You Down with ICC? How Vancouver Island’s Chefs are keeping it Regional

Recently, the global community celebrated Earth Day – an event that attracts everyone from idealists and empty-gesturers to activists and bona fide eco-warriors. But agendas aside, the perennial message remains consistent: it’s time to take responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet!

If we’re being completely honest, involvement for most is relegated to well-meaning posts, tweets and likes (spread the good word, right?) and of course, semi-vigilant domestic composting and recycling. Bottom line? Most of us go to bed at night, safe in the knowledge that in some small way, we’re doing our part.

Sure, some Vancouver Islanders are doing more than others. Salt Spring Island Coffee’s multiple conscious, sustainable programs, or the City of Victoria’s Sustainability Action Plan. Then there are the green minded merchants like The Good Planet on Fort Street – but one of the biggest shifts in the Capital Region over the last few years in the proliferation of the sustainable food movement – a philosophy that has evolved into an industry standard. Where did this delicious green groundswell start? Let’s rewind to the late 1990’s…

Once upon a time, a group of top Victoria chefs came together to create the Island Chef Collaborative or ICC. The common denominator? A commitment to regional food security, the preservation of farmland and the development of local food systems – a vision that would grow into Vancouver Island’s booming sustainable food system. Fast-forward to the present and the ICC are raising funds to generate microloans that enable local farms to grow more food and better connect with local merchants. How have they become so effective?

By maintaining a broadly based membership of chefs, food industry professionals and individuals who share their values and concerns, the ICC achieves a collaborative working style that empowers those committed to actively accomplishing their goals. In doing so, they have succeeded in increasing awareness of locally produced foodstuffs by promoting them in the city’s businesses and featuring them on local menus, while also educating the public about the ecological and economic benefits of buying locally.

Now more than ever, people are recognizing the importance of locally sourced food – something that’s reflected in the ever-increasing demand. But there is a downside: many producers are finding it more challenging than they’d anticipated. Storage, processing and distribution make up one tall order and small operations simply don’t have the bankroll to stay in the game.

The Victoria Food Hub will change all that.

As early as this year, the ICC aims to provide a physical infrastructure for local food banks, farmers and distributors. The Victoria Community Food Hub Society will create the inertia (and resources) required to create locally sustainable food systems on the Island.

But there’s more to the big picture: the ICC is investing in tomorrow’s ecologically minded gourmands by teaming up with the Vancouver-based Growing Chefs! Chefs for Children’s Urban Agriculture program. Since 2005 Growing Chefs! has been educating children, families and communities about healthy, sustainable food practices.

Not only does Growing Chefs! provide an in-class, hands-on environment to teach children about growing and cooking food; it also provides an avenue for chefs and growers to engage more of their community in the promotion of urban agriculture.

Earth Day might be just one square on the calendar, but it serves as a good reminder to keep it green the other 364 days. And no one’s leading the charge quite like the ICC.