Okanagan-Shuswap food and beverage producers will soon have a new resource to help bring innovative products to market.
The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture announced Wednesday, Sept. 16, that it is partnering with the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society (SAEDS), providing $500,000 for the development of a “food hub” to help businesses access shared food and beverage processing space and equipment in order to increase their sales.
In a related news release, Lana Popham, B.C.’s agriculture minister, explained the hub would provide entrepreneurs with a place to create and package new products, receive business support and engage in training opportunities to help develop products that will “strengthen food security, create good jobs and help the local economy thrive.”
The hub, scheduled to open in 2021, would also provide a venue for knowledge sharing, to support the growth of local businesses.
While a site for the hub has yet to be determined, Lana Fitt, economic development manager with SAEDS, said the initial space would ideally be around 5,000 square feet. She explained the concept of the food hub is based on the sharing economy, similar to the Salmon Arm Innovation Centre but with a focus on food.
“So it’s really shared equipment, shared space for storage and production, and then the knowledge piece as well, providing support to both new start-ups and existing businesses looking to expand new product lines, new markets,” said Fitt.
In July 2019, SAEDS received $35,000 from the ministry to conduct a feasibility study on the food hub. Fitt said there was significant support in the community for moving forward with a co-operative facility. That was followed by the development of a business plan, with support from the ministry, which was completed at the end of August. SAEDs received notification of the $500,000 announcement on Tuesday, Sept. 15. She said the funding will allow SAEDS to move forward on establishing the food hub, which will become part of the province’s Food Hub Network. The Salmon Arm hub will be the fifth in B.C. and the first in the Okanagan-Shuswap, joining three operating in Vancouver, Surrey and Port Alberni, and a fourth opening soon in Quesnel.
SAEDS is now looking forward to collaborating on the food hub initiative with regional organizations, including the Innovation Centre, the Shuswap Launch-a-Preneur Program, Community Futures Shuswap and Okanagan College.
When the Salmon Arm Food Hub opens, Fitt said SAEDS will be looking for anchor tenants who will make consistent use of the space, while also making it available on more of a drop-in basis, again similar to the Innovation Centre.
“Maybe they’re coming in leading up to a farmers market or Christmas craft market, on that scale where they would be a smaller producer needing it on a less frequent basis,” Fitt explained.
Chad Shipmaker, a board member with the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society, said a goal of the food hub is to establish a mechanism to support a healthy, more resilient local food system. He said the funding announcement is very timely, as it will support both economic recovery and business growth in the community.