In partnership with Tourism Kelowna, the Regional District of Central Okanagan’s (RDCO) Economic Development Commission (EDC) hosted RDCO board members, regional elected officials, community partners, and economic development officers on an agriculture and viticulture industry familiarization tour on October 3, 2023.
Familiarization tours are a staple in the tourism and hospitality space. They provide guests with firsthand experiences, immersing themselves in facilities and services so they can make informed decisions for their meetings, events or conferences. Building off the success of tourism familiarization tours, the OKGo team adapted the concept to have an industry-specific focus to connect regional elected officials and partners with industry leaders in agriculture and viticulture.
The day's purpose was to provide a platform for industry leaders in the agriculture and viticulture sectors to share stories and information to deepen sector understanding for elected officials and partners. Providing a platform for regional elected officials, community support organizations, and regional economic development staff to connect with industry is integral to ongoing support, advocacy and innovation.
Jennay Oliver and Loyal Wooldridge during the tour at Paynter's Fruit Market
“It was a privilege to connect with agriculture and viticulture leaders to learn about the opportunities and challenges these industries face. In the wake of the devastating Grouse Complex wildfires and extreme weather, we know a collaborative approach will be key to recovery,” said Loyal Wooldridge, Chair of the RDCO Board. “The wisdom and expertise shared has enriched our understanding of potential solutions to support these sectors and pave the way for sustainable economic resiliency.”
Attendees began the day at the Regional District of Central Okanagan with a warm welcome from RDCO Board Chair Wooldridge. Lisanne Ballantyne, President & CEO of Tourism Kelowna, and Krista Mallory, Manager of the RDCO EDC, then provided an economic update related to tourism and hospitality and specific industry stats and trends for agriculture and viticulture sectors. Neil Fassina, President of Okanagan College, was also in attendance and shared an update about the future training programs for these sectors and the launch of the world-class Okanagan College Centre for Food, Wine, and Tourism.
Attendees then visited Paynter's Fruit Market in West Kelowna, welcomed by Jennay Oliver, owner of Paynter's Fruit Market, and Avi and Binny Gill, owners of Farming Karma. The group toured the property as Jennay, Avi, and Binny shared stories of the rich history of their farms, the evolution of their businesses, plans for the future, and strategic initiatives to diversify operations. The tour also allowed business owners to share their challenges in an ever-changing industry, including environmental changes, labour and housing challenges, and barriers to agri-tourism operations.
“Our family has been growing fruits in the Okanagan for 30+ years. Through Farming Karma sodas, we were able to innovate and diversify, which is essential for farmers in today’s economic climate. Increasing volatility in weather patterns and crop returns is making it hard for small-scale farmers to sustain their operations. We need to create resiliency in the agriculture sector through collaborative effort from farmers, consumers, and all levels of government,” said Binny Boparai-Gill, President and Co-Founder of Farming Karma Fruit Company. “It is critical that farming is seen as a viable career option by the next generation in order to ensure long-term success of BC’s agriculture sector.”
Group, led by Jennay Oliver and Binny Gill, tour the rows of peaches at Paynter's Fruit Market.
The final stop of the day was Quails Gate Winery, where Tony Stewart, CEO of Stewart Family Estates, hosted the viticulture update. Sharing similar sentiments to the agriculture industry leaders, extreme weather events have had significant impact on their operations. These hurdles, ranging from travel advisories to crop impacts, have been persistent since 2018. In the face of ongoing challenges, opportunities for innovation and growth arise with diversification.
"The key to fostering prosperous and sustainable growth in our region lies in building strong connections and understanding between industry leaders, elected officials and community partners. Through hosting a familiarization tour for regional elected officials and community partners, we aim to create a platform where the challenges and opportunities faced by the agriculture and viticulture sectors can be effectively shared. This sharing of knowledge will empower our elected officials and community partners to provide ongoing support and advocacy for these integral industries,” said Krista Mallory, Manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission. “Furthermore, we are thrilled to highlight the significant contribution of the new Okanagan College Centre for Food, Wine, and Tourism in driving regional talent development. Together, we can harness the potential of this sector to fuel economic growth, cultivate a vibrant regional workforce, and position our region as a leading destination for agriculture and viticulture."
Media release submitted by the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.
The OKGo campaign was launched in 2021 through a partnership between Tourism Kelowna, the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, and Accelerate Okanagan. The campaign provides a cohesive regional story focused on key economic sectors—Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace, Agriculture, Cannabis, Digital Tech, and Viticulture—that each of the partner organizations can share and leverage to further their unique mandate and individual goals. For Tourism Kelowna, that means strategically targeting planners to attract business events to our region in alignment with Destination Canada’s Global Sector Strategy.
Phase One of the campaign included a 30-second video, website, and print magazine, while Phase Two included Vol. 2 of the print magazine, additions and updates to the website, including a Community section, as well as video content and other promotional assets. As part of Phase Two, our team started hosting economic sector strategy familiarization (FAM) tours for our Meetings & Conferences Sales Program partners, which continued into Phase Three, during which in-depth video profiles of some of the Central Okanagan's local entrepreneurs and innovators were created.
The campaign was recognized with two International Economic Development Council (IEDC) awards in 2021 and four 2022 Marketing Canada Awards.
Visit ok-go.ca to learn more.