Growing Food and Rossland's Economy
There is an exciting movement happening in Rossland. It’s even visible from space…well, from planes and Google Earth at least. It’s a movement that was critical to Rossland’s survival in the early years, went out of fashion for the better part of a century and is now re-emerging as an important part of our future. A group I’ve had the pleasure of recently bringing together and working with has been working hard to grow a bigger, stronger, and perhaps even more delicious local food movement.
In chatting with our City Planner a few months back, she remarked that in the new aerial photography created for the City this year the movement was plainly visible. From the last set of photos taken five or more years ago you can also see many more gardens in backyards where previously there was grass. In that time we’ve also seen the Rossland Community Garden be realized, we’ve seen the Rossland Foodies emerge and grow into the Rossland Real Food Group, we’ve seen the Mountain Market expand into a core piece of Rossland life, and we’ve had chicken crawls, garden tours and much more.
Indeed the desire to grow and consume local food is a trend fast on the rise, and one that is ready to make another concerted leap forward. That leap forward may well look quite similar to a jump back into the past. Around the turn of the century Rossland, at a population near four times that of today, on roughly the same footprint supplied much of its own food locally. Now with a quarter of the people it’s estimated that less than 2% of our diet is grown in our mountain home.
Building off previous plans and efforts including Rossland’s Official Community Plan, Visions to Action exercises, Sustainability Commission, Strategic Sustainability Plan, and 2016-2018 Council Strategic Plan, this week a Rossland group will submit a Letter of Intent to apply for $45,000 in grants over three years to take our local food movement to the next level.
Three weeks ago I put out the call to all of those involved and in love with growing food in Rossland. The result was an energetic group of 11 that showed up to talk food. After discussing what works, what doesn’t, why, why not and how to really take it up several notches, we came up with a plan.
It starts with continued and ramped up engagement of the community through the formation of this group into an official food security task force. That group will then endeavour to undertake further research on all relevant laws, bylaws, rules, regulations, licensing and the like to assist with the rest of the plan. With those two pieces in place it moves on to increasing the food production capacity of Rossland. This can come in a variety of ways including pooling existing privately held land that isn’t in production. It could also mean utilizing some existing City owned, non-utilized land that is ideal for growing, including for example four acres in Happy Valley. It could include greenhouses to increase season length, and productive square footage. Education also plays a role with additional workshops, mentorships and learning opportunities to help boost production from existing and want to be farmers will aim to increase skill, knowledge and ultimately yield.
With capacity boosted, a focus on increasing the sales channels for local growers will then help get food from farm to fork. This could look like an expanded farmers market, subscription / crop share services and the like. With capacity increased and sales channels expanded through to customers, the plan then looks at value added production. Whereas a tomato might make a buck apiece for example, a jar of salsa goes for even more. Helping put co-operative facilities and tools in place to move our growers up the value chain is a natural way to improve the food economy.
Speaking of economy, that is one of the perhaps unexpected aspects of the local food movement. When we think about economic growth and how to get more money coming into, staying in and moving around our economy, we realize that there are many ways, but few are as easy and impactful as growing a local food system. Every single person in town eats food. If you take 1,600 households multiplied by the average weekly food bill, you can quickly see the market opportunity is large.
We will find out in January if we get to move on to the next level in this particular grant’s process. Whether we get this grant or not however, the local food movement is on the rise. The talent, energy and passion to produce that food is here, and a willing and receptive market is ready to buy and eat it. In the end, growing, buying and selling local food, also grows our local economy. It grows our food security and grows a happy and healthy population. All it needs is a little helping hand along the way to get us to a brighter future that just happens to look a bit like our past.