Taking northwest farms to market

Jason Llewellyn, the director of planning for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), is gathering farmers and other stakeholders for one of two projects that have the same goal—boosting commercial agriculture in northern B.C.

New surveys will get input from farms like this one on Woodmere Rd.

New surveys will get input from farms like this one on Woodmere Rd.

Jason Llewellyn is a planner who puts his money where his mouth is.

“Every week I get a nice bag of fresh, regional sprouts deliver to my door,” he says. “All the beef in the freezer is from local farmers too.”

Llewellyn, the director of planning for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), is gathering farmers and other stakeholders for one of two projects that have the same goal—boosting commercial agriculture in northern B.C.

A long, cold winter is just the first hurdle for farmers and other agricultural producers in the region.

Producers of all kinds also face a relatively small market dominated by a few chain grocery stores that require steady, high-volume, year-round supply.

With those and many other challenges in mind, the RDBN is drafting an  agricultural plan.

The RDBN plan follows a more market-focused project by several by Community Futures,  the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, and the Omineca Pine Beetle Action Committee (OBAC).

Called Beyond the Market, the project is launched a website last month that has a searchable database of farms, food retailers and farmer’s markets from Terrace to Valemount.

About 80 producers are already listed at www.beyondthemarket.ca, and more are invited to join.

Chuck Holyk, one of the project coordinators,  said the site and other ventures will boost production.

“If farmers didn’t have to worry about selling their goods—if they had customers lined up—I bet if you ask ten of them they would all say they would grow more,” Holyk said.

A food distribution network would also help,  Holyk said,  along with other value-adding services like shared greenhouses and a shared cold storage facility.

Beyond the Market already has a pilot where local farmers supply fresh produce to a health facility in Prince George.

Meanwhile, the Regional District’s agricultural plan is just getting underway.

Jason Llewellyn said the RDBN already protects land in the agricultural land reserve. But the RDBN now hopes to play a coordinating role on other issues. Like Beyond the Market, the RDBN sees local access to grocery stores as a key issue. Others range from land prices to livestock regulation, access to range lands, invasive plants, and succession on family farms.

Jerry Petersen is president of the Nechako Valley Regional Cattlemen’s Association and their representative on the RDBN’s agricultural working group.

A rancher with 40 years’ experience and 100 head of cattle north of Vanderhoof, Petersen said one concern for the Cattlemen is to cut red tape that surrounds livestock transport.

A tougher challenge is how to make farming a profitable option for young people who can make higher wages in a sawmill and other resource industry jobs.

“We’re starting to retire off,” said Peterson, and the younger generation is not always there to replace them.

“It’s something that we all depend on,” he added, “but we don’t put much emphasis on keeping the farmer on the farm.”

The RDBN is holding public workshops where producers can add input to the plan.

The workshops run Sept. 19 at the Town of Smithers office, Sept. 20 at the Vanderhoof municipal office, and Sept. 21 at the RDBN office in Burns Lake. All the workshops run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.