Food producers in the Okanagan-Similkameen wanting to scale up their businesses through value-added processing are closer to having the resources they need. The Okanagan Food and Innovation Hub (OFIH) is scheduled to open in Summerland in 2024, making it the 13th food hub to open in BC since 2020.
“This project has been an area of focus for the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and our other partners since 2013 as we looked at opportunities to develop the value-added agriculture and agri-tech sectors in the region,” says Brad Dollevoet, Director of Development Services for the District of Summerland.
Approximately 260 food producers and processors operate in the region. Most of these began as hobby operations and many of the operators lack all the business skills and connections to market their products, access new markets and scale production.
“In addition, many government contracts, supermarket chains and export markets have strict standards for facilities that process food products,” says Charles Cornell, General Manager of Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen, a major partner in the project. “Moving into value-added processing is the low-hanging fruit for producers to compete in today’s economy.”
A Catalyst for Diversification and Increased Revenue
OFIH users will have access to a HACCP certified commercial kitchen, temperature-zoned storage space, packaging equipment and a food testing laboratory. The facility will also provide services around product development consulting and food testing, plus it will offer over 10,000 square feet of meeting and co-working space.
Summerland was picked as the location for the hub because of the area’s long history of agricultural research and innovation. It is close to the internationally recognized Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre, as well as UBC-Okanagan and Okanagan College, which provide complementary educational opportunities and research programs.
The District of Summerland created a business plan for the project in 2020, but soon after the plan was completed and potential locations identified, COVID brought the project to a halt. In the process, the buildings were no longer available and the needs of businesses in the region had changed.
Updating the Business Plan
With grant funding provided by the Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC), the District of Summerland hired Greenchain Consulting to update the business plan. The revised plan provides specific options for a location, and a five-year operational plan. It also includes letters of support from growers, processors, and organizations such as the Pacific Agri-Food and Research Centre, and the K’uL Group, the Development Corporation of the Penticton Indian Band.
The OFIH received a boost in March 2023 when the Government of BC announced it would invest $800,000 toward development of the hub.
Over 40 jobs will be created to establish the hub and more than 1,000 indirect jobs are expected over the longer term, says Dollevoet. The project is expected to generate $1,250,000 into the local economy and will also impact food waste recycling by finding new sources of income for food that is culled and lost to waste.
“Agriculture one of the key focus sectors for ETSI-BC and this project fits with our funding streams of helping build capacity and supporting business resilience and growth,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of ETSI-BC.
“Having the revised, highly detailed business plan is essential to securing approximately $2 million from higher levels of government that is still needed to complete the hub,” says Dollevoet. “This work would not have happened without the support of ETSI-BC.”