New processing facility a reality in the spring

    BADDECK: Plans by the Cape Breton Food Hub to construct a new processing facility by next spring are closer to becoming a reality.

    Last week, Jaime Battiste, MP for Sydney-Victoria – on behalf of Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages – announced a non-repayable Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) investment of $556,935 in the Pan Cape Breton Food Hub Co-operative Limited.

    “This important investment from ACOA will help Cape Breton producers not just survive, but thrive,” Joly said. “Our message to them is clear: we’ve been here for you with immediate measures, we’re here for you as our economy reopens and we’ll get through this, together. We’re working with you to support good, local jobs and help Atlantic Canada’s economy come back strong.”

    The funding will expand the organization’s services and product lines, including the upgrade of a certified food processing, storage and distributing facility in Bras d’Or, Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

    Alicia Lake, executive director of the Cape Breton Food Hub, said the processing facility will change the local food landscape in Cape Breton by creating opportunities, increasing access to local foods, and incubating food businesses.

    Lake said with the facility, producers will be able to produce more food and have their products sold to larger buyers, or exported.

    “We’ve talked to producers and consumers for years about the need for elevating food and getting it into more of a consumer-ready product line,” Lake said. “We heard producers particularly talking about this gap in infrastructure. Right now in Cape Breton, basically everything that’s grown, has to be sold whole and fresh, and there are not a lot of facilities to take that and process it into something else.”

    Local farm produce will be processed, frozen and stored at the updated facility. New products and meal kits will also be developed in a commercial kitchen, which will function as an innovation centre for business, product development and training. This will allow the Cape Breton Food Hub to operate year-round, extend the season for fresh produce and expand the type of foods producers can offer.

    “It’ll be a building that allows us to do value-added processing, storage, we’ll also have a commercial kitchen space that’ll be available for people to rent who do food businesses and need certified kitchen space. We’ll also do meal kits and all kinds of other exciting things,” Lake said. “These meal kits are really popular now, you order the meal and it comes with all these different ingredients, and you just throw it all together in your frying pan and it’s ready. We really want to get into that market for sure. It’s fast, convenient food, that’s also healthy and locally sourced.”

    Lake said the food hub has hired a dietician to design the meal kit recipes.

    The federal funding will also support a two-year pilot program to analyze the impact of season-extension equipment on farm growth and productivity.

    “This funding is being used to purchase high-tunnels to be used on five Cape Breton farms to grow vegetables during three seasons and expand current crops,” Lake explained. “The tunnels offer protection from cold temperatures and wind, allowing farmers to start growing earlier in the year and continue growing later into the fall and winter.

    The Cape Breton Partnership is providing a $50,000 grant towards this initiative.

    “Cape Breton Island’s future depends greatly on the commitment of its business and community leaders, as well as the organizations and institutions they represent,” said Carla Arsenault, President and CEO, Cape Breton Partnership. “We believe the Cape Breton Food Hub will play a leading role in driving the island’s future food and farming prosperity.”

    Formed in 2015, the Cape Breton Food Hub is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit co-operative that distributes local food across Cape Breton Island and promotes consumer awareness, as well as educational activities related to the local food sector.

    In 2019, the Cape Breton Food Hub had 280 consumer members, more than 40 producer members and 50 volunteers engaged throughout the year.

    “The Cape Breton Food Hub provides valuable opportunities for small farmers and food producers to sell products outside of their traditional markets and earn additional revenue,” Battiste noted. “The organization also encourages Islanders to buy local and eat the fresh, nutritious options we have right here.”

    On July 30, the Province of Nova Scotia, through Invest Nova Scotia announced $500,000 toward this project.

    “This organization does tremendous work, and this project expands their positive impact on the community, small scale farming and hospitality industries,” said Graham Eisenhauer, chair of the board of directors, Invest Nova Scotia. “We believe this is a perfect example of how innovation and bold leadership can create new economic opportunities for Nova Scotia.”

    Lake added that the first phase of the facility, which they expect will be complete by late fall, will involve the construction of the commercial kitchen and building storage capacity. The next phase, vegetable processing, will start immediately after with plans to be ready by the spring.