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Planting the seeds for a West Kootenay regional food organization

With the West Kootenay having become fertile soil for many innovative food system initiatives, another project is now underway which hopes to build the capacity within the West Kootenay to form a regional food system organization.

Often referred to as 'food councils,' 'roundtables,' 'networks' or 'coalitions,' hundreds of these types of regional organizations do already exist throughout North America.

These groups act to broadly support the interests of those who make a living within the food system and exist to help enhance access to healthy and tasty food for all residents.

For almost five years, Jon Steinman of Kootenay Co-op Radio's internationally syndicated radio show Deconstructing Dinner has paid careful attention to global and local food systems here and abroad.

After hanging up the headphones last year and putting the radio show on hold, Steinman is now applying his experience on the ground to spearhead this project.

For the next couple of months, Steinman will be interviewing members of regional food organizations throughout North America to learn what works and what doesn’t when forming and managing democratic regional food organizations.

For the purpose of this proposed regional food organization, the ‘region’ being defined consists of the Creston Valley to the East, Grand Forks to the West, the U.S. border to the South, and Nakusp and the North end of Kootenay Lake to the North.


The history of the project

For Steinman, inspiration to engage in this work has also come from the many public presentations he offers across Canada.

"Most often, the core of what I speak about when I'm on the road are the amazing food initiatives happening right here in the West Kootenay," said Steinman.

"It always strikes me when I'm traveling and showcasing the long list of people here working on enhancing our food system, how easily we ourselves take for granted this firmly rooted work already underway.

“When I step back and observe just how all of these pieces making up the food system come together to support one another, I see tremendous potential to propagate an even more vibrant and resilient food system within our regional community."


What works in the West Kootenay

While food councils are often involved with advocating for policies which support more resilient food systems, Steinman says that at this point, policy is not the focus for this work and how a food council (or roundtable) might function in the West Kootenay is the reason for this preliminary research now underway.

"We have a geographically unique region and there's likely no cookie-cutter food council model to apply here," said Steinman.

"However, by examining the different roles and functions employed by other regional food organizations abroad, we can avoid having to reinvent the wheel and instead cherry-pick best practices from Canada and the United States and apply those successes to what we believe will work here."


The outcome of the work  

The intended outcomes of this work will be a draft strategy for forming a democratic regional food organization ('council').

This strategy will then be submitted to regional stakeholders in June for feedback, and by July, it’s anticipated that a final strategy will be developed alongside a broad coalition of regional support.

Despite this preliminary work being more research-based, the most important intention of the work, suggests Steinman, is to "lay down the foundation for the formation of an organization which can act as an ongoing community consultation, one that will constantly evolve with the ever-changing realities and interests among our food community and support our ability to eat really good food."


Backing for the idea

The interest to support the idea of a regional food council among food system stakeholders was expressed last summer when Steinman hosted a gathering of over 30 people in Nelson who traveled from Creston, Grand Forks and everywhere in between to learn more about how such an organization might evolve into being.

Since that gathering, a strong body of advisory support has been established to support this foundational work with eight experienced individuals lending their wisdom to the project: Corky Evans (former MLA Nelson-Creston), Wayne Harris (Kootenay Alpine Cheese), Jocelyn Carver (Kootenay Co-op), Sheila Dobie (Spencer Hill Orchard), Nadine Raynolds (Redfish School of Change), Aimee Watson (Kaslo Food Security Project), Carolee Colter (CDS Consulting Co-op) and Mike Stolte (Center for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Leadership).

The Castlegar-based Kootenay Food Strategy Society is acting as the host for the project and primary funding has been secured from the Columbia Basin Trust, with additional funding from the Nelson and District Credit Union, Heritage Credit Union, the Hume Hotel and the Kootenay Co-op Natural Food Store. Kootenay Co-op Radio is also supporting the work.