Okanagan Food Hub Co-Op continues to gain steam

Nearly 30 went to a meeting to gauge public interest in the Okanagan Food Hub Co-Operative's plans for a storefront business

Plans are moving ahead for a market in the north end of Kelowna.

Plans for a one-stop food shop in Kelowna’s north end are starting to take shape.

A meeting held late last week to gauge public interest in the Okanagan Food Hub Co-Operative’s plans for a storefront business highlighting local fare attracted roughly 30 people.

Wolf Wesle, of Green Croft Gardens, is one of the driving forces of the co-op and said there was a great deal of interest in the concept, among both consumers and food producers. Now they’re going to do a co-op shareholder drive to solidify community commitment. As that moves forward, Wesle said the approach the co-op will take to managing supply and demand will take shape.

The co-op covers the area from Salmon Arm to the U.S. border in the South Okanagan.

Current members have decided that the centre will be Kelowna, and they have been approached by a developer who has a building and location where they think a co-op would go well.

Wesle is currently staying mum on the address, but says it will be in the north end neighbourhood of Kelowna.

His cautious approach in sharing a potential location is because the last time Kelowna seemed poised to have a food co-op, chaos ensued.

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. “The mistake we made was we assumed that everybody wants to grow their business and that just isn’t so … but there are a lot of farmers who find that two markets [days a week] at the [current Farmer’s] market isn’t enough anymore.”

Many of those farmers have already joined the co-op and they will likely continue their relationship with the farmers market at Springfield and Dilworth roads.

Wesle stressed that the storefront is meant to augment what’s already available in terms of getting products to the consumer, and there’s more than enough opportunities for both ventures to exist.  Studies suggest that farmers markets only account for one-and-a-half per cent of all grocery dollars spent in a community.

And on the developer side of the equation, Wesle said the proposal is more realistic.

“It’s smaller. The building at this point is a large building with a large outdoor portion that goes with it,” he said. “We will not be using all of the building and we will be looking for other interested parties to move in.”

Some examples that have been discussed are a fish store, or coffee roaster and bakery.

To get to that point, though, the co-op needs to raise enough support and money to gain access to federal government grant funds.

The co-op board is working with a consultancy group which has done farmers market work with Kamloops and Vancouver farmers markets, and has a plan in place.

Once everything is up and running, the board will hire a manager to run the store.

At a meeting held late last week, 30 people attended and expressed a desire to be shareholder. Another meeting is scheduled for mid-December.