Okanagan Food Hub Co-Op accepting members

"We're officially open for business," said Mark Pigott, an interim director and treasurer of the Okanagan Food Hub Co-Op

A new public market could be coming in Kelowna's north end

Plans for a valley-wide food co-op are coming together quickly, with more members signing up and a developer going through the approval process needed to create a storefront.

“We’re officially open for business,” said Mark Pigott, an interim director and treasurer of the Okanagan Food Hub Co-Op, noting they hope to have the co-op serving its members by spring of 2017.

At this point, however, they’re doing a membership drive and collecting fees that will allow them to bring together small scale food producers  in a way that allows them to thrive and, in turn, the community to access their goods.

“People are starting to realize the Okanagan is a food basket with great potential,” said Pigott, adding that dozens of food producers have already expressed interest in joining the co-op. At a meeting held late last month on the co-op around 30 were in attendance.

Once people join they will be able to shape  the co-op. Thus far everything from a store-front, to a door-to-door service and various educational components are being discussed.

“As someone who isn’t a grower it’s clear that this is a big concept with the potential to knit together the marvellous people who make the marvellous food and shine a light on them,” Pigott said.

And it’s a practical thing to do given the current issues with farm production and the rise of the small scale farmer.

With the average age of farmers being 50 to 60 years old, there are a lot of food producers set to retire. Where they traditionally would have passed the reins of their operations to the next generation there’s been a bit of a hiccup, as the cost of large scale farming is out of reach.

That has prompted many farm-oriented young people to innovate and small scale farms are increasingly providing product to local business and at the weekend market.

And many of those smaller scale farmers, it turns out, are looking for room to grow.

Wolf Wesle, of Green Croft Gardens, is one of those farmers and from his perspective, the co-op, which covers the area from Salmon Arm to the U.S. border in the South Okanagan  will allow him more options for with distribution chains and warehousing.

It’s not the first time Pigott and Wesle have thought about alternate ways to empower food producers.

Nearly three years ago a plan for a Granville Island-type market at the old BC Tree Fruit packinghouse was proposed. As some made a push for the Kelowna Farmers and Crafters market to relocate to the North End, relationships fractured and volunteer boards rose and fell. In the end, the developer behind the market plan never followed through and the status quo persevered.

It was upheaval that Wesle was right in the middle of.

“The current co-op has grown out of that disastrous ending,” said Wesle.

To join email Jennifer Schell at jennschell8@gmail.com