Agriculture Blossoms in the Arrow Lakes Region

With its arable land and rich soil, the Arrow Lakes region of the West Kootenays is home to small-scale vegetable farms, orchards, honey producers, wineries, cideries and other agricultural ventures. Recognizing the potential of the local agriculture sector, the Nakusp and Area Development Board (NADB) and local partners prioritized support for agriculture businesses and food security through the Grow Arrow Lakes Project.

“This was a very productive agriculture valley in the 1960s before dams were built and the land was flooded, explains Aidan McLaren-Caux, Economic Development Coordinator for the NADB. “Nakusp is removed from every major highway that connects the area to its closest cities. When there are supply chain problems, we feel them first because trucks just don’t come out here.”

In early 2022, the NADB initiated a project to create a regional food hub to increase local producer sales and provide solutions to food security issues. After months of engaging with the agriculture sector, it was clear the agriculture community was not ready to embrace such an ambitious project as a food hub. Few producers had the desire and/or capacity to operate at a commercial scale and the requisite level of collaboration was not yet fully developed among local groups involved in agriculture and food security.

The NADB shifted to a more fundamental approach starting with capturing data that revealed the true nature and capacity of the sector. An inventory of farms, value-added manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and other industry stakeholders was created. A regional Arrow Lakes brand and marketing campaign were also developed to inform and excite the community about its agricultural heritage.

The Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) had supported an earlier project with the NADB to develop the Arrow Lakes brand. The current project fit well with ETSI-BC’s Building Economic Development Capacity funding stream, supporting projects in smaller, rural and First Nations communities to enable measurable economic benefits. The Arrow Slocan Tourism Association and the Nakusp and Area Community Forest Corporation also supported the project.

Grow Arrow Lakes Brand Gains Traction

Building on the earlier work to develop the Grow Arrow Lakes brand, the Grow Arrow Lakeswebsite was revamped to be easy to find by buyers and become a reference point for local agriculture information. A print and web-based directory and a map of local producers were also created in cooperation with the Arrow Slocan Tourism Association. “The analytics are much higher now that the revised site is up and running,” says McLaren-Caux. “Users are taking advantage of its interactive nature and can add and change information about themselves and their product availability.”

In addition, a new Supporting Local Agriculture Committee was formed, made up of NADB members and others with an interest in local agriculture. The committee sets terms of reference, and scopes out potential initiatives such as the Grow Arrow Lakes project.

Agri-Business Collaboration Improved

Mickey Wojnarowski and his wife, Brendalee Morgan own the HomeGrown Market and Juice Bar in Nakusp. The store sells produce, flowers, supplements and artisan gift items made or produced in the Arrow Lakes region. Wojnarowski also sits on the new Agriculture Committee and the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council.

“We are definitely seeing more interest and excitement around local agriculture,” he says. “We were already connected with some 60 producers and artisans and have been in contact with many more.” The store is undergoing an expansion that will double its size when complete.

“In the short-term we expect purchases by visitors to the area to increase at farmers’ markets, retailers and farm-gate sales, with the support of the multi-media marketing campaign,” McLaren-Caux adds.  The Food Hub remains a longer-term goal as we realize a more resilient and sustainable agriculture sector for the region.”

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