There is a man named Bob Wallace. You’ve probably never heard of him. He runs a farm in Tyner, Saskatchewan that was founded by his mom and pop. Because Wallace works on such a large scale, most of his products get shipped internationally. There has been little connection between this humble working man and his fellow Canadians. That is, until now.
Now, Canucks can cook Wallace’s Laird lentils and eat them fresh, all the while knowing exactly who got them from farm to bowl. Now, every time Wallace’s lentils are used in soup or salad, the eater can silently thank him for their wholesome meal. It’s a concept that extends mindful eating to the dry goods section of the grocery store, and it’s the driving force behind supply business Grain. The Vancouver-based company works with a small selection of farmers in Saskatchewan and Alberta, packaging their chickpeas and quinoa into simple brown boxes for consumers across Canada to take home and cook. On each box is a drawing of the farmer who produced the crop, as well as his or her story. Wallace, we now know, has glasses and a mustache. Even his caricature looks friendly, warm.
“Our motto is: ‘Dry goods for fresh people,’ so our whole goal is to bring a fresh approach to the way you see these products,” says Shira McDermott, who co-founded Grain with good friend Janna Bishop. “We’ve all sort of accepted that this part of food sourcing is deeply impersonal: you just go to the bulk bin.” Noticing the gap in the market, McDermott says they realized they “could provide transparency, and could nail down these products to their origin, to their farmer, and also do some education around grading, quality, and the varieties that are produced here.”
The idea for Grain came naturally, sprouted from the ground and into a bowl of chickpeas. One day four years ago, Bishop brought McDermott home some chickpeas from her stepdad (the aforementioned Wallace)’s farm. When McDermott tried them, everything shifted. “I still remember to this day my mind being totally blown by the fact that I could know where these products were coming from, and that there was a real life farmer I could have a connection to,” she recalls. It was two years later that, while out one night, Bishop expressed her desire to turn farm-fresh dry goods into a business, and McDermott immediately jumped on the tractor.
Fast-forward to today, and Grain products are available for purchase at Vancouver establishments such as The Dirty Apron, Le Marché St. George, Be Fresh Local Market, and Harvest Community Foods, and served in restaurants including Café Medina, Royal Dinette, Grapes and Soda, Forage, and Campagnolo. Aside from being more cost-effective than buying lentils from a can, Grain offers a difference you can actually taste. “That’s why our chickpeas are a specific variety that we’ve chosen: because they are the best chickpeas we’ve ever had,” says McDermott. “You don’t actually need a sophisticated palate to be able to tell the difference.” It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, as well, resulting in more homegrown customers and connections for the producers. “Normally they load their products into massive containers and ship them overseas: it’s a business transaction,” McDermott explains. “Farmers take a lot of pride in what they grow. I think everyone wants to have a little more control over what happens to their products, and I think to be able to keep them in the country you’re producing them in is always going to be ideal.”
It all results in a happy synergy, bridging the gap between field and fork. It’s precisely why Grain products will always be exclusively Canadian. “To us that is at the heart of our mission: to connect Canadian farmers to Canadian consumers,” says McDermott. “Canadian farming is a huge part of our history, and we think there is so much mystery around what their life is like, especially out west or in urban areas. We want people to feel that connection to the Canadian heritage, to this really big part of our country that maybe we don’t know a lot about.” Bowl by nourishing bowl, we’re learning.
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