A store only selling locally produced meat, produce and dairy is opening its doors in Boissevain this fall
It’s a picturesque Prairie town with all you would expect to find: two grain elevators, painted murals, drivers who stop for pedestrians and a service station that looks like a long-forgotten movie set.
But Boissevain also has some things a person may not expect to find in such a small community — a movie theatre, three museums, an art gallery, pottery co-op, an expanding library and a thriving downtown.
And if one group of residents has their way, the town of about 1,500 will soon add a store for locally produced food to its list of amenities.
“It’s going to be like a full-basket grocery story, or that’s what its aim is. So you should be able to get all the basic things you need to make a meal,” said Megan McKenzie, president of the Rural Roots Food Co-operative, which will operate the store.
So far, area producers are lined up to provide fresh fruits and vegetables over the summer, and root vegetables over the winter. The store will also offer herbs, honey, rabbit, beef, pork, dairy products, canned goods and eggs when it opens in October.
Products from other areas of Manitoba, such a pasta and dry goods will be available as well.
“Our goal is to connect local consumers with local producers and encourage a healthy food culture,” McKenzie said, adding one of the co-operative’s goals is to teach people how to cook using fresh ingredients.
Cooking from scratch
Amy Loewen has been on the forefront of teaching people how to cook from scratch, leading workshops through the Rural Roots Food Co-op.
“It’s something I’m really passionate about, getting people cooking using fresh, local ingredients,” she said.
Kevin Dolby feels the same way when it comes to healthy, fresh ingredients. He joined the co-operative in the role of vice-president but came to the idea of local food after eight years as a chef, followed by a stint at a feedlot.
“I’ve seen how food is raised… or mass produced, and didn’t really like it, so when this came up and you see how many local farmers are here who you can support, it made sense,” he said.
To date, the upstart co-op has sold 33 memberships (you don’t need a membership to shop at the store) and has raised roughly $4,000. But more is still needed for Rural Roots to open its doors, about $25,000 more.
The group hopes it qualifies for two provincial grants that it has applied for, but is still waiting for its applications to be processed. In the meantime, the organization has been holding fundraisers, catering local events and selling T-shirts.
McKenzie said there is a lot of community support for a store that sells locally produced meat and produce, noting the group held community consultations before launching.
“I think a lot of outside-the-mainstream kind of thinking happens in these rural communities to start with and so breaking the norms hasn’t been a problem,” she said.
Others also note there’s been an influx of new people and ideas into the community that have helped keep Boissevain’s momentum going in recent years.
“It feels like there’s energy here,” said co-op supporter Kholi Stower. “There’s a lot of people who were born here, or grew up here, but left for two, five, 10 years and have now come back to the town.”
Like many others, Stower left Boissevain to travel and attend university, but returned to raise a family.
Dolby moved to southwestern Manitoba from Ontario.
“I came because of a wife,” he said, while sitting at the Sawmill Café.
“I think he means he moved here for love,” said McKenzie laughing.
Some in the community have coined the term “hip-billies” to describe the new clutch of arrivals, fusing the words “hipster” and “hillbilly” to create a hybrid of the two.
But McKenzie is quick to point out that Boissevain has been on the leading edge for a long time, pointing to progressive and inclusive organizations like Prairie Partners Inc., which works to better the whole community by supporting those with disabilities through employment, recreation and residential programs.
Established in 1957, Prairie Partners also runs the Sawmill Café, which will be the home of the Rural Roots store.
“I have high hopes for it, to be honest, we have a farmers’ market here during the summer, and this is a much bigger, better version of it that can run all year round,” said Sawmill manager, Kate Smith-Eivemark. “This is a great way to support the community, and the Sawmill is all about supporting the community.”
Tyler Scheirlinck of T’s Bees is also excited about having a new venue to sell his honey in, as well as having an opportunity to buy goods from his neighbours.
“I’d rather buy my eggs from a little kid from around town who’s trying to have a small business and make a little money… than from some huge store,” he said while extracting honey on his mixed farm, just south of Boissevain.
The store’s location will also allow producers to use the Sawmill’s commercial kitchen to produce value-added goods.
“If you don’t have a commercial kitchen it becomes problematic, but the partnership with the café has got us around most of it,” McKenzie said. “If it’s made on site and sold on site it gets around a whole bunch of the bilingual and nutritional labelling.
The group would still like to find local producers who could supply frozen fruits and vegetables, and will keep working with community and farmers when the store opens this fall.
“We just tried to figure out what the community had and what does it need, then worked to bridge the gap,” McKenzie said.