Napa North, Canada’s Culinary Paradise, a four-season playground, or just a bloody awesome place where even locals can feel like tourists. We can go outside and play! We have lakes, sun, trees, wine, bike trails, lush orchards, waterfalls, craft beer and cider crawls, amazing produce, more booze, and the Okanagan is so beautiful that you catch yourself staring. It may be a place where you have to make things happen for you, but given the amount of amazing young entrepreneurs choosing to make Kelowna home, things are more than possible here.
I’ve been supporting all things local for my whole Canadian life. I jumped over the pond from England in 2008 and somehow stumbled on this new roller coaster of a path in food and drink. And now, supporting local is not what I do, but who I am.
My project is all about making people think. Whether it’s where your produce is coming from and growing it, to how it’s being sprayed (or not), to sharing insights into how hard small business really is and the extra things our farmers are doing to essentially look after us. I’ve learnt a lot by listening and asking questions, so I decided to write a little sustainably minded list to plant a seed about supporting local whilst you’re here, along with (some of) my reasons why:
- Biosphere Certification:
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for sustainable and responsible travel and respecting the land, so I think it’s cool we live in the first and only Biosphere Certified destination in the Americas. For me, that mind-set should filter through everything we do – to walk the walk and talk the talk. The first zero-waste grocery store in the Okanagan is also in Kelowna with FarmBound Zero Waste. We’ve got a long way to go but things are happening.
- Slow Food – Good, Clean & Fair:
Three little words with big meaning in the world of Slow Food – wholesome non-GMO eats without herbicides and pesticides at a fair price for everyone involved (don’t assume that all local produce is this way though; for organic it’s standard). From my experiences, there is more depth to relationships with small and independent businesses, plus you actually make a difference with your spending choices.
- Who’s Your Farmer?
My pop up dinner series is called ‘SOURCED’ for a reason – we are so close to our food chain, as well as the people behind it and that is magical. We have eggs, meat, fish, honey, grain, fruit, veggies, dairy and more coming from where we live. That also means your carbon footprint is reduced because it travels less miles, so by eating and supporting local you’re technically helping to save the world! Ok, that is a little extreme, but my point is the food you consume whilst you’re here has a purpose and meaning and it’s fresher and better for you. Eating shouldn’t be something we just do and supporting local helps us put the value back into what food really represents.
I’m a firm believer that supporting local farmers isn’t necessarily more expensive (but that’s a discussion for another time). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention how family-run businesses are a dying trend all over the world, but the Okanagan is filled with them, so scout them out when you explore.
We live in a place where we have 4 distinct seasons with interesting microclimates, which means we have delicious things to look forward to all the time. From a wine growing perspective, we’re hot and cold climate all at the same time – we shouldn’t work and yet we do! You can preserve a little K-Town sunshine for when you need it, especially during the winter or when you’re missing being here (it happens).
Not only that, but we’re seeing more and more Vancouver-based Chefs calling Kelowna and the Okanagan home because we’re a Chef’s dream (and something to do with quality of life). From Neil Taylor (formerly españa, Cibo Tratoria), now Executive Chef for Home Block at CedarCreek Winery and Brian Skinner, Chef/owner of Frankie We Salute You (formerly The Acorn) to Victor and Kevin at QB Gelato, K-Town’s food scene has become even more delicious this year alone.
But, don’t just believe me, here’s what Brian Skinner had to say about moving to Kelowna:
“Setting up a restaurant in the Okanagan has always been a dream of mine, as it’s the fruit and veggie capital of the universe. Seeing that veggies are my jam, I’m swooning. Being surrounded by people working the land is also refreshing and inspiring. There’s a special bond between farmers and Chefs. And I’m pumped to forge more of those relationships in my new Okanagan home.”
- Community Strong
We live in a highly processed and commercialized world, but together we get to shape our food culture, identity and leave a piece of us one beautifully imperfect plate at a time. There is this change that’s happening – it’s not necessarily food people collaborating with food people anymore either, just people who inspire you to create cool experiences and I love connecting the dots to show how and why we work.
- Sense of Place, Sense of Time, Taste of Place:
I kind of touched on this before, but I had more to say. Our locally grown produce is hands-down some of the best in the world. Our produce is picked and on our plates in a day (or so) – can you say the same about that chain supermarket? Transparency and asking questions is key and when you know the person growing/raising your food, it’s easier to get answers than waiting for customer support.
- Sustainable Drinking:
When you’re in the midst of the summer and in the industry, everything can go by in a flash. That’s why I really like the wine industry – you get to bottle the season and reflect back on the growing season, its conditions and challenges (or your travel memories) the following year.
Sustainable wine growing comes in different shapes and sizes – I love going to Tantalus Vineyards in South East Kelowna during the spring for not just their top-notch wines, but to admire how the dandelions are left alone to help the bees, along with the other regenerative farming practices. Summerhill just went next level and became Canada’s first and only winery to be Certified B-Corp. That is not an easy thing to do and deserves a standing ovation for putting people and planet alongside profit. We’re fast becoming a Valley priding itself on little intervention winemaking and that all starts in the vineyard and looking after those grapes without spraying RoundUp (again, ask questions about what you are drinking!).
- Celebrating Imperfections:
When there is a real person behind something, mistakes with happen and that’s especially the case with the staff shortages that the restaurant industry is facing. And to truly understand and respect local produce, I think it starts with remembering that no two tomatoes are the same, so dishes shouldn’t in theory taste exactly the same every time you cook it – sense of place, sense of time, remember? My dinners are all about celebrating those imperfections because it makes us who we are.
- Women In Wine
The words ‘there’s close to a 50/50 split for female vs. males’ isn’t spoken too often in many industries, but that is what our wine region is beginning to stand for. (Now, we do have a long way to go, especially when it comes to male vs. female. winemakers, but we’re starting to get somewhere, so I wanted to focus on the positive). That is something to really celebrate and every year I am introduced to more and more inspiring women with my collaborative fundraising dinner on International Women’s Day – I think it’s a cool way to experience your own wine tour across the Okanagan (hint hint).
Doing the right thing is often the hardest thing, but our local farmers, producers and artisans do, year-in, year-out just to look out for us. In my opinion, our food scene is the purest reflection of the Okanagan – grown, raised and consumed here. That’s a pretty special thing to have and hold onto it. I’m excited to watch it continue to change and grow.