The Passionate People Behind the Victoria Food Hub

As a generally skeptical person, I felt ill-suited for a story on the proposed Victoria Community Food Hub. Sustainable products, food security, and eating local—while important—have become buzzwords for the restaurant and food service industry. I’ll admit I expected those involved with the Food Hub to be blinded by their ambitious ideas, failing to acknowledge the realities of the project.

That didn’t happen. I spoke with Food Hub president Dwane MacIsaac and treasurer Tara Black. When not working on the Food Hub, MacIsaac is the chef at 10 Acres Bistro and Black is the co-owner of Origin Bakery. During our conversation, both spoke passionately about the project, the funding difficulties, and the constant battle of balancing community needs with a feasible operation plan.

Tara Black

Tara Black

What is the Food Hub?

T: We’re interested in making sure there’s more sustainable food on the island. That way, farmers could grow more and producers could take it, make something, and further the chain.

D: The whole concept came together at the request of farmers wanting more storage for their winter product. The idea was to build a large facility with walk-in coolers and walk-in freezers where the farmers could bring their winter stock to store it and we would sell it to chefs in the city.

T: Then came the idea that the Food Hub wouldn’t just be a storage facility, but that it would also encompass manufacturing capabilities. We have the idea for different types of kitchens for different types of production. For example, a baking kitchen, a canning kitchen, and a charcuterie kitchen. Yes, these are lofty goals. Some will come into fruition; some of them will be tinkered and changed. We also want to have an office that allows collaboration with different organizations focused on community involvement and sustainability, not just in food.


Why does Victoria need a Food Hub?

T: The people who want to see this happen are from Victoria. In order to get to the vision, we’re going to need a lot more people and a lot of money in order to sustain the project. It’s a huge project. It requires a lot of physical infrastructure.

D: This idea is in the works in Vancouver. They started with a similar idea, which we’ve used as a model.


Dwane MacIsaac

Dwane MacIsaac

Where does funding come from?

T: The Food Hub is a registered charity. In order for the hub to get cemented, it’s going to take a couple of years and a lot of people. The more people we can get interested, with varying backgrounds that can lend themselves to the project, the better.

D: In the beginning, the Island Chefs Collaborative donated money to the project in order to get the charitable status. It took six months to get that status.

T: We were lucky to work with someone who had experience with charitable organizations. It usually takes anywhere from 18-24 months to get charitable status and we had it within six. Because the food hub is registered as a charity, we need to get funding for this to work. We can’t just generate funds for ourselves. That’s the challenging side. The funding cycle changes every year. The funding we were looking for this year was dropped to 20% of our original application. Every time funding is changed or reduced, it pushes the timeline. If we could have something up in going in a year and half, that would be awesome.


How have you imagined the space?

D: We’ve had some facilities in mind, thought they were perfect, but didn’t get the funding we needed. It’s a $2 million project. The idea is a mobile kitchen. Everything in pods. And it would be a teaching kitchen.

T: Imagine a high school home economics kitchen, but on a commercial scale. It’s a project that could be as large as the people’s dreams that are associated with it. Because of that, we’ve had to scale it back. We’re trying to keep the excitement of the project, while keeping it on a scale that’s manageable for execution. There’s only so much time we all have.

D: A celiac kitchen. A grain mill. A gluten-free grain mill. A charcuterie kitchen. These ideas came from wanting to have a business incubator. Say, if you wanted to make a line of rhubarb jelly, you could come to the Food Hub. We’d show you how to make your product and we’d have marketing and packaging experts available. They’d work with you to get the product on the market. We’d also talked about having a restaurant, but that snowballed too quickly.

T: We want to build something that can scale up with growth. Trying to maintain a sense of levelheadedness with the concept is delicate.

D: Just to set up a working kitchen, it takes four to five months.


How will this benefit Victoria residents?

D: The space itself, the main idea, is to have it central in Victoria. It’s not going to be in Sooke or out on the Saanich Peninsula. It’s going to be central for Victoria proper. Right now, a lot of product is brought from the mainland. It will be a place for farmers to bring their 1000 pounds of beets and have them in storage, available for sale.

T: For instance, it doesn’t even have to be island produce. There’s a lot of produce coming from the Okanagan. Right now, farmers rent a truck and come to the island for a weeklong produce tour. Just this morning, a farmer emailed me about a cherry truck coming to the island. He just wants to trade for his product. If we could facilitate and encourage more of that, can you imagine? Yes, please bring all the peaches and apricots to the island. We’d have the storage facilities.

D: Another thing we’ve talked about is having the facility open 24-hours a day. Members would have a swipe card that bills your time per pod kitchen. Billing based on usage.

T: That’s where the Hub word came from. The 24-hour kitchen, with office space and residential space, integrated into the total operation costs. Our biggest challenge is keeping the mentality of just getting the project off the ground, with enough room to scale it up later.


Why should EAT readers get excited about this project?

D: What happens if BC Ferries shuts down? What happens if the roads close down? What happens if an earthquake hits? Ninety-five percent of food comes from off the island. In 1994, when the ferries shut down for a few days, the grocery stores were pretty empty, and the city has grown since then. We’d have product in stock on the island, available to the public.


Follow the Victoria Food Hub’s progress on Facebook.

Written By:

Kaitlyn Rosenburg holds a BFA in creative writing with a minor in journalism and publishing from the University of Victoria. Her work has appeared in local publications such as The Martlet, as well as national publications like ...

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