Since the Kootenay Farms Regional Food Hub and Innovation Centre recently opened, local producers now have a way to scale up their operations and meet the demands of larger stores.
Just a few weeks ago, Danny Turner, owner of Just-A-Mere Farm, supplied his first shipment of locally-made organic apple juice to Pealow’s Your Independent Grocer.
“This is a project that I have been working on for a couple of years – to get the labels, quality, format and everything right,” he said.
When the crates of juice arrived, store owner Brian Pealow said he was happy to be a part of the next steps for a local producer.
“I think this is the next level of being a local business owner,” he said. “It’s our call to duty to support local producers and help them grow where we can. I love being able to provide that platform.”
Fields Forward Society, a group in Creston that works to support the local agricultural community, spent the last five years planning and securing funds towards the food hub.
The project was jointly funded with $950,000 from the provincial government and Columbia Basin Trust to purchase commercial scale equipment.
Turner, who is also board chair of Fields Forward Society, said that the idea for the food hub began with the success of the Kootenay Mobile Press a number of years ago.
In stores, shoppers will often only buy the best fruit, leaving anything with blemishes behind. Normally, any fruit that looks less than perfect would be left unpicked on the orchard trees or just thrown away.
The mobile press fixed this problem by turning any undesirable fruit into tasty juice instead.
Every summer, the mobile press is taken from orchard to orchard to turn cherries and apples into juice. Some of the product is then donated to Kootenay food banks and the local Christmas hamper program.
In 2020 alone, the press processed 109,000 litres of apple and cherry juice, which prevented over 450,000 pounds of fruit from becoming waste.
At the food hub, producers across the region will be able to rent out the space for an affordable price for access to the juice press, dehydrators, pasteurizers, and packaging/labelling equipment.
“The difference now is we have a permanent home to house all of the equipment to operate year-round,” said Turner.
Find out more at fieldsforward.ca.