The Rapid Relief Fund has provided a grant of nearly half a million to the Victoria Community Hub Society to assist farmers and secure local food supply for those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant of $485,000 will allow 35 charities and food sharing organizations, including some school districts, to purchase produce from 21 farms in the community.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented change in who is asking for food services,” said Linda Geggie, executive director of Vancouver Community Food Hub. “And that includes people who have lost their jobs, have had to shutter their businesses, and that are having really tight budgets.”
Food banks and services have seen triple the demand for food during this pandemic, she explained, and it’s been difficult to keep up.
Meanwhile, farmers have seen a significant decrease in profit, as their biggest customers have sopped buying produce.
“The biggest change has been with the restaurants being closed, [they] are no longer, of course, buying any of our produce,” said Shawn Dirksen, owner of Northstar Organics in Central Saanich. “And they’re our biggest single buyer. That’s about 40 percent of our sales.”
Restaurants across B.C. have been ordered closed by the provincial health officer for about two months now, as they are unable to meet physical distancing requirements.
Under B.C.’s restart plan announced last Wednesday, however, dine-in services can return in phase two starting mid-May, under enhanced protocols that would allow for sufficient distancing measures.
“I’m really worried that even once they are allowed to open up, that social distancing constraints are going to make it difficult to them and the lack of tourism is going to make it difficult for them, so I’m definitely worried for some of our restaurant customers,” said Dirksen.
But now, with the Rapid Relief Fund donation, there is a solution to save farms and help people in need all at the same time.
The money will also go towards creating the South Island FarmHub, an online platform.
Local farmers will be able to list their produce on the website and the organizations will be able to purchase produce using the donated funds.
It will then be “distributed out to the emergency food agencies of the Food Share Network, who will then, either through their hamper programs or their meals, will be getting fresh produce out to people who could really use it right now,” said Geggie.
It’s the perfect solution, said Dirksen.
“Local farms, local farmers, and the money is helping local people,” he said, smiling, “I mean, it just makes so much sense on so many levels.”
The South Island FarmHub is still being developed and will come online in June.