The South Island FarmHub (SIFarmHub) was brought to life during COVID as a way to connect farmers with abundant produce on hand to local community members in need of fresh food. We touched base with Lauren Searle, Development Strategist & Managerof the SIFarmHub, to learn more about this initiative and what has transpired since its launch this past spring.
What is the SIFarmHub?
The SIFarmHub is a farmer-driven produce distribution centre with a goal to deliver farm fresh food from our region to everyone in the community. Under the umbrella of the Victoria Community Food Hub Society (a sister charity to CRFAIR), the FarmHub helps your neighbourhood farmers get their amazing seasonal produce in the hands of local chefs, charities, school districts and home customers. When restaurants shut down due to COVID, farmers lost a valuable market; for some, that was up to 40% of their sales. In response to this, we launched an online platform where farmers upload their product and customers can shop from the diverse product list. Twice weekly, farmers drop off their product at an aggregation location, and from there, the FarmHub delivers to its local purchasers.
How do the farmers benefit from the SIFarmHub?
The SIFarmHub has over 25 local farmers listed and is focused on produce grown in the Capital Regional District (CRD). SIFarmHub now has farmers of all scales of farming working together to distribute produce to local folk. We are open to all producers in the CRD. The goal is to support farmers by building on existing and opening new marketing channels, manage the quantity of produce they have, and provide a local to local distribution channel. This allows producers to focus their time and energy on crop planning and harvesting.
What has your relationship with Vancity been like?
Vancity has supported many food security projects and programs within the CRD over the years and most recently participated in CRFAIR’s Closing the Supply Gap Initiative. As part of the cross sectoral leaders group, Vancity provided input and funding into how we could create a robust local food economy. One of the missing pieces of the system was identified as aggregation and distribution. The SIFarmHub can be an integral piece to that infrastructure. The SIFarmHub is now part of the Mustard Seed’s Food Security and Distribution Center which was funded in part by Vancity. We are deeply grateful for Vancity’s support over the years and the positive impact we are having on our greater community!
How has COVID-19 affected your organization?
There’s been a huge focus on community throughout COVID; it’s never been more important to reach out, support, and encourage friends, family, farmers, and community members. We received Rapid Relief funding during the early days of COVID to create capacity for the SIFarmHub to begin to distribute local food where it is most needed. This funding also included donated money for ‘Farmbucks.’ Charities can purchase local food and apply their Farmbucks credit to pay for 50% of their order of local food. Providing the most vulnerable with access to local produce has been a long term goal of the food community. Our partnership with the FoodShare Network has facilitated just that – it has improved food security to over 15,000 people in our region.
Hearing stories and feedback from our farmers has also had such a positive impact during this pandemic. One of our first onboarded farmers, Northstar Organics, shared “the SIFarmHub has been an important part of our sales this year. A simple online sales platform coupled with very responsive and knowledgeable staff makes this a very straightforward and beneficial route for us to sell our farm produce – which, in this pandemic year is very welcome! I anticipate that the FarmHub will not only continue to be a major sales route for us but will become increasingly important for the farming community as more time passes.”
On the customer end, charity partner Our Place Society shared “the Farmbuck Program has enabled us to access more fresh, local produce. Helping local farmers is exciting and we love participating in local food security initiatives. Every day we feed 250 guests, 3 meals per day. They value and enjoy fresh and healthier foods.”
With COVID, we have seen a shift in the way people think about food and the food system, focusing on economic resiliency and building a more robust local food system, and that’s been really what the SIFarmHub is all about.
What is the SIFarmHub working on these days?
Exciting initiatives, that’s for sure! We are now serving 4 school districts, 20 local charities, local restaurants and recently launched home delivery. This October we onboarded locally processed foods made by farmers and food processors in our region. This is allowing us to support our farmers in more ways and offer our customers a wider range of delicious and fresh product, including local free-range eggs, herb-infused vinegar, brie toppers, tomato sauce, dill pickles, fruit leathers and preserves. School teachers and local chefs have thoroughly enjoyed shopping from the SIFarmHub to incorporate our seasonal and regional product into their foods and culinary programs, thus, strengthening food literacy skills. When you purchase through the SI FarmHub you’ll see produce that is in season, curated regional produce boxes and new weekly features on the storefront. Join us in the experience of eating local all year round and supporting our incredible regional farmers!
To learn more about the South Island FarmHub and their mission to make good food, fresh from local farms, accessible to everyone in our community, visit: https://www.sifarmhub.ca/