What if all of the cherries—and much more–grown in the Creston Valley could be put to use, even the culls that now go to the landfill?
It’s a question that has plagued growers for years, and now Fields Forward has a plan to make that happen.
And the plan got a huge boost recently from RDCK rural directors. All of the Central Kootenay directors have agreed to contribute a minimum of $5,000 toward the purchase of a mobile unit like the one Fields Forward volunteers tested during this year’s harvest.
“It was Dave Mutch (a grower who already produces juices and ciders under the William Tell Family Estate label) who brought forward the idea of a mobile press,” Fields Forward’s Paris Marshall Smith said last week. “A similar machine came from Vernon in 2015 and really impressed everyone involved. Orchardists were able to see how they could benefit from the efficiency of the operation and quality of product”
“Fields Forward pressed apples and pears and sent kids and schools home with boxes of juice. All fruit pressed was given to schools for use in their meals programs or as a fundraiser, with thanks to donations from Purple House Farm, Shukin Orchards and William Tell Orchard,” she wrote in the Advance after the October 4th demonstration Press Fest event.
With a 20,000 pound-per-day of fruit capacity, the Austrian-manufactured mobile plant proved to be a great success.
“We began to think about how we could access the approximately $250,000 needed to purchase a plant, and to consider how it could be done without jeopardizing existing local businesses,” Marshall Smith said. “Then Tanya Wall stepped in to move things to the next level.”
RDCK Area A director Wall and the Fields Forward team made a presentation to the Regional District directors, and the rural directors unanimously agreed to support the acquisition of a mobile press.
“When they understood that the equipment could actually come into their areas, their support was enthusiastic,” Wall said. She added that rural directors have discretionary spending for such projects, but municipalities have to work spending into their budgets. “The Town of Creston is already supportive”
In total, Regional directors are contributing $116,000. Area B has already kicked in $48,000 and Areas A and C have each committed $10,000. Other area directors have set a $5,000 contribution.
Marshall Smith said that Fields Forward has defined four business streams that will be launched with the purchase of the mobile press:
- Fee-for-Service – producers hire the press to create a value added product
- Community Press Fest Events – Fields Forward supports communities to hold 2-day pressing events for the benefit of schools, community groups and households. In most cases these will happen in the surrounding region and could source their apples from Creston (a double win).
- Juice Products – the first output of the waste stream diversion. A product line that will be the catalyst for developing shared marketing, distribution and branding for the region’s producers
- Livestock Feed – the second output of the waste stream diversion. Once the fruit is pressed, the remaining fruit pomace will be sold to local producers as feed for $0.01/lb.
It is the ability to use culled cherries and pomace as viable products that wins over support. Diverting culls from the landfill and using the pomace (the solids that remain after the fruit is pressed) for animal feed provides a big environmental benefit. And pressing juice–the mobile unit presses the fruit (or vegetables), then pasteurizes and packages it in containers that give it a long shelf life—for school and community programs, adding another market for local apple orchardists and other growers.
Earlier this month, Marshall Smith and Wall attended a two-day agricultural innovation workshop, where they promoted Creston Valley products. They presented famed Vancouver restaurateur and entrepreneur Vikram Vij, also of Dragon’s Den fame, with a sample pack.
“He couldn’t get over the variety of products that come from Creston Valley and we were happy to tell him there is much, much more than what we put in his gift basket,” Wall said.
And the Creston team (which also included Creston Farmers’ Market manager Jen Comer and East Shore Food Roots Coordinator Nicole Schreiber) also got the attention of retailers, which expressed interest in the products that will come from the mobile juicer.
Wall said she is confident that getting the remainder of the money needed to complete the purchase will happen in short order.
“We have the attention of several government ministries and have support from the Growing Forward 2 – Marketing Development Preparedness Program. And I am fairly confident that we have put together a really strong proposal that will impress Columbia Basin Trust.”
“I believe a mobile juicer will open doors that we have yet to consider,” Wall said. “I’m interested in the creation of different products that will come forth from local growers and entrepreneurs. We see the Press as the first phase of supporting innovation in our communities from Yahk to Yaqan Nukiy to Riondel.”
Marshall Smith envisions profits from juice sales being invested back into the local agricultural sector through Fields Forward as well as support more livelihood options in food and agriculture.
“The mobile press will add six new jobs to our community,” she said. One permanent full-year position, three permanent seasonal employees who will manage and operate the Press and another two summer student workers. In addition, Fields Forward is excited to be working with the Lower Kootenay Band and finding ways to partner.
Early in the formation of Fields Forward, volunteers focused on the need to make it sustainable through self-funding.
“Too often programs end when the grant money is spent,” Marshall Smith said. “We started with three years of funding but it is important for Fields Forward to sustain itself into the future and help build our regional ability as food based entrepreneurs.”
She said a permanent facility to house the mobile juicer will eventually be needed, and it could also include a processing kitchen, laboratory for testing nutritional information and warehousing for storage of pre- and post-processing products.
“We have momentum, and we want to keep going,” she said.