By Diandra Oliver –
Growers and food producers from Vanderhoof to One Hundred Mile House are experiencing the exciting growth of the local foods industry with the development of Sprout Kitchen Regional Food Hub and Business Incubator. In July 2019, the City of Quesnel was awarded $500,000 from the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a small-scale food processing and innovation centre based in Quesnel. Launching in the fall of 2020, Sprout Kitchen will be a small-scale food processing and innovation hub that serves the area from Vanderhoof to One Hundred Mile House.
While there is consumer demand to buy and eat locally produced, value-added food products, a gap exists in getting small food businesses into grocery stores, restaurants, and larger markets. To address this gap, the BC Ministry of Agriculture is supporting the development of a series of regional Food Hubs that will link food producers and processors with shared technology, research and development, production equipment, expertise, and services.
Food hubs are a crucial but often invisible part of the local food system. They help small farms grow by offering a combination of production, distribution, and marketing services. There are now 236 food hubs in the United States, with more popping up all the time. Some are physical spaces, some virtual online spaces, but all are concerned with connecting the dots between producers and consumers of food in local and regional food systems. Food hubs can be thought of as community-based supporters that connect producers (farmers and ranchers) with institutional buyers (restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc) and end consumers
Since the word ‘food hub’ can be used to describe a variety of initiatives, Sprout Kitchen Project Manager Amy Quarry explains, “this particular type of food hub is a commercial food processing hub that is designed to support the development of value-added food products and businesses. This includes the marketing of regional agricultural crops, simplifying the local food supply chain, and making and selling food products that could be sold in grocery stores, restaurants, and to regional infrastructure like schools and hospitals.”
Once open, Sprout Kitchen will operate a centralized shared-use food and beverage processing facility in Quesnel that will provide new and established business owners with easy and affordable access to shared processing infrastructure including processing and testing equipment, food business advisory services, product development services, analytic services, applied research opportunities, and education and training related to food processing and food safety.
For Chanelle Sankey and Sarah Murray, owners of Hixon Falls Cracker Co., Sprout Kitchen is arriving at the right time. Sankey says, “We both have always envisioned opening our own food business, and since the idea of Sprout Kitchen has been introduced to our community, it’s given us the aspiration to push ourselves to expand and improve our business.”
By having the opportunity to be in a larger processing facility and connecting to new markets and services Sankey and Murray will be able to increase their production and product development with access to the proper equipment and guidance.
“Getting involved in this project and meeting new contacts and networking with experienced people in this industry will support us to essentially learn more and grow our business,” says Murray.
Sprout Kitchen is an initiative of the City of Quesnel with generous support from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Northern Development Initiative Trust. To learn more about Sprout Kitchen and how you can get involved, please visit www.sproutkitchen.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org. -GG
Diandra Oliver is a writer and community developer from unceded Wet’suwet’en territories in Northern B.C