Fort St. John farm group helps small growers

A new agriculture group in Fort St. John aims to bolster small-scale producers by expanding markets with local consumers.

The Northern Co-hort, a branch of the Northern Environmental Action Team, also plans to address food security in the region, finding ways for more local products to end up in consumers’ grocery bags.

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“It’s for producers trying to find the gravy train,” said Bess Legault, co-ordinator with the group, during a pea planting event in early June.

“They don’t just want to backyard garden and make $200 at a farmers market. We are looking at livelihoods and real solutions with food.”

The group was founded in late 2018 after Legault realized there were opportunities to address problems small-scale producers had been facing in the region.

For instance, some producers have found it difficult to market their product, given they are short on time and labour to attend markets.

As well, with little on-farm income, some small-scale producers lack the infrastructure to help grow their businesses. Research dollars for their products are also scarce.

“Marketing is one of the biggest challenges,” Legault said. “In the past it has been done individually, but we can find ways to make it a collaborative effort.”

Michelle Schaeffer, who farms near Rose Prairie, said Northern Co-hort has helped her sell her products at the farmers market when the family is unable to.

“It’s like an extension of our own arms,” Schaeffer said. “Being busy with our kids and tending to our livestock every day, we can’t be at the market every weekend.

“It’s been a gamechanger, allowing us to grow and maintain our presence in front of our customers.”

Legault said she would like to eventually see a washing and grading facility, a freeze-drying facility, or year-round greenhouses open in the region.

“It’s not cumbersome,” she said. “You can actually have a business plan and the support is there. We’re trying to ignite and connect the resources to people who are early adopters and want to try alternative production.”

Going forward, she said she would like to see accreditation, in the form of branding, for Peace region food.

“People are really proud of what they produce here,” she said. “We want to increase this local system so we can enjoy our products longer, not just for only a few months of the year.”

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