In the first part of this series, we profiled the local food heroes who focus on community as well as the food they serve.
The second article looked at the innovators and larger restaurants that will help scale up demand and supplies of local food.
The third column in this series looks at the local companies adding value to farm commodities here in Maple Ridge.
Husband and wife team Dave and Krista Pitcher know how to make a living by adding value to what other people think of as simple commodities like coffee.
They roast it right here in a Maple Ridge industrial park using the green coffee beans they import from certified fair trade and organic farms in the coffee growing regions.
This begs the question, can locally roasted coffee be considered local food if the raw material is imported?
In the case of coffee, the argument is fairly strong for the local label because the roasting process is critical to the taste of the end product and it takes place before it reaches the consumer.
Local roasting brings the product one step closer to home than the coffee roasted elsewhere and trucked in. And since we cant grow the beans here, roasting is as local as we can get.
The Pitchers did not start their careers in coffee.
They came here with commerce degrees looking for suitable employment and landed jobs. They stayed for the ocean, which reminded them of their Newfoundland birthplace.
Coffee chose us, laughed Krista. The Pitchers started moonlighting by purchasing a vending machine business. It didnt work out, except for one coffee vending machine placed in an existing business. We still have that machine there, 16 years later. Through personal connections, they switched to providing water, coffee making equipment and coffee to caterers on movie sets.
The pursuit of good coffee led them to their current roasting and supply business, Global Coffee, located on Stewart Crescent next to metal fabricators and industrial supply shops. The coffee accounts for about half their revenue. Although Krista took a few years out to raise children, they are now both employed in the company and will be adding a fourth employee to assist their helper, Ryan.
We use a small-batch air roaster, which doesnt burn the coffee beans like conventional drum systems and allows us to customize the roasting process for each order. They roast about 20 different certified fair trade and certified organic varieties.
Until recently, they concentrated on supplying the office and movie set markets with few people in Maple Ridge knowing of their existence. But their childrens involvement in a local taekwondo martial arts studio and their roles as parents prompted them to think more about community. Weve lived here for 16 years, and wed like now to connect more completely with our community. The Pitchers are renovating their front office to accommodate retail sales.
Global Coffee offers generous fundraising opportunities to community groups. A group hoping to establish a food co-op in Maple Ridge and connected to the CEED Centre is using it to raise funds for its feasibility study. The Pitchers are also participating in the Cheers to the Planet eco-gala on April 27 in order to reach out to community.
Like many in Maple Ridge, the Pitchers are concerned about the environment and are taking action in their business to reduce impacts. They sell biodegradable cups and other kitchen supplies and reduce packing usage by supplying equipment that grinds bulk whole beans rather than using pre-ground, portioned coffee in plastic. As a local roaster and direct wholesaler and retailer, their coffee has to travel fewer kilometres from the farm to the end consumer.
Another Maple Ridge family has taken a commodity, milk, and made it the basis of a multifaceted agro-tourism destination. The Davison family opened Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in August 2011 as a combined cheese factory, local food retail outlet, and bistro. Tables on the patio complete the experience for customers, who can be seen sipping tea and coffee, munching on baked goods and feasting on gelato.
The two daughters in their twenties, Jenna and Emma, perform key roles in the enterprise. Jenna is the master cheesemaker and production manager, having apprenticed under a renowned artisan producer in Agassiz. Earlier she worked as a crop consultant based on her schooling in horticulture and agriculture. Her cheeses have already been nominated for two awards, quite an achievement for a young person in a traditional industry.
Emma took business courses at the University of the Fraser Valley, using them to good effect in managing sales and other front of house functions. I was originally headed toward nursing, but when our parents approached us with the idea it made sense.
Once enough time passed for their products to age appropriately, Emma began making cold calls to prominent hotels and restaurants. As a result, their artisan cheeses can be found at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver and the Four Seasons in Whistler. They are now carried in many upscale retailers too.
Here at home, Maple Ridge took no time at all in adopting the cheese works. The first day was a bit overwhelming, said Emma. The community feels a strong sense of ownership. In many ways, it is almost as if something had been missing before.
Golden Ears Cheesecrafters seems to fill the need for an iconic gathering place, like Bruces Country Market with its smoked salmon, to create a sense of identity for the people that live here. We are proud to have a local cheese that we can take to friends and share some of the glory by association. We wanted to create a place where locals can come and enjoy a facilitated shopping experience, recalled Emma.
In some instances, the community even takes a direct role in the business. Emma now crowd sources deliveries of cheese to Whistler. We let it be known when deliveries are due and pay the people in cheese. It works really well.
The Davisons didnt leave much to chance at the planning stages. Lynn, the girls mother and a former teacher, attended seminars on value-added farming and planned the GE Demo Kitchen in advance as a way to invite the community into their establishment. Kerry, their father, a refrigeration instructor and electrician by trade, maintains the machinery and helps market the business at special events, such as the Cheers to the Planet eco-gala.
Golden Ears Cheesecrafters is a local success story by all accounts. The residents of the town are happy to see a family with deep rootsthe first Davisons arrived in 1902sustain a farming tradition in which they too can participate. Local restaurants and retailers can carry their products with pride. And their business has a multiplier effect in the community, not least on Kerrys brothers farm next door, which provides the raw milk that ends up in the award-winning artisan cheeses.
You can have an opportunity to taste the gourmet coffees of Global Coffee and delightful cheese of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters at the Cheers to the Planet: Eat, Drink and be Eco event on April 27 at Meadowridge School. It will showcase the wines or beers of more than 11 local producers and the cuisine of 17 local food service providers, providing excellent opportunities to talk to the master chefs, vintners and brewers. Tickets are available for $45 at the CEED Centre or online at www.ceedcentre.ca. All proceeds fund free programs at the CEED Centre.
Christian Cowley is executive director of the CEED Centre Society, which offers free programs and services focusing on food security and community development.
@ Copyright 2013