Since the launch of the Fields Forward partnership, dozens of volunteers, community development professionals, local government representatives, farmers, and food producers have dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to local agriculture and food security projects.
Riondel’s Paris Marshall Smith has been one of the volunteers. Now, Marshall Smith is stepping into the Fields Forward co-ordinator position, continuing a career dedicated to strengthening local food systems. Her role will be to guide and support community action. Marshall Smith comes well equipped for the many tasks this will include, from research to project design to fundraising. She brings two related Masters degrees, training as a professional community planner, and a track record of helping communities to set and realize food security goals.
Fields Forward is the first project funded by the Creston and District Community Directed Funds initiative. It was designed to answer a call from the community to boost economic development in the agri-food sector and improve local food security. Funding was announced late December after more than a year of community consultation, research, and planning. The volunteer committee allocated just over $250,000 to fund the project’s first three years. This is a significant portion of the $600,000 entrustedm by Columbia Basin Trust for investment in locally-driven community change.
Putting a paid coordinator in place is central to the Fields Forward strategy.
“No single organization, business, or group can transform our food system alone,” says C&DCDF consultant Laura Hannant. “Real change happens when we pull together.”
The co-ordinator will help Fields Forward partners to communicate with each other, find shared goals, develop and advance projects, mobilize funding, and engage volunteers.
C&DCDF committee chair Hugh Grant explains that the selection process was a competitive one.
“We were looking for a diverse skill set and a track record of success. We ended up with a very good problem in that we had several excellent candidates. It was encouraging that most of them live right here in Creston and district.”
“The process was a reminder of the need to create more local food systems jobs,” said Hannant. ”Our community is rich in people with the knowledge and skills to move us closer to food security. The challenge is to find ways to compensate people for the work that needs to be done. This is part of what Fields Forward is all about.”
“We feel privileged that Paris Marshall Smith has accepted the co-ordinator role,” said Grant. “Her specific experience and expertise in food and agriculture, community and economic planning, innovative whole system design, and building community partnerships is exactly what Fields Forwards needs. We know that Paris will take a thoughtful, practical approach.”
Marshall Smith’s education and career have centred on growing food systems to foster wellbeing and community resilience. Her studies have taken her from Vancouver to Denmark to South Africa. Her work and volunteer efforts have involved everything from coordinating a farm internship program to sitting on regional planning councils to consulting for provincial government.
Most recently, Marshall Smith has dedicated more than five years to building food security at the Yasodhara Ashram on Kootenay Lake. She led work to procure, produce, preserve, and process food for over 52,000 meals per year. This involved managing hundreds of volunteers, running mentorship programming, and building a network of local partners and suppliers.
“When I started out, all the right components were place, but we were limited by a lack of integration and collaboration with others. Over time, we learned to harness our own unique production capacity and develop relationships of trust with local farmers and food producers.”
Today about 60 per cent of the food eaten at the ashram comes from within 100 kilometres.
“Sitting down at a table with the knowledge of where food has been grown and the hands that have grown it, builds a richness that is immeasurable. I feel passionate about the opportunities that exist when food and community are celebrated. I know that I share this value with many in our communities.”
Marshall Smith feels positive about how Fields Forward has been helping people to act on their shared values and goals.
“It is inspiring to see change happening through collaboration. We are strengthening what works well and finding new ways to translate ideas into action. I feel like we are truly building the foundation for Creston and District to leap forward.”
Fields Forward kicked off at a two-day forum in January. More than 80 people took part in intensive “strategic doing” training and action planning. Participants included small and large-scale farmers and food producers, food retailers, local and provincial government representatives, and members of community and commodity groups. Together, they started work on breaking big-picture goals into manageable “pathfinder” projects. Ten project-based working groups were formed.
Nine groups are still hard at work. 22 working group meetings have been held and well over 500 volunteer hours have been logged. Work is being done to attract first-class farm workers to the region, host food and farm bus tours, celebrate achievements in sustainable agriculture, establish school gardens, understand the economic impact of the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market, develop local agri-food infrastructure, explore the possibility of a Creston Valley brand, and improve access to training and farm extension services.
Grant applications are already being written, fundraising events are being planned, research is underway, and projects are taking off. With Marshall Smith stepping up to co-ordinate, progress is set to accelerate. She is hopeful about what will come next.
“The potential of Fields Forward is exciting. We live in one of the most fertile valleys of the province – a place of quality and diversity in both people and nature. I am committed to helping the community find ways of realizing this unique potential.”