September/October Feature Story
“If the challenge of climate change feels overwhelming, know that farmers all around this province have not given up. In fact, they are working hard to reduce emissions and develop new techniques and technologies to adapt to changing weather so that British Columbians can continue to have access to safe, locally grown food for generations to come.”
—Hon. Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture
There’s a lot of buzz around food technology these days. How do we create food systems that meet the needs of our changing world and what role does technology play? How can B.C. harness new technologies and innovations to produce more food, jobs and prosperity, while reducing waste?
It’s attracting a lot of research and investment.
I spoke to B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham for an update about some ground-breaking agri-initiatives at work in our province. She’s been travelling B.C. to learn about agriculture issues for a decade now and what she is seeing is inspiring: small farms all over the province doing a lot of amazing things—and creating “a renaissance of experimentation around food culture and food processing.”
Here are a few examples of B.C. initiatives underway she told me about that are leveling the playing field for small farmers and food entrepreneurs:
B.C. Food Hub Network
According to Popham, British Columbia is the only province in Canada
that doesn’t have an R & D food innovation centre for food processing.
UBC is currently developing one, but we need more than one centre. Food producers and processors from all around the province need more convenient access to high tech kitchens, production equipment, expertise and services to get their products ready for domestic and international markets.
Commissary Connect, a shared-use processing facility in Vancouver, received funding from the provincial government to be a pilot demonstration food hub in the region. It has 60 warehouse spaces set up with kitchens that are available 24/7 for food entrepreneurs.
Eventually, the idea is to establish a network of these food hubs in other cities around the province to link food entrepreneurs to each other, further supporting the expansion of market opportunities for B.C. agriculture in general.
“By creating a dedicated food hub space in regions throughout the province, the sector will be able to continue their growth and increase the value of B.C. processed products,” said Popham.
Feed B.C. is a cutting-edge initiative being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, a partnership that is committed to moving more local B.C. foods into our hospital systems.
A lot of money is spent every year supplying hospitals with food. Essentially, this initiative would transition the way hospital food is sourced by various B.C. health authorities and create more opportunities for our farmers to produce products specifically for institutional settings.
“Feed B.C. is about working in partnership to encourage, inspire and support a shift to more B.C. foods in health-care and other government facilities. It’s food as medicine,” said Popham. “Buying local not only supports the agriculture sector in our province, it contributes to our provincial food security, helping build a more resilient and sustainable food supply.”
Awareness that fresh food in hospitals is part of health and healing has even prompted a “food is medicine” message campaign on patient trays. Elevating the role of food is an important part of healing and is another way health institutions can support the wellness of their patients and local agriculture economy at the same time.
Surprisingly, everyone thought it was going to cost a lot more to source local foods—but it turns out, it’s not. The Ministries
are now looking to identify the top 20 foods that hospitals purchase that could, instead, be supplied by farmers across our province.
“By implementing a procurement policy for B.C. food within our health care system, says Popham, “we would bring stability to B.C. agriculture, and in doing so would incentivize our important processing sector to expand and flourish.”
B.C.’s Food Security Task Force
This government initiative is currently looking for input from various stakeholder groups—within the food processing industry and beyond—for new ideas about how we can use technology and innovation to strengthen B.C.’s agriculture sector. Specifically, the task force is interested in ways:
• To dramatically reduce the estimated 1/3 of food that is lost or wasted
• To shift to plant-based proteins
• To boost crop yields to get more than one crop per harvest
• To encourage more crop diversity to provide a more stable source of food and habitat for pollinators.
Current Status — The stakeholder groups will be providing a final report of its findings to the Ministers of Agriculture and Jobs, Trade and Technology at the end of this year. Stay tuned!