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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • FEBRUARY 2019


Regional food system is the focus of new


group’s efforts Community group works to strengthen North Okanagan economy


by JACKIE PEARASE VERNON – Growing the


local food economy is a big task fraught with challenges but progress is being made in the North Okanagan. A loose group of farming


women launched the North Okanagan Food Systems Initiative (NOFSI) in 2015 to build a regional food system. They’ve since secured external funding, hired a coordinator and developed a vision reaching to 2020. Co-founder and lifelong farmer Eva-Lena Lang helped spearhead NOFSI through a project she did for a community economic development program at Simon Fraser University. Now a master’s student at UBC Okanagan attached to the Community Engaged Research Institute, she’s developing her capacity to support the regional food system and small-scale farmers through her studies. She says the North


Okanagan’s food system faces several issues, including inadequate support for new farmers and other food systems entrepreneurs; expensive farmland; the lack of a centralized hub to scale up aggregation and distribution of local food; and little consumer engagement around purchasing local food. UBCO professor Mary


Stockdale, another original group member, says


additional issues include regulations that impede local food sales; the view that local food is not affordable and not competitive with global production; and that low- income people cannot afford healthy local food. “There is an urgent need


for environmental sustainability, including improvements regionally to address conservation and quality of water, health of soil, less waste and reintegrating waste at every step of the food system, and increasing biodiversity,” Stockdale adds. Inspired by the Vermont


Farm to Plate Network (VF2PN), Lang wanted to explore how the commitment of people from different sectors to a common agenda could solve a specific social problem such as effecting change in the North Okanagan food system. A meeting of 15 North


Okanagan food systems stakeholders in 2016 resulted in the creation of a working committee, the selection of Community Futures as its host organization, and development of a background report summarizing the recommendations from various agriculture, food system and food security plans from the past 10 years. The report was completed in December 2017, and a forum, Growing the Local Food Economy, in January


43


Increasing local food sales is an objective of a new group in the North Okanagan. JACKIE PEARASE PHOTO


2018 attracted 85 participants. Keynote speaker Curtis Ogden, senior associate with Interaction Institute for Social Change in Massachusetts, spoke about regional food systems and inspired the audience. “People [were] very keen and inspired by what Vermont had done and more inspired by the idea of a well-


connected and coordinated network in the North Okanagan – that through a shared common agenda, we could develop a food system that is more economically prosperous and potentially accessible and environmentally sustainable,” says Lang. “There was a lot of momentum and support.” The forum led to hiring


NOFSI coordinator Liz Blakeway on a four-month contract this past May but her tenure was extended until March 2020 with funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC and the Regional District of North Okanagan in September. She is now working closely with the steering


See ACTION on next page o


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