A Victoria charity is celebrating what it says is a game-changer for the regional food economy.
The Victoria Community Food Hub, based at the Mustard Seed’s Esquimalt distribution centre, is preparing to launch the Kitchen Connect Food Hub, a food-processing initiative giving local farmers, non-profits and business owners the means to scale up production and get more local food in grocery stores.
With a $350,000 grant from the province, the charity purchased equipment including a 100-gallon blending plant, a pasteurizer, and wash-and-pack processing machinery so South Island farmers and retailers can scale up production on bulk washed and certified fresh food sales, sauces, dressings, soups and more.
“If we want to preserve our local harvest, then we need this type of infrastructure capacity within our system,” said Susan Tychie, lead developer. “We’re talking about the short supply chain here, from farm to processing centre to retail to the consumer.”
The kitchen space and processing equipment will be available for rent later this fall.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the processing community about having that kind of capacity,” Tychie said.
“It’s opening up new markets for [producers] through the use of this large capacity equipment.
“We all feel that to … have this capacity regionally and the scaling up is going to make the product more competitive in the market place. We’re building relationships within the community so we can provide more food in the grocery and institutional markets where most people shop.”
The facility will also be used for training opportunities and community events, Tychie said. The Mustard Seed, which links locally recovered food to charities and community groups through its Food Rescue Project, will also benefit from the new equipment.
“The Mustard Seed will be able to use our … dehydrating and processing capacity to extend the shelf life of rescued food just as we are extending the shelf life of locally grown food,” Tychie said. “So it’s a great cross-pollination.”
Not all the equipment has arrived in time for the harvest, Tychie said, which is why, in the meantime, Kitchen Connect used Mustard Seed equipment and partnered with Red Barn and Country Grocer to provide locally-sourced fresh pesto and salads.
The Victoria Community Food Hub also operates the South Island Farm Hub, which provides aggregation and distribution of local produce to home and wholesale buyers and — at subsidized prices — to community organizations, charities and schools.
The public can donate to the initiative by purchasing FarmBucks, which allow charities to buy the fresh produce at a lower price.
“The farmer can make a living and the charity can access the product as well,” Tychie said. “We want to make sure everyone can access this food.”