As a farmer in Pitt Meadows, selling your eggs, berries, sweet corn or grass-fed meats might become easier this year thanks to a marketing push by the city’s new economic development corporation.
“This is us finding out what we can do to make existing business grow and attract more agriculture to the area,” said corporation’s chief executive officer Kate Zanon.
A study released this week by the corporation shows Pitt Meadows is perfectly poised to capitalized on a growing local food movement as well as reach further afield to markets in Asia.
The local industry is economically strong – 138 farms produce over $58 million in farm gate sales annually. The average farm in the city generates $421,844 – over three times the provincial average.
Agriculture in Pitt Meadows is intensive, with the average revenue per hectare in the agricultural land reserve around $18,832, compared to a provincial average of $935 per ha.
Several sectors are also expanding. Hundreds of hectares of new cranberries and blueberries have been planted in the past five years.
Direct farm markets and agri-tourism operations are increasing as well.
The farms in Pitt Meadows vary in scale and the distribution of products differs from farm to farm. There are a number of operations that sell at the Farmers’ Market or from the farmgate. Others, especially cranberry producers, market through very well developed and defined distribution systems. Some producers are already considering new markets in the Pacific Rim countries.
“We are kind of the first community when you leave Vancouver and start driving east, that has a hybrid of urban and agriculture,” said Zanon. “It kind of puts us in a perfect spot.”
The corporation, which was established in 2010, now plans on working with local farmers to develop signs and “Made in Pitt Meadows” branding, as well as attract and recruit other businesses who may be interested in setting up operations in Pitt Meadows.
This could mean finding someone willing to build an agro-industrial park on land in the city’s North Lougheed commercial corridor.
An agro-industrial park would be an opportunity for farmers to market their value-added products like jams, meats and wines, explained Zanon.
“This is helping our local community to get recognition for what they are doing here,” she added. “There are a lot of people who don’t necessarily realize that they can head out for the day, enjoy our community and buy some of our products.”
The push to capitalize on the city’s farming roots is one that’s been welcomed by its agricultural advisory committee.
For Bob Hopcott, of Hopcott Premium Meats, it’s a plan that’s long overdue. Customers from all over the Lower Mainland visit Hopcott’s corn maze in summer and drive specifically to his Old Dewdney Trunk Road business to buy locally-reared cattle and products from his family farm.
He’s been marketing to the eco-conscious “locavore” for years. Between 30 to 40 per cent of his sales happen on weekends.
“I think Pitt Meadows is suited for this kind of thing because we are so close to the urban area. We are farming in a city,” said Hopcott.
“A lot of farmers don’t want to bother dealing with the public but the ultimate is to invite customers to your farm. It will work a thousand times better in Pitt Meadows than it would in Chilliwack, because it’s too far out of the way.”