A new Lillooet-based food hub aims to cut out the middleman between farmers and consumers, allowing them to spend more time doing what they do best: farming.
Lillooet Grown aims to help local producers remove the barriers of aggregation, distribution and marketing by offering them a direct avenue to link with individual consumers and restaurants across the region.
"The first time I came up here to visit, I saw all these opportunities for farmers to get their products to market that they weren't currently capitalizing on," said Katrina Ferrari, who devised the concept with her high school friends Tristan and Aubyn Banwell, owner-operators of Lillooet's Spray Creek Ranch.
"I jumped on the opportunity to come up here and see what I could do to help people out."
The concept is simple: sign up for an account online and you'll get a list of fresh products available from local farmers that week. Place an order for pick-up or delivery, and within days, you'll have farm-fresh produce and meat at your fingertips.
"This is making it easier for us to get our products to large buyers, like restaurants that we've worked with so far, so we're hoping that it will be a good thing continuing on," said Tristan.
As the money goes directly to farmers, you can also rest assured that you've done your part to support the local economy and reduce B.C.'s reliance on produce from drought-ravaged California.
"Farmers get to spend more time farming and consumers get to buy amazing, healthy and local food with one purchase," Ferrari said.
The cooperative connects farmers in Lillooet, too, offering them a way to collaborate and share delivery costs. It also streamlines the ordering process for restaurants, eliminating the need to deal with multiple suppliers.
Ferrari sees big things in the hub's future.
"Our hope as this grows is that there will be some sort of farmer's cooperative that will sort of own or manage the food hub and will eventually take a cut of the sales on the site and reinvest those into the farmers," Ferrari said. "I would love to see a commercial kitchen, a delivery vehicle and a tool-lending library, so a small farmer who needs a rototiller two days a year doesn't have to go buy one."
Lillooet Grown is one of the start-ups involved with The Social Venture Challenge, a three-month business development and mentorship program offered by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability.
"The program has been great," Ferrarri said. "I've learned a lot about what it takes to have a small business and a social venture."
Currently there are three Lillooet farms supplying products to the hub: Spray Creek Ranch, Farma C and Fluster Cluck. Several other farms have also committed to the program, Tristan said.
Deliveries can be made to retail and restaurant locations between Lillooet and Whistler. For individual orders, pick-up is only available right now at the Lillooet Farmers Market, but Ferrari said if interest builds in the Sea to Sky deliveries could be arranged to the Whistler and Pemberton farmers markets.
For more information, visit www.lillooetgrown.org.