EVENT RECAP: Ferment & Feast ~ Castlegar

Posted by Hailey Troock on November 06, 2019

leeza zurwick happy gut young agrarians

On October 6, 2019, over 40 food and fermentation enthusiasts joined us over the course of the afternoon at the Doukhobor Discovery Center for a hands-on workshop, roundtable discussion and intimate potluck inside the museum! Participants joined us from the communities of Grand Forks, Rossland, Salmo, Vallican, Castlegar, Glade, Thrums, Nelson, and Harrop.

Thank you to our amazing workshop hosts Leeza Zurwick from Happy Gut and Jess Bowman, our roundtable participants, hosts at the DDC and everyone who came out! Read on for a recap of the day’s activities and discussions!


The day began with a presentation by Leeza from Happy Gut about the benefits of fermented drinks and her specific products, bottled Kefir water, grains and DIY starter kits that allow you to produce this from home. Leeza’s process of trial and error when developing her product after being gifted water kefir grains from her Doukhobor grandmother (with no instruction manual) has allowed her to bring something unique and accessible to the competitive food and drink market.


But what is this magical drink you ask? According to Happy Gut’s FAQ page, “water kefir is made from kefir grains, also known as tibicos. The grains are various strains of healthy bacteria and yeast, held together in a polysaccharide matrix created by the bacteria. The symbiotic relationship of the microbes produces a stable growing culture. The microbes feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide, yielding a fermented carbonated beverage.”

You can find Leeza’s kits and grains (probiotic cultures) on her website. Happy Gut also retails in 50 grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants in the Kootenays and to more than 100 stores outside the region. Check out the November 21 episode of Dragon’s Den to see Leeza on the big screen!


Following Leeza’s presentation, beer and food fermenting enthusiast Jess Bowman lead a hands-on workshop that involved making sauerkraut with fresh fall certified organic cabbage from Salix and Sedge farm in Salmo.


Jess went over some basics about how to choose the right cabbage for your kraut. Storage cabbage in the fall is denser and less sweet so will take longer to ferment, but results in a crunchier kraut. Spring cabbage is more tender and full of sugar, so the opposite happens- quick ferment but can be a bit soft.


If you’re trying this again at home, don’t forget that your ratios are key! You will need 3lbs of cabbage to 1.5 tbsp of NON-IODIZED sea salt. Don’t forget to keep it in a cool room  with a consistent temperature like a cellar or garage. You’ll know the kraut is done when the tangy flavour of lactic acid bacteria comes through more than the salt.



Doukhobor history dates back to 17th century Russia, following reforms to the Russian Orthodox Church. Doukhobor means “spirit wrestlers” and they lived with the motto “Toil and a Peaceful Life”. Persecuted by Tsar Nicholas II to the point of emigration from their home lands, the Doukhobors originally settled in Saskatchewan before around 5000 of them moved to British Columbia, in particular the West Kootenay and Boundary.

The Doukhobors were agrarians and made great progress in the early part of the 20th century putting land into production for their communities. Largely self-sufficient, they produced an abundance of food in a new land and topography to them.


The Doukhobors settled on some of the most fertile land in the region, much of it consisting of Class 1 and 2 soils. Many of these old homesteads are still located on top of these rich soils in places like Robson and Brilliant. Rachael Roussin, the coordinator of Kootenay and Boundary Farm Advisors, shared a detailed map of the area to highlight the crossover.


According to the Agricultural Capability Classification of BC, land in Class 1 is level or nearly level, with deep soils that drain under natural conditions, have good artificial water table control and hold moisture well. They can be managed and cropped without difficulty and productivity is easily maintained for a wide range of field crops. Class 2 soils have limitations which constitute a continuous minor management problem or may cause lower crop yields compared to Class 1 land but which does not pose a threat of crop loss under good management. These soils are deep, hold moisture well and can be managed and cropped with little difficulty.


Between 1908 – 1913, large swaths of land in places we now know as Grand Forks, Brilliant, Ootischenia, Krestova, Shoreacres and Pass Creek were opened up to plant crops and orchards. These Doukhobor communities generally consisted of 100 people, 10 – 15 families. Double cropping was a common practice in these communities, where strawberries and vegetables were planted between young fruit trees. Jam exports to places like the Prairies out of factories in Brilliant and Nelson become economic drivers of the region and provided a market for Doukhobor agricultural products outside of their communities.

By the 1930s, the golden years were coming to a close and 1937 saw the bankruptcy of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood after declining membership due factors like the Great Depression and unemployment. By 1963, all Community Lands, apart from Krestova, had been appraised, subdivided and sold to Doukhobor families.

What remains is a legacy of underproductive land and changing identities in the region. Over the years, there have been some failed attempts at putting some of these old Doukhobor lands back into production. According to some Doukhobor elders, little of what was the agrarian concern of the Doukhobors in the last century remains with the younger generations and this is something that they’d like to see change.


An interesting and enlightening conversation followed the workshops. Members of the local community were invited to learn more about the rich agricultural history of the area and continue a much-needed dialogue in the Castlegar area around land use and local food. The Doukhobor Discovery Center is looking into getting land on the museum site into production. Marina Buchan from the Kootenay Food Strategy Society, which looks after the Castlegar Community Gardens, joined us in this discussion. Deb McIntosh, former City of Castlegar Councillor and coordinator of the Castlegar Community Harvest Food Bank, Drop-in Center and Shelter, came to give us the down-low on their operations. Deb runs an important service that is largely supported by donations and volunteers, with activities run by the service users themselves and no shortage of local food donations.

Thanks again to everyone who joined us for the workshop, discussion and potluck!



Through the B.C. Land Matching Program, Young Agrarians is offering support to farmers looking for land for their farm business and landowners looking for farmers to farm their land. The Columbia Basin Land Matcher will be attending the event to answer any questions about accessing land through this program. For those unable to join us, you can send a message to hailey@youngagrarians.org for more information.




The Columbia Basin event series is made possible with funding from Columbia Basin Trust.