Don’t Call it a Job Boom, Call it a Livelihood Renaissance

A view looking south across the Creston Valley

Even though spring officially starts in March, the feverish activity associated with May long weekend always feels like the unofficial end of winter hibernation and beginning of spring in the Creston Valley and on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake. The cherry trees are budding, gardens are ready for planting, and the 76th annual Creston Valley Blossom Festival is about to kick off the season. This is part of the natural cycle of any farm community; the ebb and flow of energy as we transition from the quiet slumber of winter to the frenetic pace of spring and summer.

Local Food Renaissance

However, today’s upswing of farm and food activity in the Creston Valley and on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake goes well beyond the seasonal cycle of ups and downs. What we have been experiencing is more like a steady boom. Actually, scratch “boom” – let’s call this a “renaissance.” As the sector grows, work opportunities are beginning to abound. Locals hope that they will call folks with food and farm skills to the region.

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market, which was recently given top accolades by the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets, is a ready example of the local food revival. From humble roots as a small outdoor summer event in 2003, the market has grown to regularly host 40+ amazing local vendors year-round.

Creston Valley Farmers Market in Summer

Three successful wineries have also taken root in the area, winning diehard local fans and international awards along the way. A new wave of innovative small-scale farms, represented by Root & Vine Acres and Cartwheel Farm, are tapping into an eager local market, directly supplying individual customers, organizations (like the Yashodhara Ashram) and local restaurants (like the Real Food Café).

Last but not least, the recent unveiling of the Mobile Press Project, an social enterprise launched by Fields Forward, will drive value-added production, while diverting 400,000+ kilos of produce from the local landfill each year!

Work Hard, Live Slow

So why, when many rural Canadian farm communities are struggling, is this little valley such a hotspot of opportunity? Part of it is affordability. While businesses and farmland in the Creston Valley sell for a fraction of the prices paid in the Okanagan or Fraser Valley, the growing season is comparable and underused Class 1 soils are easily had.

Creston Valley

Biking to work takes on a whole new meaning in the Kootenays.

The other part is the incredible lifestyle that the Kootenays offers. Though work is often seasonal, there is always plenty in the summer, which seems perfect for those seeking a balance between working hard and living slow. Many follow farm work in the summer with winters skiing, snowboarding, hot-springing or travelling abroad. Even in the busy summer months, there is always time in the evening to head to the Goat River or one of Kootenay Lake’s beautiful beaches, do a day-hike up to Plaid Lake or Mount Loki, or enjoy a weekend at the Kaslo Jazz Fest or Starbelly Jam.

Take the example of two of my friends – long-time cherry pickers who returned to Creston each summer, until 2015, when they bought a small parcel of farmland for $30,000 and put down roots! Now they spend summers picking and developing their lot. In winter they travel. This summer they expect to put in a well and start construction of a modest but funky farmhouse before flying south again.

As the most recent census shows, they are not alone. Since 2006, the Creston Valley has seen a 30% increase in the 20-35 year-old population, a substantial increase of the working population and a burst of fresh life in the community.

Yasodhara Ashram Kitchen

In the Yasodhara Ashram’s kitchen

The Land of Milk & Honey

With all the new growth in the Creston Valley and East Shore’s agriculture sector comes fresh jobs. For some existing businesses, that means filling vacancies and looking for new help. With the addition of new opportunities, like the Mobile Press Project, there are also a series of news jobs that need to be filled quickly… Here’s a peek at some of what’s been posted recently on the local job board:

 

  • Want time outside and a peek of farms across the Kootenays? The Mobile Press Project is hiring a 5-person operations crew, including 2 summer student positions, as well as an Operations Manager. Applications are being accepted until June 9th. For more information, check out all 3 postings.

 

  • Are you a community minded social entrepreneur, who likes working outdoors during the summer and spending the off-season travelling or in school? Checkout the Creston Valley Food Action Coalition’s Harvest Share Coordinator The coordinator oversees community volunteers who harvest excess fruit at local farms, and then redistributes the harvest evenly between the farm, volunteers, and community organizations like the Erickson Elementary School’s lunch program. Applications are being accepted until May 31st. For more information, visit their posting.

 

  • Interested in praticing yoga, meditation, and working with organic and local food in a tranquil retreat? Yasodhara Ashram near Crawford Bay is offering volunteer Kitchen Learning Residencies for karma yogis preparing fresh organic food for room and board. Visit their website to find out all about the opportunity.

 

Drinks and appies at the Skimmerhorn Winery

  • Then there is the soon to be opened Casey’s Community House. With a wine bar and restaurant in the newly restored Kootenay Hotel building, Casey’s will offer foodies a truly fine dining and authentically local experience, sourcing ingredients close to home. And while they’re not quite ready to open the doors, owner/operators Tanya Wall & Ralph Casmore will be looking to connect with chefs with a passion for farm to table cooking to help shape their vision. Call 250-428-6683 to start a conversation with them.

 

Other jobs open at the moment include coordinating transportation for a global fruit broker and driving tractor on a local cherry farm. To scope these opportunities and stay tuned to postings as they arise, follow the Kootenay Employment Service job board.  Finally, if you are an employer in the Yahk to Riondel area with an opportunity, let us know! In the meantime, get out and enjoy all the fun and festivities this May long Weekend before the summer kicks into high gear!

 

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About Jesse Willicome

Raised all over the Creston Area, from Yahk to Lower Kootenay Band to Canyon, Jesse Willicome is an an adventurer who loves hiking, rock-climbing, full-moon snow-shoe trips up Kootenay Pass, and travelling the globe. As an active community member he is also a board member of Wildsight Creston and vice-president of the Trails for Creston Valley Society. When he’s at home, he can most likely be found listening to CBC radio, stoking the woodstove, drinking a strong espresso, and writing about local agriculture in the Creston & Kootenay area.

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