Rural revitalization. Rural renewal. Leveraging local strengths. These are all easier said than done for many rural communities struggling to reinvent themselves in the context of a rapidly urbanizing 21st century. An innovative agriculture-based initiative in BC’s Creston Valley has taken on the challenge — in fact it could be said that Fields Forward is putting a cherry on top!
In late December 2015, Creston’s Community Directed Funds Committee announced plans to kickstart the Fields Forward Initiative, an agriculture-based initiative intended to support farmers and local agriculture from Yahk to Riondel. Growing from a two-day “training and community action planning gathering,” the Fields Forward Forum brought together regional politicians, government representatives, community members, and farmers to chat, listen, and soak up some hard-won wisdom from presenters such as keynote speaker Scott Hutcheson, director of Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development , and Laura Hannant, Community Development coordinator for Kootenay Employment Services, who shared the story of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Program, an incredibly successful agricultural initiative that Fields Forward went on to in many ways emulate.
Fields Forward describes itself as “… a partnership program to boost economic development in the agri-food sector and improve local food security… link[ing] groups and projects, making it easier for them to do their own work and reach shared goals.”
They initially set out to:
- establish an impact team of economic development and agri-food professionals,
- hire a paid coordinator to oversee this project, and;
- support potential partnership activities with seed funds.
Those boxes have all been checked. And now the group has taken a bold next step — acquiring a mobile juice processor that will enable cherry orchardists in the Creston Valley to produce significant amounts of full pasteurized juice, in the process creating major new revenue streams, new jobs, and almost certainly new spin-off ventures in the region.
We had an opportunity to sit down recently with Fields Forward Coordinator Paris Marshall-Smith, and Vancouver Island-based marketer Greg McLaren at Crawford Bay’s idyllic Yasodhara Ahsram and let them explain Fields Forward’s new agriculture-based initiative.
Listen to conversation with Paris Marshall-Smith & Greg McLaren.