Local by name and experience
Local food store in Fernie connects shoppers to farmers
It doesn’t get much more local than knowing the name of the person who grows your produce or raises your poultry or beef, and a Fernie food store is making that connection for customers.
Simply named ‘Local,’ the volunteer-run store is a social enterprise of Wildsight Elk Valley, a non-profit committed to food sustainability. The Fernie market makes it easy for area producers to sell their goods to customers, who are eating it up.
Local provides a storefront for the region’s farming community and small-scale producers that’s accessible 12 months a year. Previously, growers, producers and ranchers independently sold their goods and may have vended at Fernie’s Mountain Market on Sundays in July and August. The concept puts local food on the shelf or in the fridge and freezer year-round.
“Before I started volunteering, Wildsight Elk Valley had been running the Community EcoGarden in Fernie for over 10 years; they’ve also been involved in the Mountain Market, so food access and local food sources have been a big part of the mandate,” said Robyn Peel, volunteer and Local advisory committee member. “This is just the next step to make it bigger and brighter and better and to promote the local food economy.”
To ensure the longevity of the store and to fill the shelves, Local is also buying its merchandise with help from the Columbia Basin Trust’s Impact Investment Fund. This fund gives loans to First Nations enterprises, social enterprises, non-profits, and businesses that are not able to secure conventional financing to support credible business opportunities which have significant positive and measurable community benefits.
Located in downtown Fernie, Local buzzes with conversations about honey producers in Fernie and ranchers in Creston. Unlike a traditional farmers’ market, vendors are not present at the store, but their business names and locations are listed beside their products. The store also offers online shopping 24-7, with pick up or delivery during regular storefront hours.
During the summer season, customers can expect to find fresh produce, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and berries, as well as frozen ready-made meals. The shorter seasonal growers are backed by Creston producers that offer late-season produce like garlic, potatoes, squash and apples.
While the store’s primary goal is to support producers based in the Elk Valley, if something is unavailable within the region, they’ll source food from further afield.
Local volunteers say it’s been a delight to see customers engage and learn about what they can buy seasonally. In the future, they hope to also process fresh summer products for availability during fall and winter, but in the meantime, they’ll continue to offer an array of shelf-stable and frozen products.
Wildsight Elk Valley was pleased to receive the Trust’s funding for the store, which meets multiple criteria in terms of community, environmental and economic impact. The Impact Investment Fund supports projects like this one that have positive social impacts, such as providing a needed community service.
“COVID really highlighted the challenge and need for food security at the local level,” said Peel. “It was great timing to launch the idea and store in December of last year, and it has significantly benefited the region. Plus, it’s been a massive change to the foodie environment, which is excellent.”
Incidental timing aside, improving local food access has long been one of Wildsight Elk Valley’s goals, spearheaded by Dawn Deydey, the organization’s community program coordinator, and further driven by the recently developed Fernie Food Action Strategy.
The increased awareness of local food producers has helped the region’s economy flourish, as retail profits are channeled back into the local agricultural industry and entire community.
“I think it provides opportunity for these food businesses to grow,” said Peel, who further points out that the funding was crucial to allow expansion of their wholesale market.
“We’re looking to carry a greater quantity and variety of food for customers to support local food production in the whole of the Kootenays, not just Fernie,” she added. “With the Trust’s support, we’re able to make bigger purchases, which in turn attracts more customers, with the goal of continuing to promote food security and to support our local farmers and small-scale producers.”
Columbia Basin Trust