Vendors laid out a mouth-watering spread of seafood dishes Friday, Oct. 1 to celebrate in style the launch of The Dock +, Port Alberni’s new food hub.
With a $1.5 million provincial grant to the city and support from Island Coast Economic Trust, the former Port Fish plant was retrofitted to become part of a network of 13 food hubs developed around B.C. as catalysts for regional food processing and innovation.
“I couldn’t be happier than to be welcoming you to the B.C. food hub community,” Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham told a gathering on the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf. “This has not been easy over the last 18 months,” she added noting that the program has been one of her main focuses during the pandemic. “I can’t be more excited than for the potential it has.”
Port Alberni Port Authority hosted the grand opening, which was postponed for months due to the pandemic.
“This has been a dream come true for me and, from what I hear, for many people in the community,” Popham said.
The idea is to remove barriers to economic development for communities and small businesses. “It’s important for communities to have a space for food produced in the community,” she said. “I was thinking of it as more like people getting together around a kitchen table. Food brings people together. We’re taking those barriers away, so everybody has an equal opportunity.”
Each one of the 13 regional food hubs is distinct, Popham said. Port Alberni’s specialty at this stage is obviously seafood. The list of Dock+ tenants has grown in the year since it opened and now includes: Cascadia Seaweed; Flurer Smokery; Forest For Dinner; Alberni Ice; Canadian Seafood Processing; Nova Harvest; Tastes Local; and Circadian Wellness.
Nuu-chah-nulth speakers brought home the importance of food harvested in their territories, drawing from thousands of years of history and the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, held just the day before along the same waterfront. Hupacasath elder Ron Hamilton recalled harvesting native camas bulbs across the inlet as a boy, though only twice in his lifetime.
“The health of our land is the health of our people,” said Ricky-Lee Watts, Hupacasath councillor.
“Hundreds walked with us yesterday on National Truth and Reconciliation Day,” said Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts. “Also hundreds of our fishers recently fished in these waters and sold their fish right here at this dock.
“We’re looking forward to other partnerships. We welcome you to this very special place.”
“I think Canadians are just beginning to understand we have a lot of work to do,” Watts said. “It’s also about understanding a different history.”
The facility includes cold storage, an ice plant plus a large and well-equipped community kitchen which has so far seen only limited use by small enterprises — Off-Grid Camper Café, Hatch to Harvest and Forest For Dinner.
“I would like to see more Indigenous people using the kitchen in the hub. It is fantastic,” said Jolleen Dick of Hupacasath First Nation. “It really is about food security and food sovereignty,” she added.
The project shows how much more can be accomplished when people work together, said Shelley Chrest, port authority chair.
“It is in the shelter of other people that we live,” said Chrest. “I think the pandemic has emphasized that.”
John Jack, Huu-ay-aht councillor and ACRD chair, described the food hub as a collaborative fusion of local food production with great potential.
“This is what we feel so good about on the day after Truth and Reconciliation Day,” Jack said. “The work we do together makes us come together … We’ll look back a year from now and see how much has changed.”
“What’s really important to us is forging these new relationships with other people,” Jack added. “It’s a small step but it’s one that has taken all these faces here today working together.”
“All cultures coming together and enriching Port Alberni,” Watts said. “We want to see that.”