Thinking local 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - a jarring realization Ranya Dube, filling up a jar with organic oats, is changing the way some food is sourced and distributed in the Sea to Sky.
  • PHOTO SUBMITTED
  • a jarring realization Ranya Dube, filling up a jar with organic oats, is changing the way some food is sourced and distributed in the Sea to Sky.

Ready-made foods are the next thing we want to do," says Ranya Dube. "People generally buy a lot of pre-made foods so we want to help by sourcing these within a 100-mile (160-kilometre) limit and keeping waste down by supplying more made-to-order things that won't get thrown out."

This makes imminent sense, more so coming from a principal of the forward-thinking company Local Goods, an online store that supplies organic, ethically sourced dry foods, cleaning supplies, and health products in reusable containers to around 40 customers in the Sea to Sky corridor.

(Full disclosure: my partner and I are customers, for a year we've been receiving deliveries of rice, beans, chick peas, hemp hearts, cashews, oats, pumpkin seeds and other raw goods in large, deposit-paid glass jars that are picked up on our next order.)

This "milkman" model of yore is so perfectly adapted to today's food problems of over-packaging, unknown sourcing, and questionable quality that I've wanted to learn more since quaffing my first shot of home-pressed oat milk last summer. I finally did so when I caught up with Ranya and business partner Stella Gardiner, visiting from New Zealand, prior to a Local Goods-sponsored peach-canning workshop at the Chirp CoKitchen in Function Junction.

Ranya and Stella met in London, England, while working together on back-end data and IT for a sustainable fishing eco-label. They kept in touch after Ranya returned to the Sea to Sky corridor, where she'd previously lived 12 years, and Stella headed back to New Zealand. They spent the next few years building their business over Skype.

"People here are happy, connected to the outdoors, make smart choices about food and health products, aren't afraid to pay for it, and support community initiatives," says Ranya, who channels passion, zest and intensity in equal measure. "So we brainstormed a company that would both fit this ethos, and also help reduce waste and carbon footprints."

During this time, taking a job as an executive assistant for a business coach that advised a range of enterprises was an eye-opener, as was the book Ecoholics by Adria Vasil.

"The book changed everything for me," she allows. "You think you're living in a sustainable way, but Vasil broke down everything about our everyday lives to show what they really cost the planet."

For a year and half, the pair researched everything about the system we live in—where, and on what we spend our money; where it goes and who ultimately profits; why communities are vulnerable when local money is sent far away to people who don't care about you. "It was tough because you can't unlearn the things you find out—like, "Manitoba Farms" is actually owned by a big American company, or only 15 per cent of plastic sent to recycling is actually recycled," says Ranya. "We trained ourselves to understand where everything comes from, how far it travels, and what it costs the environment. So we now see everything in that light."

They ultimately settled on the Local Goods model (localgoodscompany.com). Then the real work began—though it was more like extensive investigation. "We made spreadsheets, called around to potential suppliers, and tried to figure out how to approve goods," recalls Stella, in her practical-minded tone, "because not all certifications are the same—or trustworthy... and we had to follow our stringent policies."

On the website, these comprise two lists: Things that May Change and Things that Won't Change. "They're important," says Ranya. "Because even if we die, our company has policies that protect the business and its customers."

Predictably, some of their products are more expensive than regularly sourced equivalents because each ingredient has been meticulously researched and vetted in an almost detective-like fashion, and it's people, not machines, mixing things and filling containers.

"Cheap isn't good for anyone," recalls Ranya of an axiom borrowed from a friend. "Not for the person making it because of low wages, not for the environment because of shortcuts, and not for the consumer because of poor quality and short lifespan. Making people understand is a lot of work, but change is slowly happening. I'm patient with people. It's a big process so you have to be. I'm happy if I've made one person think every day."

Everything that Local Goods does is focused on building a model for community. When the business expands, they hope to inject even more money into the local economy by hiring people to do deliveries. "I've come to understand that taking care of people is important. That it builds community when you can help someone live there and participate," notes Ranya.

Beyond the egalitarian mission, perhaps the most heartening thing for the pair is that they've managed to do everything themselves, despite living in two different countries. Are there difficulties? Well, of course.

"Getting the glass back is a pain for bookkeeping because containers have to be taxed when you take them back," says Ranya. "Everything's been a challenge, really, but nothing we can't overcome. We're so used to having problems to solve, now we're like—'bring it on.'"

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.

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