Pan Cape Breton Food Hub planning processing facility

ARICHAT: Ahead of a formal funding request to each municipal partner, the Cape Breton Food Hub unveiled its current state and plans for the future, including a new processing facility.

During the committee-of-the-whole meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on May 13 in Arichat, the Pan Cape Breton Food Hub’s Alicia Lake and board member Kari Easthouse explained their organization and how it helps food producers throughout the island.

Easthouse said he has a farm in Roberta which has been helped by his membership in the food hub, namely access to markets around Cape Breton, having the food hub do marketing, packaging and distribution for him – which frees up his time – and the addition of a value-added processing facility.

With 47 producers in the food hub last year, Lake said there are only seven in Richmond County, which is part of the reason she appeared before council.

“We still really want to recruit producers,” Lake told council. “I think the ask to council would be any people that you know that are producing food… please spread the word because we definitely know that there are people here that are producing food.”

Despite challenges presented by last June’s cool temperatures, and snowy weather in November, Lake said the food hub is making a difference, to the extent that six additional positions have been created around the island.

Easthouse said although the food hub accounts for one-third of his sales, those sales are guaranteed and give him the confidence to grow his farm.

To continue to develop, Lake discussed plans to construct a facility, possibly in the Blues Mills area. She said their producers and members continue to point to the gap in infrastructure which is preventing the food hub from properly processing their products or getting involved in the growing pre-packaged meal market.

“Right now, we have a team of engineers, architects, safety people looking at a potential building, trying to make sure that it’s central so that people from Richmond, Inverness, Victoria, and CBRM can use it,” Lake told council. “We’re looking at Blues Mills, and really trying to get that infrastructure piece in place, so that’s our biggest plan going forward for this year. And without that, I just don’t see that we’re really going to be able to really grow the food sector in Cape Breton.”

Easthouse and Lake said the new facility will help producers meet very strict food safety guidelines, provide a place to clean and cut products (for places like schools and hospitals) and construct a single facility from which to distribute their products around the island.

After starting a drop-off location on Isle Madame, the food hub is also looking to have a pick-up point on the island, but they are unsure if that will take place this year. Because they have a larger group in St. Peter’s, Lake said plans for a pick-up point there are moving along and they hope to start delivering this summer.

Lake said they are also interested in helping out with any food-related events and activities in Richmond County.

The food hub will soon be making formal requests of $15,000 from each member municipality, Lake noted.

Richmond Warden Brian Marchand added that the proposal will have to be received soon since the municipality is in the middle of budget deliberations.