Food Hub needs more municipal funding

ARICHAT: The Cape Breton Food Hub is requesting more money from municipal units to administer its programs.

During the February 26 regular meeting of Richmond Municipal Council in Arichat, Food Hub representatives Alicia Lake and Jim Mustard were joined by Lochlyn Leavitt of Pebble & Fern Market Garden in Little Anse to request $12,500 in funding from Richmond County, an increase of more than $8,000 from last year.

Mustard, who is also an Inverness Municipal Councillor, told councillors that after starting the hub in 2013, they now have 250 members, including farmers, small manufacturers and consumers. He said the food hub creates jobs and helps food producers with production and distribution.

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Now in an investment phase, Mustard said the food hub wants to help new farmers and other start-ups overcome challenges in establishing a business.

Lake explained the food hub now wants to create new markets and help people continue to buy locally. She said they do consumer education, disseminate a newsletter and conduct workshops to raise awareness among consumers about producers and products.

In 2015-2016, Lake said sales doubled from the previous year and this year, the food hub had more than $138,000 in sales. They also have new Richmond County producers like Trucker’s Blend Coffee of L’Ardoise and Coast Honey of D’Escousse.

Leavitt told council Pebble & Fern participated in the food hub in August and made over $4,000 this year. Their involvement in the food hub allowed them to hire a second staff person from the community which allowed them to reach more markets around Cape Breton. This year, the market garden boasted a mere four per cent waste rate and grew more diverse types of vegetables, like artichokes.

By being a member of the food hub, Leavitt said the farm was able to get products picked and available to consumers in two days. She said the farm was also able to continue operating into December because of the food hub and they were able to take full advantage of the fall harvest season.

Because they receive a number of visitors each year to the farm, Leavitt said their membership in the hub also allows them to participate in the eco-tourism sector, which she said is very important to the farm.

Leavitt said the food hub’s drop-off depot in Port Hawkesbury allowed them to get more products into the hands of more consumers, explaining the farm is able sell items they couldn’t sell on Isle Madame, like bok choy, and grow more products.

“I can get the produce to where I need it to be,” Leavitt told councillors.

In response to a question from Richmond Warden Brian Marchand about the reason for the funding increase, Mustard explained that municipalities have become their “financial backbone” because of a lack of provincial government funds.

Mustard said the food hub is growing and needs to increase its administration.

“We look at this as a value proposition,” Mustard told councillors.

Mustard said the food hub has been “getting by on bare bones” especially after a provincial grant request was denied last year forcing Lake to volunteer.

Despite those challenges, Mustard said the food hub was able to generate over $23,000 in revenue this year and is working to increase sales and reach a self-sufficient revenue point, but they still require municipal partners.

Mustard said with only 5,584 acres of the available 43,220 acres of agricultural land in Richmond County being used, there is more work to do in the municipality.

Lake noted the food hub wants to establish a distribution hub in St. Peter’s and put a drop-off depot on Isle Madame.

In response to a question from Richmond Deputy Warden James Goyetche whether local retailers are on board, Lake said there is a retailer in the food hub, but she stressed they do not compete with retailers and only want to expand the local food market.

“There’s room for everyone,” Lake stated.

Council voted to refer the funding request to budget deliberations.