Thinking outside of the box

Columnist Patti Noonan encourages residents to embrace agriculture

Last weekend, our chamber gathered together to celebrate the achievements of businesses nominated by members of the community.

Awards were given to businesses who exhibited corporate citizenship; small business success; outstanding customer service; entrepreneurship; innovation in manufacturing; environmental stewardship; revitalization; community support; and value- added tourism.

For the first time, the community looked outside of the box and nominations were received for the Armstrong Farmers’ Market in the tourism category. They were in good company – the Interior Provincial Exhibition, Chocoliro Finest Chocolate, Kindale, Caravan Farm Theatre, and DeMille’s Farm to Market – were also nominated. After a moment of suspense, it was a pleasure to see the Armstrong Farmers’ Market receive the tourism award and be recognized by businesses for the important part they play in the economic growth of the community.

So what part do they play in the positive growth of the community other than providing fresh food for our families and an opportunity for visitors to connect the food on their table to the farm?

In addition to producing fresh, nutritious, high-quality foods, the family businesses you see each week at the markets provide a wealth of benefits to our local communities.

Small family farmers live on or near their farms and strive to preserve the surrounding environment for future generations.

Since they have a vested interest in their communities, they are more likely to use sustainable farming techniques to protect resources and health, serving as responsible stewards of the land. The existence of family farms guarantees the preservation of green space within the community.

Family businesses also play a vital role in rural economies. In addition to providing jobs to local people, farms and home-based businesses also help support other businesses by purchasing goods and services within their communities. The circle continues when businesses thrive and continue to boost the economy by hiring more employees and supporting local initiatives.

Farmers and home-based businesses provide further benefit by encouraging positive growth in communities through active civic participation and by helping to preserve the important connection between consumers, food, and the land that produces this food.

With all of the benefits family farms and home-based businesses provide our community, perhaps we need to include them in our shop local efforts and support them as they support us.

Once we lose our family farms and food producers, we will reduce our supply of safe, fresh, sustainably-grown foods and will lose something even more important – part of our heritage.

According to UN’s annual world Economic and social survey, “By 2048, the world’s population will grow to nine billion people. Food production will have to increase 70 to 100 per cent to feed this growing population. That’s an annual increase in agricultural needs of 2.5 per cent for the next 36 years.”

Clearly, family farms and independent food producers are a valuable resource worth preserving, not only to visitors looking for experiential opportunities, but as a partner in economic growth.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to realize that we all must take steps to ensure we don’t lose this value asset – both for economic growth and tourism.

Shop local. Support family farms and food producers at the Armstrong Farmers’ Market every Saturday at the fairgrounds, at Caravan Farm Theatre’s monthly markets, through farm gate sales or  by supporting the Armstrong Food Initiative Society. Go to www.aschamber.com for more information.

Patti Noonan is executive director of the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce.