Armstrong Grows Local Food Connections Through Cheese – and More

The community of Armstrong in the Spallumcheen Valley salutes its agriculture history and economy with events, festivals and celebrations throughout the year. One of those is the annual Cheese! It’s a Natural event which has been hosted by the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce since 2013.

Patti Noonan, Executive Director of the Chamber, says the event was originally thought to be a one-time occurrence focused strictly on cheese, but it became larger every year with more vendors and attendees. “COVID shone a spotlight on the importance of local food and local supply chains,” says Noonan. “Residents, chefs, resort operators, retailers and agri-tourism stakeholders told us how important it is for them to have access to local food and strong relationships with local growers and potential partners.”

Noonan adds that the cost of planning and holding such an event is expensive for a farming community. The investment that a small business makes in travel, providing food samples, the cost of booth space and having staff attend is considerable.

The Chamber approached the Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) for support to rebrand the event and expand it to two days in 2022.  The project was a good fit with ETSI-BC’s strategic pillars which include Supporting Business Resilience and Growth, Innovating and Advancing Key Sectors, and Creating Value for the Economic Development Ecosystem by creating opportunities for learning and collaboration.

Stronger Links Between Producers and the Public

The 9th Annual Cheese! It’s A Natural Festival was held in March 2022 starting with an afternoon webinar and live discussion with industry experts on how to grow an agriculture business, and tips for preparing for industry events.

Participants then had a chance to demonstrate what they learned at the Local Food and Buyer Mixers  held 10 days later. This industry-only portion of the event provided an opportunity for local businesses to meet face-to-face with local producers and sample their products. The next day, the event opened to the public with tastings, pairings, ‘Cheese 101’ seminars, cheese ball competitions and more. “People were walking out of with cases of wine, rounds of cheese and some products that weren’t even in stores yet,” says Noonan.

That evening, a ‘Meet the Cheesemakers’ ticketed event saw attendees tasting and learning about local cheese, guided by Canadian cheese aficionado and entrepreneur, David Beaudoin.

Event Provides Lasting Impacts

Planning for the expanded format included information tracking to determine its economic impact over several months after the event. This information showed that 85 businesses received assistance with business coaching, planning, and sourcing funding through new contacts and information. Several businesses that attended from outside of the region have since started selling their products in the Armstrong area. New supplier relationships were formed by 25 businesses, and over 120 jobs have maintained and/or new jobs created.

Within six months of the event, visitors from outside the region returned for stays of up to four days, spending money on accommodation, food, activities, and retail purchases. Approximately $75,000 was injected into the regional economy through new contracts between producers and suppliers. One producer surveyed said,” I will come back; it will keep getting better as more buyers learn about it and attend.”

Noonan says that with the success of the expanded event, the Chamber expects industry partners to support its cost in the future.  The event will be renamed in 2023 to be more inclusive of all food producers and processors, while keeping to its cheese roots.


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