By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

Village Greens, a Valemount-based hydroponic gardening project, is in the midst of establishing new sustainability initiatives with the support of a ReDi Grant from Columbia Basin Trust. The organization has purchased an electric car and solar panels with grant money received in November.
In an interview with The Goat, Village Greens founder Korie Marshall explained that the purchases are in line with the organization’s goal of providing a sustainable, local food source for Valemount and surrounding communities.

Established by Marshall and other members of the Valemount Learning Centre, the project initially developed from a Northern Development Initiative Trust grant to build a hydroponic container in which to grow leafy greens. Interested parties may subscribe to the Village Greens program on the Valemount Learning Centre website, or greens can be purchased on a one-off basis by visiting 1295 Gordon Road on Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m.
However, subscribers can’t always drive to the pickup spot in Valemount, Marshall said; Village Greens staff began driving long distances to accommodate these subscribers.

“We have a couple clients that have mobility challenges and we try to deliver to them, and people wanted [subscriptions] in say, McBride or Dunster,” she explained. “Having to spend both the time and fuel to get there made it a little cost prohibitive.”

So when Columbia Basin Trust began accepting applications for its Resident-Directed Grant Program, Marshall and Village Greens staff jumped at the chance to get an electric vehicle.

“Being sustainable, especially in remote areas, generally means lots of upfront costs,” Marshall said.

Now that the electric vehicle has been purchased, the organization is one step closer to having a comprehensive greens delivery service, she explained.

Marshall is also looking forward to installing solar panels: hydroponic containers can be costly to power in the winter, so the solar panels will help the project remain sustainable and affordable.

In communities like Valemount, where residents generally rely on one grocery store, it can be hard to access a variety of affordable, nutritious food, Marshall pointed out; in providing a wide array of produce, Village Greens organizers hope to address this.

That observation is more than just anecdotal. Northern BC, in which the area served by Village Greens is located, leads the province in household food insecurity, with some 16.6 per cent of residents experiencing some level of food insecurity, according to data from the BCCDC.

Amelia Gallant, a Population Health Dietitian for Northern Health, explained that food insecurity is associated with a number of health concerns.

“We’re seeing a very strong link between depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, those types of things, and household food insecurity,” she said. “Some studies have shown that there’s a humongous health care cost associated with household food insecurity, up to 76 per cent higher for food insecure adults compared to those with sufficient access to healthy food.”

In rural and remote communities, it’s common for residents to drive long distances to get to the nearest grocery store, Gallant added – and those costs can pile up.

Just as food insecurity can have knock-on negative health consequences, community projects like Village Greens can have a variety of positive impacts beyond just feeding people, Gallant continued.

“When we talk about healthy eating, it’s more than just nutrition,” she said. “It’s not only foods that provide nutrients […] but also the ones that connect you with your culture and traditions, and to your community as well.” Local food initiatives can go a long way in building that sense of community, she added.

But the responsibility for feeding a whole community can’t rest squarely on the shoulders of local food security initiatives, Gallant and Marshall agree.

“People are busy and burning out,” Marshall said of nonprofit organizations in the Valemount area.

More robust funding from the Province and federal government, she said, could help organizers establish a more long-term, comprehensive network to address food insecurity in the area.

Likewise, Gallant said that food insecurity is too complex an issue for local initiatives to address on their own.

“You can build these really great community food security programs, and they have a lot of value: they build vitality, they build resilience in the community, there’s a lot of togetherness and community connections,” she said. “But at the end of the day, [experts] recognize that food security is an income issue. And those community food programs aren’t a long-term, sustainable solution for that.”

Still, Marshall hopes that local organizations will be able to increase their capacity to further address the issue of food insecurity. “There’s a lot of goodwill between organizations, and an acknowledgement that we can’t actually do more than we’re doing at the moment,” she said. “And maybe we will in the future.”