RDEK explores local agriculture

East Kootenay is switching its focus in a new round of public consultation.

East Kootenay is switching its focus from the producers of agricultural products in the district, to those that sell those products and have other stakes in the industry in a new round of public consultation.

The RDEK Agricultural Plan Steering Committee is holding an open house on February 6 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Prestige Inn. An overview of agriculture in the East Kootenay will be presented, the agricultural planning process will be discussed and the floor will be open for questions. The intent is to gather feedback to be used in the RDEK’s Agricultural Plan, and to explore the issues and opportunities that exist in the industry. The session is similar to those held in October and November, but this time the RDEK is looking to draw in secondary stakeholders in the agriculture industry, such as sellers and local food-related organizations.

The committee has sent out a round of invitations to local organizations like Wildsight, the local chambers of commerce, the Cranbrook Food Action Committee, the Cranbrook Farmer’s Market Society, the East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council, local meat shops, natural food businesses and more. They also hope to have representatives from the district’s municipalities attend.

“We’re hoping we can get sort of a representative population,” said Karen MacLeod, a planner for the RDEK.

MacLeod said the fall sessions were great, with lots of feedback coming in from producers of agricultural products in the district.

“We had a lot of people who are actively engaged in agriculture,” MacLeod said.

But now the consultation period is shifting and they would like to hear feedback from the people who sell and deal in agricultural products. MacLeod said the next round of consultation will help the RDEK “round out our knowledge.”

MacLeod said the information session will hopefully allow the RDEK to better communicate with those who have a less direct stake in the agriculture industry, but are still an important part of the process.

“The intent is to focus on what the opportunities are in agriculture,” she said.

Right now the Agricultural Plan is still gathering feedback and being developed. It’s slated to be released at the end of June. The RDEK has pushed back the release, as they wait for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture to release its inventory of agricultural land. That document is due to be released this month.

Once that crucial piece is available to the RDEK, they can finish up their own Agricultural Plan.

“We’ll be moving full steam ahead,” MacLeod said.

At the public information session, MacLeod said they are hoping to have three surveys ready for each participant to bring back to their organizations. One each will glean information from producers, consumers and retailers. The RDEK is also developing a newsletter to update people on the Agricultural Plan, but the surveys will be an important piece of the puzzle.

“The hope is to have them ready to roll by the time the meeting happens,” MacLeod said.

Anyone interested in attending the February 6 meeting should contact Dave Struthers, East Kootenay Agricultural Plan Consultant, by January 31 to RSVP. Call (250) 426-5300 ext. 208 or email dave.struthers@vastresource.com. The RDEK also has a website with information on the upcoming plan, at www.ekag.ca.