Most sustainable food system advocates think a celebration is called for whenever another local food becomes available in the marketplace. But there are some problems created by too much success, including a lack of suitable culinary infrastructure. The Island Chefs Collaborative is trying to augment the facilities available and that was my topic on this week’s edition of Food Matters.
It’s a cliché, but you really can have too much of a good thing when it comes to local food. It’s actually quite a good problem to have. More food shoppers are demanding more local products, more people want to get involved in supplying those products. Many budding entrepreneurs start off by making their products in their kitchens at home, but depending on the type of product it is, they might have to make it in an inspected commercial kitchen facility, or quite often to take the next step up, they have to purchase equipment they just don’t have the capital for. This is where the Island Chefs Collaborative has stepped in, in a number of ways. At first these chefs would hold yearly fundraisers and donate money to farmers or producers to help them improve their businesses. Now that’s morphed a bit into a commercial microloan system, as was explained to me in a busy café the other day by the microloan administrator, Jason Found. Jason says they moved to a microloan system, with start-up funds from VanCity and FarmFolk/CityFolk, because they could help a larger number of people that way. The ICC fundraising then is used to pay off the interest on the loans, so they then become interest-fee for the farmers or food producers. All they have to do is show that the loan will help them increase the supply of local food.
They have been able to assist through these loans all kinds of things that most of us don’t often think of when it comes to food production. Fencing is very important on Vancouver Island given our deer population. Greenhouses to help extend growing seasons and protect against pests. Irrigation systems, and sometimes particular pieces of equipment a food processor might need, like an extra-large mixer, or a bottling or packaging system. Now there is more of a collective idea on the go as opposed to helping people in their own spaces, there is a communal space in mind, the community food hub.
It’s an idea that has been talked about for quite some time, but Jason told me it got kicked into more of a reality in February of this year when a meeting of stakeholders took place and they hammered out an idea of the kind of facility they would like to have. It would feature multiple kitchen spaces, cold storage facilities and specialized equipment not every small scale producer would be able to afford to buy on their own, but they would be able to access it at a reasonable hourly rental rate at the food hub.
If you go back into the history of Vancouver Island when the population was smaller and people produced more of their own food, there were facilities. Warehouses, processing plants, but as the food industry expanded and mechanized and consolidated, a lot of the existing infrastructure disappeared, or was concentrated off-island to the point where if you wanted to take the next step up as a food processor, you had to build your own plant or send it to the Lower Mainland to have your product made. Jason says that doesn’t really help us with our food security here.
Of course this kind of facility doesn’t come cheap, but getting the right combination of mortgages and some capital in place, a building that can be affordably renovated instead of building from scratch, and we may see this food hub come to fruition as early as next spring. But we are talking a multi-million dollar project here, so fundraising is being done on a continual basis, including the Island Chefs Collaborative Christmas Shaker. This exuberant Christmas party will be held in the Historic Car Shop Building at Bayview Place on Sunday, December 8 from 7 to midnight. ICC Chefs serve canapés they’ve created from local foods to pair with Christmas cocktails from some of Victoria’s best Mixologists or bartenders if you prefer.
Tickets are available online for $50.