concern that most people are not aware of the extent or value of agriculture to the Shuswap.

Some 40-plus people with a variety of agricultural backgrounds showed up.

“We had a good discussion about where they wanted farming to go… and they definitely wanted to move forward,” she says.

The search for funding began with money coming from the Investment Agriculture Foundation and the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society, with the bulk from CSRD’s Economic Development and Development Services.

Members of a steering committee formed after the initial meeting heard six proposals  before selecting the Sustainability Solutions Group to produce the report.

Cyr says that as well as the report being perused by regional district staff, the steering committee will be called back to strategize on how to proceed and develop an implementation plan.

“We need to set timelines and goals,” says Cyr, noting that, once formed, the agricultural organization will have more funding opportunities as a non-profit.

“Our plan has always been to work with the agricultural community to realize new opportunities and ensure our agricultural community stays vibrant and sustainable,” she says. “We’ve had a good, solid working group and I hope we can keep them interested in working with us to move it forward. We need the agricultural community to embrace this; we can’t do it alone. We need their expertise and passion.”

Retired farmer John McLeod has been involved since the initial meeting and says he thinks the process has shone a light on the need for the Shuswap area to maintain and strengthen the agricultural sector.

“Impressed? Yeah. Happy? Yeah,” he says, noting the need for moving the strategy forward. “I am pretty happy with the way the process went and the inclusion of the community. It was really inclusive, not exclusive.”

 

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