A regional food market study has identified significant future demand for vegetable production and processing from public institutions in Kamloops.
"To say the least, it's been a real journey," said Shirley Culver, community economic development co-ordinator with Community Futures Thompson Country.
In its first phase, Thompson Shuswap Food Connections — a continuing research project of Community Futures and the Thompson-Shuswap Chef-Farmers Collaborative — surveyed a market expected to develop through the drive for environmental sustainability.
The study looked at RIH, KRCC and TRU and their food requirements in view of a potential shift to foods produced closer to market.
"Being public institutions, government is demanding the use of carbon credits," Culver explained. In other words, the carbon inputs would be measured along with actual cost to evaluate the environmental impact of the food supply. "You've go to build in carbon credits and they're going to be a measure of sustainability."
With a $38,000 grant from the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C., they surveyed the institutions and determined the three crops in most demand are potatoes, onions and carrots. All three can be grown in the region, Culver noted.
"We wanted to see if there was some kind of match around economic diversification."
The second phase of the nine-month study shifts the focus. Local producers, most of them small, independent growers, are currently geared to the whole-foods market, but institutions want ready-cooked foods.
"We want to see if there's some kind of small processing facility to put into the region to add value. It could be structured over the shoulder season to make the food more consume-able."
She recently toured Dhaliwal Seed Farms, which has a supply of off-grade potatoes that can't be sold on the whole-foods market but could be readily processed for the local institutional market.
However, smaller producers are unlikely to have the capital or the scale of operation to accommodate a processing plant on their own.
"I think we have to be really innovative," Culver said, suggesting that government could serve as a catalyst in stimulating local food production. "I think our study has indicated we have beautiful potential here."
Environment Minister Terry Lake said public-sector institutions are required to be carbon-neutral, but the government isn't pressing them to switch to locally produced foods. Food isn't counted in measuring their carbon output, he said.
"It's not a strict requirement, but often managers may look at other ways to achieve sustainability," he said.
Through the Pacific Carbon Trust, a B.C. Crown corporation, the public sector measures, reduces and reports carbon emissions before purchasing offsets to achieve carbon neutrality. That milestone was first reached in 2010, when B.C. became the first carbon-neutral senior government in North America.
Local food production offers a variety of benefits, including food-supply security and economic development and diversification. In some ways, it may represent a smaller carbon footprint, but that's not necessarily the case, Lake added.
"So many different factors come into play," he said. Some argue that local foods can have a larger carbon footprint than shipped foods, he noted.