Chamber Businesses Take Root At The Market

Encouraging Future Growers, Entrepreneurs Through Teen Chef Club

A seed is nourished by the earth, growing from a seedling into a strong and healthy plant with the help of a community of bio organisms; local businesses develop in the region in much the same way.

The budding partnership between the Trail & District Chamber of Commerce and Trail’s IncrEDIBLE Farmers Market (TIFM) runs deeper than their shared #ThinkLocalFirst philosophy. Growing food security starts at the market and feeds directly into the business community. In addition to catering to locals’ appetites, the market provides a supportive environment for entrepreneurs to incubate, learn about their customers, and develop a viable business plan. Many who start as market vendors organically form relationships, go on to sell their products through a variety of avenues, and launch careers.

“The market provides a low-entry point for artisans and food producers to experiment while also generating income,” explains TIFM’s Manager Gina Ironmonger. “They can easily test at the market and, if the product is successful, people come back for more; those people will look in-store for that same product, too.”

Earthy Organics proved this concept, establishing a community-supported agriculture food distribution system in 2005 before pivoting to their passion full-time, growing their business at the market beginning in 2010.

Owners/operators John Abenante and Jeanine Powell still see value beyond freshness in selling at farmers markets and say they’ll continue to do so.

“We decided to get out there and see what the customers like, and the market has been 100% awesome for us,” says Abenante. “When I’m there, I’m on a stage sharing about the product: where it’s grown, how to grow it, when to harvest, and how to process or prepare it. We’ve never really had to advertise because the product sells itself. You know, it’s local; forget the 100 Mile Diet, it’s within 10 miles!”

With local grocers selling their produce, including Ferraro Foods in Rossland; Liberty Foods in Fruitvale; and Save On Foods, Kootenay Co-op and Ellison’s Market in Nelson, Earthy Organics is harvesting more than ever and has found a healthy balance of direct-to-consumer and wholesale distribution.

Many vendors are expanding their offerings and growing their operations via the market. In 2021, TIFM had 127 vendors; this year, the numbers are trending upwards and 24 new vendors are selling their wares. Seventeen Trail market vendors are taking advantage of an additional market day, offering their goods at the new sister market in Fruitvale alongside 15 Fruitvale-unique vendors and eight non-profit tables.

In addition to running a busy market season, TIFM is launching a community commercial kitchen so growers can increase their processing power. With so much cooking, Ironmonger is grateful for the partnership with the Chamber, which has successfully brought programs like the Chamber’s Kootenay Teen Chef Club (KTCC) to fruition.

Sporting a classic chef hat, Trail’s Grace Barnes, 14, concocts a traditional Vietnamese pho made with bone-beef broth, banh pho noodles, and thinly sliced beef.  

The club, now in its second year, gives 12 to 18-year-old South Kootenay residents an opportunity to explore, play, and build confidence in the kitchen. Thanks to sponsors Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, Kootenay Savings Credit Union, and Teck Trail Operations, 36 teens are participating at no cost. Bear Country Kitchen, Ferraro Foods and The Source in Waneta Plaza also chip in, sponsoring welcome bags for each participant.

Teens receive $24 in KTCC vouchers per month to shop from approved TIFM vendors for their meal ingredients. At the end of each market day, the folks at TIFM reimburse vendors for any voucher purchases. Many young chefs share their creations on social media so others can interact by commenting and engaging with recipes and techniques. The social aspect also helps generate interest in local market vendors and businesses, according to the club’s facilitator, Food Business Coach Mandi Lunan.

“The KTCC helps create meaningful connections and builds knowledge, understanding, and respect for local food systems, farmers, and farming; it also presents agriculture as a career option,” explains Lunan. “By meeting, buying from, and talking with the producers at the market, the youth are putting a face to the food and getting a better understanding of its sources.” 

Sixteen-year-old Jack Gray of Rossland experiments with the mother sauces of French cuisine, mixing a Béchamel sauce into Moussaka for KTCC’s “Mother of All” theme. 

Chamber Executive Director Erika Krest is delighted to see the program flourish for another year, reiterating how important community input – from both businesses and residents – is to sustaining a bountiful region. 

“When Mandi approached the Chamber with this idea, we recognized that it could be an important tool to assist South Kootenay youths and budding entrepreneurs in learning new skills,” says Krest. “Raising future entrepreneurs is a job for all of us. The Chamber is happy to provide a platform for nourishing thoughts and ideas, and for teens to explore opportunities in agriculture and the food business right here at home.”


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