Keynote speaker Peter Smith asked: “What do you care enough about to act upon?“

The panel of local entrepreneurs.

“What do you care enough about to act on?” 

For the 50 business owners, producers, and interested consumers in the room on April 26 for our discussion on the importance of buying local and what it means to our economy, the answer is building a strong, local market for the goods and services we produce.

The event, called “Food: A Main Course for our Economy,” was hosted by the Valley REN and Friends of Agriculture Nova Scotia.

Peter Smith, known for his work with the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity, R2R Conference, and Blyth Arts and Cultural Initiative, gave a keynote address on rural revitalization and the power of a community in leading change.

Blyth, Ontario, population of approximately 1000, has faced and continues to face similar challenges as many rural communities across Nova Scotia. Peter’s involvement in developing the community’s cultural scene spurred a sense of ownership within the community, which has had greater impact than simply revitalizing the Town Hall. Through fostering inclusivity with the community, municipal councils, and local artists and producers; building consensus; and being open to change, Blyth has begun to revitalize a small, rural community to one with a strong local market. Peter sees the Annapolis Valley as the perfect place to do the same.

A diverse panel later shared their views on their role in the buy local movement; what their business is doing differently to grow and impact the local economy; and what can be done collectively to further this movement.

Thian Carman, a grade 12 honours student at Digby Regional High School and the youngest registered farmer in Nova Scotia at Meadow’s Brothers’ Farm, highlighted the importance and power of community involvement. Thian frequently speaks at schools on the local food options that are available in our communities and is working to educate people that agriculture exists in the Digby area.

Emily Tipton, ‎founding partner at Boxing Rock Brewing Co. and president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia, spoke on the importance of replacing the food brought into the province, but also, trying a product because its local and buying it because it’s good. Emily shared some impactful numbers on the craft brewery industry in Nova Scotia, which we would be remiss not to share:

  • In 2009, there were 9 craft breweries and brewpubs in the province with 80 people employed in the beer industry. In 2016, that number has grown to 40 craft breweries and brewpubs and 400 employees.
  • Total sales of Nova Scotia craft beer in 2009 was $6.8 million with exports of $150,000. In 2016, sales grew to $16.4 million with $800,000 in exports.

Dakota Varen owns a small-scale vegetable operation, Hallowing Mountain Farms in South Tremont, selling produce collectively with three other local farms. Through partnering with other producers, Dakota is able to manage the high startup costs associated with farming while remaining competitive, minimizing the distance to her customers and developing her relationships with them.

Andrew Rand of Randsland Farms shared his experiences in selling to the large grocery stores and the challenges faced in trying to stay competitive. While maintaining margins can be difficult, Randsland has found opportunities for growth through value-add products. Randsland currently produces the only locally sourced, bagged, convenience salad available in the local market.

The session ended with a facilitated discussion on the pieces required for a strong local market; what can be done to facilitate the buy local movement; and how do we get from opportunity to action.

What we heard was the importance of educating consumers on the hidden costs associated with buying products that are shipped to us from geographical distance locations; building the connection with those who are growing our food; and working with government and our municipal partners to understand the challenges and barriers to growth.

Opportunities for furthering the buy local movement include:

  • Educating and communicating the value and impact of buying local, at schools and with consumers
  • Using social media to garner community involvement and building the connection with those who are growing your food
  • Working with government and having municipal councils involved in the process
  • Teaching people how to cook and eat seasonally with what we produce

The Valley REN will be working with our partners on this issue and will continue to share the stories of what our local businesses are doing and the impact being made on our economy.

What do you think? Please share your feedback in the comments section or reach out to any of our staff.