When the Kamloops Food Bank opened in 1981, organizers had no idea it would be a permanent fixture in town. Originally intended as temporary hunger relief, the presence of food banks rose in Canada during the early 1980s recession. They have since become a permanent fixture in society, but while they provide a safety net for the hungry, advocates in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) say food banks alone are unequipped to alter the circumstances that drive food insecurity, such as poor distribution and poverty.
A person is food secure when they have reliable access to the foods they need for a happy, healthy life. Food insecurity is the opposite, characterized by hunger, malnutrition, development of chronic disease, poor mental health outcomes, and premature death. And despite multiple national organizations forming to feed food insecure folks across Canada, food insecurity has continued to worsen.
The hard truth is that at least one in eight Canadian households struggles with food insecurity. Among local residents who are unhoused, that figure is about one in five, according to the city’s most recent homeless count. The food security crisis is a complex problem, a tangled web of local and international factors, and experts say solving it will require dedication, creativity and cooperation at all levels of society.
In 1995 Kamloops dietitian Laura Kalina was frustrated by decades of inaction on the growing hunger crisis. She established the Kamloops Food Policy Council (KFPC) together with Paula Rubinson, a founder of the Kamloops Farmers Market Society, to work collaboratively on solutions to improve local food security.
Local food security takes inspiration from nature
“We often use fungi as a metaphor for how we effect change in the community,” says Bonnie Klohn, policy lead for the KFPC, describing how the organization takes inspiration from nature.
When thinking about fungi, mushrooms are probably the first thing to come to mind, but mushrooms are actually just reproductive structures. The main body of a fungus is a mycelium, an interconnected underground network of living filaments called hyphae.
“Mycelium don’t simply exist in the soil,” Klohn explains, “but actively improve conditions where they grow.” They collaborate with the organisms around them, redistributing water, nutrients and other resources.
“The healthier a foundation we create, the more able we are to emerge when the conditions are right. For a mycelium that would be like a mushroom popping up, but for us that is our programs, things that are visible to the community. Those are the fruits of what we do.”
Starting from humble beginnings as a monthly potluck and policy discussion, KFPC has grown into an effective network for developing and implementing food policy. The organization’s approach is holistic, with strategies emerging in response to new opportunities and challenges.
Some KFPC initiatives over the years have included expanding community garden space, creating the FoodShare program with the Kamloops Food Bank, lobbying to legalize urban hens, developing the Gleaning Abundance Program and operating the Butler Urban Farm.
Growing the network through local food processing hubs
In 2021, global disruptions together with climate disasters wreaked havoc on B.C.’s communities and supply chains. The catastrophic flooding of mid-November tore apart transportation infrastructure and emptied grocery store shelves. Provincial bread baskets, the places that grow and process the majority of our food, were some of the most damaged.
Even local meat and dairy farmers unaffected by the November flooding couldn’t get their product to market because highway and rail closures cut them off from processors.
Members of KFPC say incidents like these remind us of the need to build resilience into our provincial food system by spreading out our processing capacity and reducing the distance our food travels to reach us. Producing food locally can not only increase food security, but strengthens a community in times of crisis.
According to Kent Fawcett, the food hub coordinator for KFPC, it is not lack of interest, but a high barrier to entry that holds back many food processing entrepreneurs. Setting up a new facility is expensive, and the additional risks of starting a new venture stop many would-be entrepreneurs.
This is where the B.C. Food Hub Network aims to help. Food hubs are shared-use food and beverage processing facilities, built from the ground up to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Each location offers a unique combination of services, but all include rentable kitchen space and equipment as well as business and technical supports.
As of 2022 there have been 12 food hub projects funded by the ministry of agriculture and food, including a food hub in Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) made possible by a $750,000 grant given to KFPC via the City of Kamloops. While ministry funding is essential for these projects to move forward, local organizations in the host communities—like KFPC—are the driving force behind the growing food hub network.
Kweseltken Kitchen, a food processing hub for All Relations
Before committing to a permanent food hub location, KFPC—in partnership with the Community Futures Development Corporation of Central Interior First Nations (CFDC CIFN) —funded the Kweseltken Mobile Kitchen (K-Kitchen) in 2021.
The K-Kitchen, as it’s known, is a mobile food processing hub certified under the First Nations Health Authority. The trailer contains equipment for smoking, canning, dehydrating, frying, baking, and more. Being mobile means it can visit outlying communities to offer hands-on training for food and business skills.
In essence, the K-Kitchen is a food hub that travels. It can be taken into the country during berry season and to hunting or fishing camps, expanding the definition of what a food hub can be.
CFDC CIFN is hopeful this project will be a catalyst for reasserting Indigenous food sovereignty and rebuilding local food systems lost to colonization.
Stirring up food security
In March 2021, KFPC and other stakeholders voted to move forward on a permanent food hub location called “The Stir.”
The site they chose, 185 Royal Ave., is bigger than organizers envisioned, but the extra space brought extra opportunities. On top of the secured kitchen space there are also community spaces, a workshop space, a classroom, offices for the team, and room for a retail store they are calling “The Stirfront.”
Even though The Stirfront will open after the kitchen, Fawcett is most excited for it
“People can come here and purchase the local food that’s made in the kitchen, by people that are renting the kitchen,” he says. “Producers can get their first retail experience, put their creations on the shelf and get feedback. [They can] find out if people actually like the thing that they’re making.”
Fawcett wants everyone to know that The Stir is taking bookings. All you need is a business license or insurance policy to get in the door.
“Don’t stress or overthink it, we’ve got this community here, where everyone’s helping each other,” Fawcett explains. “This kitchen is available to you and there is still lots of space available. Just reach out at any point, even if you just have an idea.”
Those who aren’t interested in becoming “Stir-makers“—Fawcett’s nickname for food hub clients—still have opportunities to contribute to the project. KFPC works with volunteers, accepts donations and encourages residents to support local food businesses.
If you want to help but are at a loss, the KFPC monthly potlucks are still running, and remain the best place to start.