Food inventory in West Kootenay to bolster food security plans

The regional government is going to put up several thousand dollars to do an inventory of food sources, suppliers and supporters in the West Kootenay.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Community Sustainability Living Advisory Committee (CSLAC) made the decision in December, which was ratified by the board as a whole a few days later.

The roughly $3,500 food inventory project is part of a larger effort to bolster food security in the region, says the head of a group promoting local food production and supply. Abra Brynne notes efforts to improve food security in the West Kootenay – to develop more local production and bolster supply chains – have been going on for years

“It was essentially motivated by the pandemic but driven by the larger understanding that there are all kinds of reasons our food supply chains can be vulnerable over time, and that it would be wise in the face of climate change and any other things that come our way to have a kind of action plan…,” says Brynne, the executive director of the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council. “So that when things go sideways, we have the ability to take care of ourselves to the greatest degree possible.”

Part of that effort included developing a COVID-19 regional food security response in 2020.

“The Central Kootenay Food Security Action Plan proposes to address the immediate food-related fallout from the pandemic being felt across the Central Kootenay,” said a December report to the RDCK board. “This will enable a rapid response to the needs being experienced across our region and the ability to adapt as circumstances continue to change.”

Brynne says they only received word recently about the grant decision, so only the most general planning has been done on the project to date. Collection of information should begin in earnest later this spring.

“It is certainly [noting] the farms and the primary producers, that’s fundamental, but up and down the supply chain it’s important to understand what we have in the region, what we have in terms of distribution, storage, aggregation and processing, all of those kinds of pieces are important,” says Brynne. “But also what related services are there… do we still have people who can provide services like ploughing fields, install fences, or people who provide guidance with issues with pests, or veterinarians? Those are all parts of a food system asset map.”

Further afield, they’ll talk to organizations that form part of the Food Council – chambers of commerce, community futures groups, emergency food organizations, provincial and federal resources.

More intangible resources will also be collected on the asset map—the social assets, knowledge keepers and cultural understandings.

“Those are all part of what we will be exploring in terms of building out the picture of what we have here and how we can leverage it to the greatest degree possible,” she says.

While praising the local government for its pro-active efforts to ensure residents have access to emergency food resources, she says we’re still “a hell of a long way” to go before the region can consider itself food secure. But she says we’ve moved in the right direction.

“We’ve kind of adapted – the initial wake up call of the pandemic was important, but with 2021 and the climate impacts of the heat dome, and flooding, and now the crazy snow, those have really driven home and focussed the attention more on the food systems vulnerability,” she says.

Brynne says the shift to better secure food resources was apparent when floods cut off the Lower Mainland from the rest of the province – and store shelves in the Kootenays started to grow bare of meat and veggies.

“There are a number of businesses in this region that already had a real strong commitment with working with local food suppliers,” she says “…[w]hen you look to the Kootenay Co-op, they went to their 150-plus local suppliers and said, ‘How are you guys doing for food, do you have any issues?’ and they were like ‘We’re good to go’.

“There were things that obviously would have come on those trucks from Vancouver – but a lot of the essentials were put in place by businesses that already had that motivation and had built into their business practice to support local producers,” she says.

And that’s why the food inventory approved by the RDCK board is important, Brynne feels.

“This will just make that journey a lot easier for those other businesses who want to privilege more local supply.”

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