Community Futures North Okanagan supports food systems network

How can we develop a local food system that is prosperous, environmentally sustainable and accessible? Even more, how can we go from talking about doing this, to making it happen? These are just some of the questions that have driven Land to Table, a network of partners committed to building a thriving local food network for the North Okanagan. 

“Our idea is that if we have a well-connected and coordinated network inspired by a common vision and goals, together we can develop a food system that benefits so many in our region in so many ways,” says Liz Blakeway, coordinator, Land to Table. 

Originally known as North Okanagan Food Systems Initiative (NOFSI), the network grew from handful of women rooted in the agricultural community who were committed to sustainable development and began a study circle. Founding member Eva-Lena Lang went on to focus her master’s degree research on building a food system network in the North Okanagan. 

Three years later, Land to Table is focusing both on implementing Lang’s recommendations around building the network, and then harnessing that network to take action. 

For the last two years, Land to Table has held winter forums attended by producers, processors, distributors, restaurateurs, chefs, retailers, food waste managers, engaged consumers, government agencies, not-for-profits, academics and more. 

“The forums are really key for us. We’re trying to tackle some really big, complex ideas each year and then break it down into different pieces that our action teams then go away to execute on,” says Blakeway.  

Actions and ideas to come out of those forums include:

  • GAP Canada certification so producers meet requirements to have large-scale distributors, for example, buy and re-sell their produce, a workshop that has already been hosted twice at Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO)
  • How to get more food into local restaurants and institutions, such as colleges and the university
  • A food hub project that would explore bringing local produce together for collective sale, storage and distribution 
  • A way to measure the progress and strength of the regional food system with data from area food processors around who is producing what and where is it going
  • A report on consumer attitudes around buying local food to find out what barriers exist and opportunities to overcome them

Blakeway says participation in the forums, steering committee and action teams has been strong, a sign that Land to Table’s work is timely, relevant and important to the various partners. 

“These people are so, so busy, but they see the potential and opportunity in the work that they’re doing, and we say, ‘This is your network. We want to support the ideas and energy you have for these different pieces, so tell us how we can do that.’” 

“It (that strong commitment) demonstrates the importance and validity of what we’re doing—that we can connect to people and complete projects—but it’s also important for stakeholders who said, no more talk. So it’s a fine balance between network building and getting things done.” 

Because of the importance of the work and the need to take complementary priority actions forward, the Regional District of the North Okanagan’s electoral area advisory committee saw a link with Land to Table’s work and funded Blakeway’s coordinator position, a unique and promising step. 

“There are a lot of food systems societies popping up in BC but funding is a challenge, so we’re very fortunate that our regional district wants to support this work. 

Support for Land to Table has also come from Community Futures North Okanagan, which is acting as a backbone organization, providing important administrative and business planning assistance. 

“Even more than that, they create a home base for the Land to Table steering committee to meet and host important stakeholder and network meetings,” says Blakeway, adding CFNO also plays an integral role in Land to Table’s ability to apply for grant funding as well as offer training and workshops to network members, such as the GAP Canada certification. “These are all such important pieces of our function and success as a network.”

Kazia Mullin, Business Services Coordinator, CFNO, says it makes sense for Community Futures to provide foundational support for a network that’s supporting the local food economy. 

“There are so many strong economic development opportunities here, so our business services team is happy to be supporting Land to Table as it begins to take bigger and bigger steps in growing local connections to food.”