My son made an innocent comment the other day, comparing my new online business with a local gift basket company, and challenging me as to why I would possibly think of competing with them. Somewhat naive of me perhaps, but I never really considered the gift basket companies to be part of my competitive field. I love gift baskets! I love giving them, and I love receiving them even more. But that is not my focus. Not to mention that when I try to creatively arrange items in anything resembling a basket for a “gift” it ends up looking as though my dog just dumped the trash can upside down.
Creativity aside, my focus is really on promoting local products and local businesses. Growing distribution channels. Putting Vancouver Island, and especially areas outside of Greater Victoria, on the map of Culinary and Agri-Tourism. Young couples who have a dream of starting an organic farm, raising grass fed cows and making fresh yogurt and cultured butter (I highly recommend Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt), can get discouraged when it comes to driving new business, marketing their products, and growing their customer base outside of local specialty shops and farmer’s markets.
On the flip side, foodie tourists who are excited to visit the Island can be frustrated when they miss out on the local spot prawn season, arrive too late in the day to catch the local seafood market open, or not even realize that you can pick fresh blackberries at the side of the road in August! Our restaurants are fabulous and generally easy to find, but which grocery stores specialize in local produce, and are sunchokes really worth trying? What is the difference between a white and yellow chanterelle mushrooms, and does our fruit really make excellent wine (yes!)? Fresh produce on the Island is always a few months ahead of the other provinces, and if travelers go out of their way to buy apples in the Okanagan, you can bet they will do the same here if they know where to go!
On the Island of Molokai in Hawaii, there is a Macadamia nut farm (Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nuts) that has been operational for almost 40 years – as a tourist destination! There is not much to see, some trees and a little rustic platform where you can crack open a nut to compare it with the roasted version. No big factory, no fancy buildings, and not even much to buy. But it is on every visitor’s list when they go to Molokai, and #2 on TripAdvisor (granted, it is not a big island). And here, most of the residents don’t even realize that we have fresh walnuts and hazelnuts available just up the road!
My goal is to fill the void between the artisan food and beverage producers, and the explorers who are searching for new flavours and experiences. I am essentially a curator of local artisan food. It is a bit daunting and not necessarily an easy road. We already have bloggers and writers, podcasts (yes, it is true – check out “The Edible Valley” – one of my favourites), specialty grocers, and online markets. But I feel there is room for at least one more, and I feel that by reaching out to those looking for unique local products and excellent food experiences, we can all enjoy the food & beverage products and culture of Vancouver Island.