Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of Fields Forward, and Josh Hammermeister, Kootenay Farms Food Hub manager, pose with the new freeze drier that arrived in September. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of Fields Forward, and Josh Hammermeister, Kootenay Farms Food Hub manager, pose with the new freeze drier that arrived in September. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Creston’s regional food hub helps farmers expand products, strengthens food security

Farmers across the Kootenay region can access the facility to create new products

Opened in 2021, the Kootenay Farms Food Hub and Innovation Centre provides services that allow farmers to scale up operations in a more affordable way.

Fields Forward Society, a Creston non-profit, formed in 2018 to work towards increasing economic development in the farm and food sector.

“We’re focusing on developing locally appropriate food production, processing, storage, distribution and sale – that’s part of our constitution,” said Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of Fields Forward. “Our mandate is to help farmers and food processors grow and innovate.”

At the Food Hub, industrial-scale equipment is available for food processing on a fee for service basis to create value-added products like juice and jam. The equipment in the 4,000-sq.-ft. facility includes a commercial kitchen, automated multi-purpose filling line, and flash pasteurizer, as well as dry and cold storage for rent. The facility is also licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

This multi-purpose filling line allows for up to 100 bottles an hour. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

This multi-purpose filling line allows for up to 100 bottles an hour. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

READ MORE: Regional food hub officially opens in Creston

“The equipment would be too expensive for an individual to buy, but by renting from us, we can help them grow their business and reach new markets,” said Quinn. “This allows for much more potential than an individual could do with their product on their own.”

In September, a new freeze drier also arrived that has the potential to process over 100 pounds of food at a time. Clients in the East Kootenays have already expressed interest and have been eagerly awaiting the day the freeze drier is ready to be used.

By transforming fruit into juice or freeze-dried powder, farmers can save countless pounds of product from going into the landfill.

Apple juice produced by Just A Mere Farms at the Kootenay Farms Food Hub & Innovation Centre. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Apple juice produced by Just A Mere Farms at the Kootenay Farms Food Hub & Innovation Centre. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Once a producer has an idea for a product in mind, Food Hub staff works in collaboration to understand their unique vision. Staff is trained to help with everything from operating equipment, creating and printing labels, and distributing products through a local transportation system.

Clients have the option to reduce costs by learning how to be a part of each step of the process themselves.

Currently, anchor tenant Kieran Poznikoff, owner of Ki Mana Acres, rents space at the Food Hub to operate his own egg washing equipment.

Josh Hammermeister, Food Hub manager, assisted him with creating labels and ensuring his products adhered to the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations.

“Involving farmers in the process is one of the benefits,” said Hammermeister. “There’s an excitement that comes with actually putting plans into action and adding value to food.”

Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of Fields Forward, shows off the commercial kitchen. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of Fields Forward, shows off the commercial kitchen. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)

There are other hidden benefits that come along with the Food Hub’s operations. With an opportunity to create new products, farmers have the potential to increase their profits and income. Locally produced food and beverages also adds to food security.

“Ultimately, what we’re providing improves security for everyone in the region,” said Quinn. “If farmers are making a viable living, then there’s more food being made in our region.”

Over the last four years, Kootenay farmers have dealt with many challenges such as too much rain in the spring, heat domes and smoky air in the summer, and of course, the pandemic.

“What I’ve been hearing from farmers, is how can we possibly prepare for yet another new challenge?” said Quinn. “I think using our Food Hub makes people feel hopeful because there’s something positive happening. It’s encouraging. The government of B.C., Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Columbia Basin Trust, Regional District of Central Kootenay, and Creston Valley Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership have made this possible. Government, community, and business made this happen together.”

For more information on the Kootenay Farms Food Hub and Innovation Centre, visit kootenayfarms.ca.

Creston Valley