Minister visits Cowichan Valley Buy Local fund recipients

Last Friday Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick visited Averill Creek Vineyard

Last Friday Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick visited Averill Creek Vineyard to meet with three Cowichan Valley recipients of the province’s Buy Local program, now in its fourth year.

Averill Creek, Hope Farm Healing Centre and the Duncan Farmers Market all received funding this year through the program, which aims to increase consumer demand and sales of B.C. agrifoods through government-matched funding for projects that promote local foods. Collectively, the three organizations received $31,700.

“Every year for the last four years including this year, we’ve [spent] $2 million — so that’s $8 million we’ve used, your dollars, taxpayers’ dollars — we’ve used with companies around British Columbia,” said Letnick.

Businesses and organizations can use the funds for a wide variety of projects or initiatives like in-store promotions, market research, website design or boosting a social media presence.

“All kinds of ways to ensure that British Columbians continue doing what they like to do naturally which is to buy local products,” said Letnick.

Tricia Mutcher, operations/marketing manager of Averill Creek Vineyard, said they were thrilled earlier this year when they learned they would be receiving Buy Local resources.

“We’re really appreciative to receiving the funding. It allows us to bump up our marketing budget,” she said.

Averill Creek is seeking to expand its brand awareness further afield than the Cowichan Valley where it’s already quite well-known. Mutcher said they hope to target areas like Victoria and the Lower Mainland, creating events that will bring people to the Island and to the vineyards here.

“We want people to recognize that there are top quality wines being made here, in particular pinot noir and sparkling wines,” she said.

From Hope Farm, a healing centre grounded in Christian practice, for men struggling with addiction, operations manager Cody Smith was present at the event on Friday.

“We’re grateful for the government’s continued support of local food, local farming and agriculture,” said Smith. “What we’re doing, we’ve committed money to making new signage, creating awareness of our farm, what we do, the story of our products.”

Another initiative Hope Farm has recently taken on is starting a coffee company, which it plans to launch in January. This enterprise will also be a vocational training company for men that participate in their program. Smith said they have already been making deals with Thrifty’s stores to carry their coffee.

“We never would have been able to develop packaging and branding without this funding,” he said.

Barry O’Riordan, executive director of the Duncan Farmers Market, said their organization has used their Buy Local dollars to conduct market research through a series of surveys in the summer.

As a result, the market now has a better sense of how many people join the market, how much these patrons are spending in local businesses, the time of day they come, and more.

“All this information we’ll use to guide the direction of the market in the future as well as help our vendors in the future to progress their needs,” said O’Riordan. “All big businesses around the world have market information. Farmers markets are starting to grow to that stage where we do need that information if we’re actually going to be mainstream.”

The provincial government’s Buy Local program is administered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia, which is independent of the government.