Group looks to improve food security

Shuswap Food Action: Forum planned for March 11 at Okanagan College.

The Shuswap Food Action Co-op will be serving food for thought, hoping to receive the same in order to develop a local food security policy.

On March 11, the Shuswap Food Action Co-op (SFAC) is hosting the community forum, Food for Thought, with partner Okanagan College to discuss “strengthening our local food economy.” The forum, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Salmon Arm campus, includes a dinner prepared from local food.

According to the co-op, food security exists when “all community residents obtain safe… nutritious food through a sustainable food system that maximizes healthy choices, community self-reliance and equal access for everyone.”

With the Food for Thought forum,  the group wishes to gather community organizations and any local citizens, especially those with an interest in producing, warehousing, processing and supplying food, to share ideas to strengthen local food security, with the ultimate goal of developing a local food policy.

“To do that, we need local citizen input, whether it be the person who volunteers to share their backyard, or the person who has an acre they’re willing to rent/lease or share, to a person who has a farm. Whether it be vegetables, fruit, chicken, pork, beef, all of these things can be produced locally,” said SFAC spokesperson John McLeod, explaining a point of food security is supporting reliable, local independent food sources and not being dependent on imports or what he refers to as the “industrial agri-complex.”

“Historically, Salmon Arm had the Salmon Arm farmer’s exchange,” said McLeod. “That started because some orchardists wanted to market some apples, and it grew into a hugely successful economic driver in our community. And in 1940, the Salmon Arm Farmer’s Exchange paid a dividend of $40,000 to its shareholders.

“If a community like Salmon Arm became shareholders in their own food co-op, we could all benefit and keep the money that’s generated in our community.”

For McLeod, one ideal outcome would be  the establishment of a community commercial entity similar to Nelson’s Kootenay Co-op.

It opened in 1981 (though the co-operative was founded in 1975) as a small retail outlet staffed by volunteers, and is currently located downtown on Baker Street, where it pulls in more than $6 million annually in gross sales. A key operating principle of the Kootenay Co-op is to give preferential treatment to local growers or processors as suppliers, operating as a democratic organization with compete member involvement.

McLeod says this is one of a number of co-ops in B.C. in various stages of development. He views Salmon Arm as being ripe for one of its own.

“We want to improve economic development,” said McLeod. “Seventy-three per cent of Salmon Arm is agricultural land. What an opportunity!

“We’ve got the dirt, we’ve got the expertise, we’ve got the manpower. What we’ve got to do is put all those things together. But it needs a consumer, and the way to become the consumer is to become part of the invested community where we agree to support each other.”

The forum is made possible by a grant from Interior Health, received by the Shuswap Food Action Co-op and partners the City of Salmon Arm, Okanagan College, the Shuswap Family Resource Centre and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

Anyone wishing to attend the Food for Thought forum is asked to RSVP to Margaret Hardy at margaret@mlhardy.ca or John McLeod at 250-832-7518, or by email to johnwmac@telus.net, by March 4.

For more information about Food for Thought, contact Margaret Hardy at margaret@mlhardy.ca, or Laura Kalina at laura.kalina@interiorhealth.ca, or at 250-851-7424.