West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op shuts down

After eight years of helping build sustainable food networks in the Slocan Valley and area, the West Kootenay Permaculture Coop (WKPC) is dissolving its board and liquidating the rest of its assets as of January 4, 2023.

“It’s the end of a little legacy,” said Shauna Fidler, who was one of the founding board members. “It was a lot of work, and COVID really took the wind out of our sails.”

The board has been liquidating the co-op’s physical assets, such as freezers, apple peeler and ladders, since the spring. They’ve donated these items to local organizations such as Elk Root Conservation Fam, the Whole School and the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative.

The WKPC had six board members and a network of over 100 volunteers to call on, according to Fidler. They focused their work on building sustainable agriculture in the region through initiatives ranging from hosting permaculture education seminars to picking excess fruit to even starting their own café in Winlaw called Picnic.

“We fed thousands of people food; we rescued excess food from farms for years; we taught food security workshops for years,” Fidler said.

But funding was a problem and Fidler said continual grant-writing and too much work for a small group of people led them to the decision to pack it in.

“It just became such a burden,” she said. “People get tired of giving everything.”

The co-op had been trying to find a long-term home base with a kitchen, and for a time rented out a space in Winlaw’s Spicer Centre, where they operated the Picnic Café. As this became unaffordable, WKPC’s future became untenable. “We were trying to build a little café that would be a social enterprise to fund the organization and it just became such a financial burden,” Fidler said. “There was nowhere for us to go that was affordable.”

In a closing message to members on January 4, the board says they will use their leftover funds to buy perennial plants and make them available to members.

“The only silver lining here is that we’ve got a little seed money left,” Fidler said. “We’re permaculture-based so one of our overarching goals was building a resilient region. So with the last of our funds, we’re purchasing fruit and nut trees and shrubs, an investment in food for the future.”

WKPC is also seeking any groups that might want to take over the legal framework of the co-op structure. This can be a difficult and lengthy process to set up. Back in 2014, the Permaculture Guild became the West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op by taking on the structure from a defunct biodiesel cooperative.

After all the hard work over the years, Fidler is saddened by the closure but is also experiencing “a bit of un-burdening.” She also feels a sense of satisfaction with the group’s last gesture.

“This last little goodbye to our community through perennial plants feels like a really fitting legacy to leave behind,” she said.

Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice