British Columbians helped make 2018 a record year for farmers, eating — and drinking — $6.4 billion-worth of local food.
The Ministry of Agriculture recently reported record-setting revenue for the B.C. agriculture industry — which includes farms, ranches, seafood and food-processing operations — as new data shows the sale of local food generated $15 billion for the first time last year.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham credited farmers for helping the industry reach “new heights.”
While the data shows revenue from provincial agriculture exports rose 10 per cent in 2018, the biggest consumers of B.C. products were British Columbians.
In 2017, the Ministry of Agriculture began work on a three-pronged approach to increasing local consumption of local food. Grow B.C. supports entrepreneurs and new farmers, while Buy B.C. helps B.C. companies promote their products at home, and Feed B.C. encourages the use of B.C. products in government-operated institutions and facilities.
“It’s food as medicine,” Popham said at a press conference announcing a new partnership with the Interior Health Authority in March. “Feed B.C. is a game changer. It’s about working collaboratively to encourage, inspire and support a shift to more B.C. foods in health-care and other government facilities.”
Since then, Interior Health has been working to increase the B.C.-grown foods on the menu at its 55 hospitals, care homes and adult day programs.
“We’re regularly looking for opportunities to incorporate B.C. products,” Interior Health director of support services Andrew Pattison said Friday.
Some of the challenges associated with sourcing local food have become opportunities, such as the seasonality of B.C. produce.
“Because of our growing season, it’s not always possible to get a year-round supply of certain produce,” said Pattison. That’s forced the authority to offer a more seasonal menu.
B.C. produce, sourced from a farm in Oliver, as well as B.C. eggs, ground beef and milk are among the local food served in institutions run by the health authority.
Regional production kitchens at Penticton Regional Hospital and Vernon Jubilee Hospital transform local ingredients into meals and food items that can be served in all Interior Health facilities, as opposed to buying packaged food.
“This is a foundational program,” said Pattison. “We want to do right by the population we serve.”