Cariboo Growers has been the place to go for locally grown meat and produce for many smaller producers in the Cariboo-Chilcotin year-round for ten years. The store closed its doors on October 31 with a final celebration Harvest Sale enabling the community to enjoy a last feast of excellent local food sold at the Co-op store, operating as a not-for-profit business.
The store was established as an initiative of Interior Health with funding to the Williams Lake Food Policy Council in 2008. The Growers Co-operative of the Cariboo-Chilcotin was established as the legal entity that would operate the store. Its goal was to provide a marketplace for small farmers and help build the local agriculture community, ultimately strengthening our food security. In this, the Cariboo Growers store has been a success. Many local community members, businesses, the City of Williams Lake, and the Cariboo Regional District contributed to the store’s opening and operation with generous gifts of time, equipment, and supplies. The Williams Lake Stampede Association gave the store a boost after the 2017 fires and city evacuation, the Red Cross helped, and there have been many other donations over the years. Thank you to all! Your support of the store and local agriculture is appreciated.
Winter months proved to be too big a challenge for the small store. Some producers managed to extend the growing season for fresh greens offering bags of tasty salad mix from late March until November. Shelves were full of crops such as onions, leeks, carrots, potatoes, and beets. The freezers bulged with meat, fish, berries, and apple juice. But by late winter growers couldn’t provide enough to the store. Another challenge was gaining the commitment from co-op members to be involved in the operation of the store—they are all farmers who have to find extra time and energy to sustain a healthy business.
New growers in the region have begun to produce on a larger scale and as storage and food processing facilities are developed, our region is becoming more food secure. Cariboo Growers Co-op was an important part of the supply chain. The members of Cariboo Growers encourage a new person or group with fresh energy and ideas to step up to the challenge of providing local food year-round. The store front is available for an exciting new venture, which we hope will display tasty local food products soon. The store’s facilities remain in place for a short time and are available for rent or purchase.
The board of directors is confident that, with the right drive and business acumen, a local food retailer could do well in the Williams Lake community, and this would be a great opportunity. The store is turn-key, which would save a new business a lot of time and money getting going, and there is a lot of potential for a diverse business. There are stainless steel sinks and counters in the store, for example, that could accommodate a certified kitchen space if someone wanted to serve ready-to-eat products. The board is even willing to consult with a new local food retailer to help them get set up in any way they can, with suppliers, purchasing trends, and any other support they can give to keep the local food movement moving. We look forward to a new business venture in the space that will take the place of Cariboo Growers and continue to bring a wealth of locally diverse food products to the community.