Pressing Matter: Creston & District Farmers Line Up Behind the Community’s New Mobile Fruit and Vegetable Press

May 11, 2017, Creston Valley – Food security in the Kootenays is getting an exciting boost. Starting this cherry season, the Creston-based Mobile Press Project will give farmers, food processors, and community groups access to a game-changing piece of infrastructure. When it pulls up at an orchard or alongside a root vegetable field, the Kreuzmayr press might not look like much. The unassuming unit is pulled behind a pick-up truck and fits on a 20 x 8 foot canvas-walled trailer. But when the walls fold out to reveal premium stainless steel equipment and the Austrian-made press starts running, the results are impressive. The press can clean, juice, pasteurize, and package all varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in the province. It is able to process more than 20,000 pounds of produce a day, producing more than 10,000 litres of juice.

With millions of pounds of non-marketable produce being landfilled each growing season, the project promises to cut food waste and add to the region’s food supply. In the Creston Valley alone, an estimated 40,000 tonnes of cherries go to the landfill each year. Much of this fruit is good to eat fresh and certainly good to process, but farms have simply been without good local infrastructure for keeping it from going to waste. With the Mobile Press Project in place, an alternative is finally available.

The project started as one young farmer’s vision, but the success belongs to a network of people and organizations. Last winter, the Creston & District Fields Forward partnership was launched as an experiment in connecting food security partners to take on practical projects. A paid coordinator was hired to help participants find common ground and seize shared opportunities. An Opportunity Fund was set up by local government to provide seed money for getting projects off the ground. Only 16 months later the Mobile Press Project is evidence of what focused cooperation can accomplish.

The inspiration behind the project came from David Mutch, a Fields Forward volunteer and owner-operator of JRD Farms and William Tell Family Estate. He is a friendly face at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market where he is known for his specialty vinegars, ciders, chutneys, jellies, fruit spreads, and warm laughter.

“I suggested the project because I saw the potential to grow my operation and to help other farms and businesses in the community thrive. I wanted Kootenay farmers like me to have the chance to process what they grow in time with the harvest, instead of saving it up for trips to use equipment in the Okanagan. I wanted us to have a way to make better products with fresher fruit at lower costs. I couldn’t make that happen on my own.”

Within days of Dave putting his idea forward, the Fields Forward Coordinator was able to tap into Opportunity Fund seed money to hire an expert to test the concept. A feasibility assessment was followed by comprehensive project planning. Now, new possibilities are on the horizon for Dave, other Kootenay orchardists, and the region.

“What we are achieving through the Mobile Press Project shows what is starting to happen in the Creston area thanks to Fields Forward,” says Mutch. “People are getting the support they need to contribute what they can to get things done. Since I shared my idea, all kinds of people – from local government officials to school teachers to staff at our local First Nation band – have helped in their own way to make the idea a reality.”

Almost $350,000 has been raised, with most of the funding coming from local sources, including the Regional District of Central Kootenay, the Town of Creston, and Creston & District Community Directed Funds. Other funders include the BC Rural Dividend Fund and Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust. Fundraising for the project was driven by Fields Forward volunteer and RDCK Area B Director, Tanya Wall. “It was easy for me to champion this project,” smiles Wall. “As a politician, a lot of what you do makes the kind of difference that is hard to see. With this project we will all be able to literally taste the difference. I know that this will make it easier for farmers and food producers to earn a decent living and will put more nutritious local food on tables in my Area.”

Bringing a Mobile Press to the region will produce measurable social, economic, and environmental benefits. In its first year, the project is expected to:

  • Create six new jobs;
  • Enable at least five farms to produce juice-based products locally;
  • Process over 450,000 pounds of fruit, yielding more than 120,000 litres of juice;
  • Divert 252,000 pounds of non-marketable cherries from the Creston landfill;
  • Directly contribute 25,000+ litres of juice to the emergency food supply; and,
  • Cause a $425,000+ multiplier effect on the Creston & District economy.

Hiring for the project is underway. A five-person crew is being hired to operate the press. Job posts for an Operations Manager, two Operators, and two Summer Students can be found on the Kootenay Employment Services job board and at www.kes.bc.ca. A dynamic and hardworking team, with mechanical expertise and backgrounds in agriculture will be needed to get the project up and running.

Booking the press is also happening now. Anyone in the Columbia Basin with interest in using the press can contact Kootenay Employment Services. Farms or businesses with large volumes are encouraged to book juicing days. “Open Juicing Days” will be announced throughout the season to give homesteaders and smaller operations the chance to press their cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, pears and root vegetables. “Community Press Fests” will be public celebrations where juice will be pressed for the region’s food banks and for local school lunch programs.

The Mobile Press is part of a local movement that is all about building community wealth using local ingenuity and resources. “This project and others, like the new Creston & District Community Investment Co-op, prove that we can create local solutions to the challenges that face our area,” says Creston & District Economic Action Partnership lead, Laura Francis. “As a community, we are getting better at turning our bold visions into concrete actions that actually work for us. I hope that Dave’s story will inspire someone else to come forward with another game-changer.”

For more about the Mobile Press Project, Fields Forward, or the Creston & District Economic Action Partnership contact Laura Francis at lf@kes.bc.ca or 250-428-5655 ext. 425.

 

 

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About ingrid

Ingrid has been the owner and editor of The East Shore Mainstreet newspaper for more than twelve years now. She lives in Gray Creek, BC, with her husband Juergen and children Zoe and Luka.

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