Strengthening relationships

Web Lead

Paris Marshall-Smith

Paris Marshall-Smith

First off, all who are interested in supporting food and agriculture in our region are invited to the Fields Forward Annual General Gathering on February 25th forum 1-4 at Erickson Elementary. This will be an opportunity to hear highlights of Fields Forward activity in 2016 and discuss ideas for 2017. You are invited.

This last weekend, Fields Forward was invited to the Carrots to Cattle conference hosted by the Smithers Farmers’ Institute. I was asked to speak about the work that Fields Forward is doing around the mobile fruit & vegetable press project, co-marketing and distribution. The attendees of the conference were largely producers – meat, dairy, feed – who are wanting to scale up their operation and move to the next level of production. They are looking for tools to create more wealth in their communities and support stronger livelihoods. They were excited to hear about the work that is happening here.

It was interesting to spend time in a community quite similar to Creston and District. Smithers is located in the Bulkley Valley, four hours west of Prince George along Highway 16. It is home to many established family farms, including 9 diaries. It is a big broad geographic area that is attracting young people with training and education because of its beauty and community. And like our region, there are many groups of dedicated people working very hard to create change.

I spoke about the change coming about it in our region and the relationships that have supported the change to happen. I shared a timeline of many years. We are where we are today because of work that has been happening for a long time through people who have held a long-term vision of the potential for food and agriculture in Creston and District. This work has created a robust foundation and positive conditions for the momentum we are experiencing now.

As we know, relationships take work. Good and strong relationships are built within supportive conditions, with tools (communication, negotiation, promotion) and often because of an opportunity, a bit of magic that brings two people or a group together around something that sparks their imagination.

Food system strengthening is about building a web of interconnected relationships. It’s often a messy, productive, non-linear process that represents another way of working together. We are trying to find a way to share the work of feeding ourselves as a community and in doing so create greater livelihood options for food producers. We move forward, we move back, we adjust. Exploring mechanisms – conceptual, technical, systematic – to lever our advantage as a diverse food growing region towards one that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship, encourages investment and commitment and responds in a way that builds hope for the future. We are exploring and experimenting. We are finding ways forward, learning as we go.

FF is approaching its food system building from a place of increasing economic development and jobs in the food and farm sector. This means that as we are vetting ideas and asking where has there been market failure, we are looking for places to intervene to build the business case as well as the social benefit. We are using our leverage (relationships, skills, time, knowledge) to create economic opportunities to be taken up by community.

This is the change that’s needed. To build opportunities for greater levels of wealth – whether that’s increased value for food, increased access to land, increased shared burden of risk or increased value for wages. We need to refocus our efforts on what we have, support those who do the work with real value. In Creston and District, we started with the opportunities we saw. A landscape enhanced by agriculture. A growing food and farm economy. The desire within community for more local jobs. Young people and families settling in the area and contributing to the community. More local food on local tables. Fewer people going hungry. Rural culture preserved and revitalized.

How can you as an individual producer or processor participate not necessarily by doing more, but by taking advantage of supportive conditions that exist at the moment, using the tools available (coordination time, organizational structure and working groups) and finding your opportunity. On February 25th, let’s talk about what we want to do. What is the next project we can embrace for the betterment of our communities? Hope to see you on Saturday.