The insight gained from the Policy Research Brief has allowed the SSFPA to highlight several issues within the food industry that negatively affect food entrepreneurs. To address these issues, the SSFPA has created an “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of Support” model that encompasses all of the components necessary for food entrepreneurs to thrive. This model will be built out by creating a national network of partners to provide support for each component.
Leadership: The SSFPA brings the message from our membership to a wide variety of fora. The SSFPA has built new programs and systems to benefit our members as well as become involved in system advocacy and development. Importantly, there is growing recognition of the need for the food system to address critical challenges: climate change, increased nutritional value in food products, equity towards producers and workers, etc.
Partnership: The SSFPA is a small and nimble organization with a substantial track record. An early realization was that instead of building a top-heavy organization, we would go faster and further through creating partnerships with organizations with compatible values that have the strengths needed by our members. Current funding partners include Carleton University, Vancity Community Investment Bank, BC Ministry of Agriculture, WeBC, Women and Gender Equality Canada, and more.
Incubation: The SSFPA has created many tools and programs to help people who wish to create a food business. To demonstrate the importance of a well-supported Incubation Phase, we developed virtual training in partnership with Mission Skills Centre Society and together have found funding to offer a suite of training programs.
Acceleration: A start-up food enterprise that attracts a new and large demand too often finds the leap into the commercial market brings several critical challenges: They need to upgrade their recipe and get assistance from a Food Technologist to build their nutritional table, best before date etc. They need to find or try and create a processing facility that can produce a much greater quantity of packaged and labeled products. They need to create new distribution networks. All of this requires the SSFP to learn new skills, hire staff, find money, and build management capacity. There are a few Accelerator Programs offered across Canada, but we wish to see an ongoing program of support. In partnership with Farm Food Drink, we were able to launch a pilot specialty accelerator program “Food Business REFRESH” that proved the merits of this kind of support.
Access to Finance: The SSFPA is working on creating a Peer Lending Program to support women’s start-up ventures. We are also working on investment pool for food businesses that is gender, diversity, and rurality intelligent with SVX. We also recognize that there is a huge need for investment in food manufacturing infrastructure. These issues have been documented and reported over and over again.
Market Development: Pivoting to cope with COVID 19, increased online markets are emerging. The SSFPA has established its own online market- Buy BC Food and Drink. This allows SSFPA members to have their own virtual storefronts where they can sell products both commercially and wholesale. Plans for a national version of the site are underway.
Regional Infrastructure: Most communities across Canada used to have factories for processing locally produced or gathered inputs. The corporatization of the food system gradually destroyed them through mergers, acquisitions, or price wars. The result is that consumers are mostly reliant on food processed by large conglomerate companies (Agropoly_BerneDeclaration). However, COVID 19 revealed the vulnerability of these huge, centralized manufacturing systems. Rebuilding regional infrastructure now makes sense. The SSFPA has been involved with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries in the launch of the Food Hub program in BC which is a step in the direction of rebuilding local and regional food production capacity. Much more needs to be done. Some of our members have had such great success that they have been able to finance building their own processing facilities. Another idea would be for a group of SSFPs in one region to get together to create a cooperative manufacturing facility.
AGRI-Tech: Technologies at every level of the economy are ‘disrupting’ the industrial-based economy. Technologies are emerging in the food system from business services such as online shopping to the emergence of cell-based meat alternatives, new protein sources, and non-dairy milk products, for example. Some of these new technological solutions can benefit the work of farmers and small-scale food processors. The SSFPA is investigating these new methodologies and considering how best to support our members. We are part of the new ‘Agri-Tech Engine’ led by Bioenterprise (see https://bioenterprise.ca). We recognize that many of our members are already innovators at the leading edge of technological evolution. Check out a webinar by the Abbotsford Tech District focusing on the ‘future of food’ to learn more.
Research, Policy, and Innovation: The more we learn about how food entrepreneurship affects women, the more we learn about the problems inherent in the food system. In collaboration with five Canadian universities, the SSFPA has prepared a policy brief that details the challenges faced by all small scale food processors, as well as those faced specifically by women and other equity-deserving groups. Many questions emerge as the food system realigns and changes based on climate, equity, and financial challenges. The United Nations is challenging everyone to adopt and implement sustainability standards through their ESG protocol. ‘Environmental, Social and Governance concerns need to be addressed if food system development is to lead us to a healthier, equitable, and sustainable future.