Features

Community Farm Store

Building the power of community (and conversation)

At the heart of Duncan, British Columbia, nestled in a small shopping complex barely a mile from the city’s vibrant downtown, sits The Community Farm Store (CFS). Combining farm-fresh produce, eco-friendly products and a litany of educational resources, the depot epitomizes the region’s back-to-the-earth ethos.

You might say it’s all in the name.

“The store was borne of a group of people that wanted to serve their community and neighborhood, which is what a good business should be built on,” says owner and president, Nicolette Genier. “We’ve become a true community hub, and that speaks far more to our success than any profits ever could.”

Strong roots

From its roots as an organic farm market and bakery that opened in 1993, CFS has been no stranger to change. After relocating to downtown Duncan in 2003, by 2014 the store had once again outgrown its walls, prompting the launch of a new, 10,000-square-foot store on the south side of Duncan, just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Nicolette Genier – Community Farm Store Vision Magazine

According to Genier, transforming the space—from a “big-box style” auto parts store to a place that exuded CFS’ verve and values—was nothing short of miraculous.

“I spent hours and hours with an architect’s ruler and pencil designing the space on my kitchen table,” Genier recalls. “It was a labor of love, for sure.”

At the heart of their new store was a shared community kitchen where local farmers and staff make sauerkrauts, jams and other products to be sold on-site. The goal, Genier says, was to create a place where staff could cook for themselves—and for each other.

But as it had so many times before, the space took on a life of its own. On one occasion, a Syrian family who had recently moved to the Cowichan Valley organized and cooked a dinner for CFS staff.

“Sharing meals is important and a great way to build relationships,” Genier says. “It’s part of what it means to be human, and we embrace being able to connect with that.”

Heart and Sol

In 2016, with the store’s membership base at 15,000 strong and growing, CFS created what is now known as the Sol-Centre, a 7,000-square-foot, two-level home to numerous healing practitioners and retail businesses.

“Upstairs, visitors can experience everything from yoga classes, meditation and acupuncture sessions, to sacred-art tattooing, homeopathy and colon irrigation,” says Genier. “Some rooms are rented full time while other spaces used for local fundraising events, artistic workshops, classes, study groups, lectures, book-signings and political forums.”

Nicolette Genier – Community Farm Store Vision Magazine

Downstairs, a “retail collective” offers a range of ethical businesses including a Fair Trade gift shop, an organic juice bar and café, a crystal shop as well as a natural childhood store inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf education movement.

According to Genier, Sol-Centre represented the logical next step in CFS’ ever-evolving commitment to health and wellness—and the latest in a litany of faithful leaps.

“It was a natural next step for us with our focus on health and wellness to commit to leasing and renovating the space when it came available,” Genier says. “What we’re really doing is encouraging and promoting creativity—it’s not just about the food. We’re getting people to think about things in a different way, to engage them in a way they’re maybe not used to. To know there is another way to be.”

Public education

Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than in the store’s educational outreach efforts. Each month, CFS puts on a series of public events that run the well-being gamut: mushroom foraging workshops, gardening tutorials, cooking lessons, seminars hosted by naturopathic doctors—all of them hosted on the store’s gorgeous second-floor mezzanine.

The programs have become so popular, in fact, that some offerings require a waiting list.

“What we’re trying to do is create a community, that we want to live in, of people who want to be informed and inspired about choices they can make for a healthier planet,” says store manager Tami Popp. “Education has always been a huge part of who we are—which is why we strive to share information through monthly newsletters and social media. When people gain that in-depth knowledge, it stays with them.”

In some cases, experts are invited to be part of the store’s internal wellness advisory team, to ensure that only the best products are offered.

“Even if you know a lot about holistic medicine and nutrition, it can be tough to parse the details,” says Tiffany Brawn, who heads CFS’ wellness advisory team. “We treat every engagement as an opportunity to learn and connect. As staff we take the time to meet customers where they are at and to help them towards the products and the choices that are right for them today.”

However, CFS’ outreach efforts are hardly confined. Next up: transforming a plot of backyard farmland into a “pollination corridor project,” encouraging everyone with property near the town’s train tracks to plant flowers to support the bees, with the goal of turning the tracks into a pathway for bikers and hikers.

Beyond the numbers

But the store’s passion for community engagement goes well beyond seminars and workshops. While many of CFS’ customers are fellow eco-friendly travelers—discerning in their shopping and inclined toward green wares and local produce—there are some for whom the store can feel like another world. One that’s vastly different from the big-box chains that dominate the global consumer goods market.

Accordingly, CFS employees are trained to help customers navigate the nuances of today’s earth-conscious products, from decoding food labels to weighing the merits of different laundry detergents.

Nicolette Genier – Community Farm Store Vision Magazine

“If we have any hope of changing the world and putting it on a more sustainable course, one-on-one conversations are the most important ingredient,” Genier says. “We don’t just host workshops and write articles; we seek out those conversations. The point isn’t to convince someone to change their behavior; it’s to inspire them to make those changes on their own.”

Indeed, that face-to-face engagement is part and parcel of the store’s inviting ambiance. Whether it’s the full-spectrum lighting or the local art adorning the walls, the regionally-sourced wooden beams or the year-round garden that meets customers at the entry, CFS just feels different—a place designed for engagement, rather than shopping efficiency.

In other words, just the way Genier likes it.

“Wealth and well-being is first and foremost a state of mind,” Genier says. “We are helping people to discover that everything we seek already exists within us and that each one of us can be the change that is needed in the world. It’s a place that welcomes you and makes you feel like you have everything you need. A business that goes beyond product and price. To ‘be the change’ is our true mission. Modeling new ways to be that are helpful, not harmful, to the planet or its inhabitants. That’s what a true community does.”

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