LOCAL FLAVOUR: Conference brings together farmers from across Vancouver Island

Farmer2Farmer Conference set for March 1 at Saanich Fairgrounds

By Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

The annual Farmer2Farmer Conference is about local people, local issues and local solutions. It provides powerful networking and learning opportunities for farmers and food producers in the region. This year’s conference on March 1 at the Saanich Fairgrounds will bring together farmers from across Vancouver Island in a day of skill building, networking and ideas that are designed to support local farmers to thrive.

One of the hot topics this year will be exploring how the development of a tech park for agriculture may just be a key ingredient in boosting agriculture and food business opportunity in the region. Ty James will give the keynote on the work underway to create an aggregation, storage and processing service centre for food and agriculture producers. James has been shortlisted by The South Island Prosperity Project to present this idea for start-up investment at their Dragon’s Den style pitch fest called the South Island Open Innovation Challenge.

“In consultation with Island farmers, we have found that on average, large farming operations will waste 40 per cent of the crops they produce each season due to lack of distribution opportunities and value-added services available. Farmers, who have exhausted their distribution channels, as well as freezing and storage capacity, are still left with surplus product that could be transformed through processing into a variety of market ready, shelf stable products” explains James.

He outlines the opportunity as the creation of a “centralized hub for processing, packaging and distribution, where farmers will be able to utilize infrastructure to bring their products to market in an effective and convenient manner without the need to invest in costly infrastructure for their individual farms, while engaging in service options to receive fair, market value for their produce and harvest by-products.” One of the things that Ty is passionate about is the potential for Island farmers to capitalize on their surplus production in peak season through extending the shelf life of their produce, while creating a diverse line of Island-grown and processed products for distribution to local stores.

I wonder if this service centre also may line up nicely with the South Island Prosperity Project (our local economic development commission) proposal for the creation of an Agri-Tourism Cluster in Saanich. Would an agri-tech park that brings it all together be a game changer in our region?

You are invited to be part of this conversation. In addition, this year the lineup of workshops is focused on three workshop streams. The first stream is Hands-on Skills. This includes workshops on managing soil fertility, profitable farming for small-lot growers, and engine trouble shooting. The second stream features best practices that could be models or approaches that would benefit your farm bottom line. This includes a workshop on business practices and marketing tools for farmers selling at farmers’ markets, different co-op models that are working to increase marketing potential, and a roundtable on organic certification. The third workshop stream is around “Closing the Supply Gap”. This is looking at overcoming the challenges and barriers for farmers in supplying retail and institutional markets and the growing opportunities in this area, including the idea of the agri-tech park.

Tips, ideas skill building and networking of all sorts will pack the day. There are always a number of vendors on hand with farm-related goods and services from seeds to irrigation equipment. This year a special feature will be having Sasha Kubicek, a whiz accountant on hand where you can book a one-on-one session to get tips and advice about your farm financial management. We have heard great things about his handy tips on spreadsheets as a total time saver.

Please join us for this yearly event, and help to spread the word. Generous sponsorship from VanCity, the Peninsula and Area Agriculture Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture help to keep the conference really affordable, and of course a delicious lunch always hits the spot, prepared by chef Chris Hammer of the Island Chef Collaborative.

For the program, conference tickets and exhibitor information, visit www.farmer2farmer.ca or call Jasmine at 250 580-5837.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.

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