On November 29, 2018, the inaugural Food and Buyers Expo hosted by Columbia Basin Trust took place in Nelson, BC. The event brought together hundreds of people involved in food production, distribution and sales from across the region to participate in a day-long series of activities including workshops involving panel sessions, a networking luncheon and a trade expo.
The Columbia Basin Land Matcher, Hailey Troock, had the opportunity to moderate the workshop entitled the “Path from Farm to Table”. This particular workshop was facilitated by Greg McLaren, the Managing Director of Farm | Food | Drink. The Food and Buyers Expo involved carefully curated panels of experts that formed three sessions, this session and two more, one on added-value and the other one sales and distribution. For the new entrant to farming in the region, the Path from Farm to Table session would have perhaps been the most relevant and provided a great overview of how some innovative businesses in the Basin are bringing their products to market.
The experts featured in this session were Steve Kruse – the head chef of the Yasodhara Ashram, Jessica Piccinin – owner of Root & Vine Acres, Michael Silver – owner of Earth Temple Gardens and Lin Egan – owner of Winderberry Farm & Edible Cafe. They were invited to the event in order to share their expertise and experiences sourcing and supplying local food.
Steve Kruse is the Head Chef of the Yasodhara Ashram on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake. He started out providing some tips for producers and buyers in the region including knowing your environment, that creating a web of relationships makes business sustainable in the long run and focusing on reciprocal relationships. The Ashram itself focuses on single season crops, doing a bulk purchase in Autumn and entering into buying agreements.
Jessica Piccinin is the Owner of Root & Vine Acres out of Creston. Jessica started her farm career in 2008 when she took the Start Smart Program. Her business evolved from growing cucumbers and tomatoes to fruit to pork production for the last six years, which is ironic since Jessica grew up and lives in a vegetarian household. She sees her businesses as relationship building with animals.
Some of her biggest challenges include pricing and valuing of her time and product and deciding between selling wholesale vs. retail (Farmers Market). Every part of her business model and process speaks to her unique value proposition and communicates it, the feed and packaging to how the meats are cured and the kinds of charcuterie selections they carry. With raising hogs, Jessica expresses that one has to be in it for the long game. The timing for raising hogs takes one year from piglet to harvest; managing inventory can be a struggle.
Shipping is an important consideration for Root & Vine Acres since Creston is a saturated market. They are looking into establishing themselves more into the market in Nelson and area. They have teamed up in a mutually beneficial relationship with another local farm, Cartwheel Farm, which does their delivery to Steve’s Ashram one-time per week.
Michael Silver of Earth Temple Gardens has been in business for six years. His farm in Meadow Creek feeds his primary wholesale market. Michael stresses the relationship with both the owner and the chef of restaurants. Michael is one to take advice from, as he provides many local eateries in the area with his produce. He personally sits with his each client and cross references their needs (ie. supply / demand). Within this process, he must consider a balance between seasonality and the needs of the chefs in terms of colours, tastes, look and variety.
For the success of Michael’s business, communication is key. He provides chefs with a fresh sheet every week. On Friday and Saturdays the fresh sheets are sent out and on Tuesday deliveries take place. He can work with them on pricing and volume with proper communication to ensure he develops a resilient and responsive relationship over time. One of his mantras is to consider not only what you like to do but to what you do well and what the market is asking for.
Lin Egan runs Winderberry Farm and is a second generation farmer who recently acquired the land her parents had bought 35 years ago through 8 years of succession planning. They lease land from both their parents and uncle and 5 acres from her sister and partner. Lin studied Sustainable Agriculture in UBC’s Land and Food Systems program and moved back to farm in the Columbia Valley.
Winderberry Farm has a very diversified income stream. Lin and the family also operate an on-farm Cafe for which they have a captive audience. It truly is a family affair as her sister and partner operate the Edibles Cafe and kitchen. The farm has pigs, chickens, bees, a market garden, berries, rhubarb, apple trees. They produce juice, cider vinegar, dressing, sauce, bread. They do preserving, catering in the winter with preserved foods, events like tours and meals with local food.
At the space on the farm they do collaborations with artists. They had 800 people in a span of 5-6 hours visit the farm. Winderberry does whiskey tasting, brunches in the greenhouse, for which they already have produce in the greenhouse ready in May. Their guests have the opportunity to see who grows, harvests, prepares and cooks their food. That’s about as fresh as it gets!
Three of Lins tips include getting to know your farmer, getting creative and being flexible. She suggests growing what you’re good at and what your soil can do best. Find a market for what you’re good at but still experiment. Establish a relationship with your buyer and figure out the efficiencies of the farm. For example, they supply their farm workers with an availability list and they harvest potatoes once a week. They started to produce garlic dip and garlic scape dip with their surplus of garlic. Lin’s partner is in charge of this added-value product and was providing tasty samples of the three flavours at the trade expo.
Each participant received a handout with takeaways from all three panels. The two other panels’ takeaways are summarized below.
“Review your menu to see what is selling really well and evaluate what you can create from it to sell as a retail item.”
– Lara McCormack, From Scratch Food
“Ensure the problem you are solving is the right problem for your customer. Understand what is it is you need to know. Scaling your business means building both customers and supply.”
– James Street, Ministry of Agriculture
“A secret to success is creating an operating system that identifies and addresses risk, ensures quality and applies a lean approach to productivity.”
– Sylvia Chong, Foundtree Product Design
SALES & DISTRIBUTION
“Farmers benefit from knowing their production costs for each crop because it provides them with greater confidence to choose marketing options that benefit their businesses.”
– Chris Bodnar, Close to Home Organics
“Reduce food waste. Organic/Coldpressed is essential. Never stop evolving.”
– Jill Bentley-Lobban, Kimberley Centex Market / Stoke Juice
“Preparation and professionalism. The 5 P’s: Product development (and production); Packaging (and labeling); Pricing (and getting paid); Pitching; and Promoting. Quality and consistency. A great story – a product and producer that has identified and knows their niche, what differentiates them.”
– Nadine BenRabha, Kootenay Co-op
The afternoon was comprised of a trade expo that took place at the Selkirk College campus gymnasium. Food producers, both farmers and value-add businesses alike, were placed around the space in order for the buyers to be able to locate and chat with the producers they were most interested in potentially purchasing from. A great variety of local fare was represented by farms from across the region, such as Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms, Forrest Farm and Salix and Sedge from Salmo, Clear Sky Farm from Fort Steele and, from the Creston Valley, Kootenay Natural Meats and Swan Valley Honey, to name only a few!
Did you know you can buy Fair Trade chocolate that is nutrient-dense and made with respectfully handled honey from Winlaw? Check out Raw Magic! Need a nutritious snack for the local trails? Look no further, Enercheez, 100% natural dehydrated cheese curds, are produced in Nelson!
You can see the complete album taken by YA at the expo on our regional Facebook group here and the wrap-up video made by Columbia Basin Trust here. Over the next few months, we will be publishing stories about local farmers and food businesses like these and many more, so stay tuned!
Interested in farming in the Columbia Basin? Have land you’ve thought about having farmed? Learn about the B.C. Land Matching Program and other land resources on the Young Agrarians Land page!