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Canning entrepreneurs expanding fermented food offerings

Seven Acres Farm owner Jocelyn Durston stands with her partner and fellow fermenter Chris Kasza with their fermented products in their kitchen, which doubles as their current work space. The duo is looking at expanding into a commercial kitchen as their business grows.
Seven Acres Farm owner Jocelyn Durston stands with her partner and fellow fermenter Chris Kasza with their fermented products in their kitchen, which doubles as their current work space. The duo is looking at expanding into a commercial kitchen as their business grows. - Sara Ericcson

Couple relocated to Valley from BC with dream of owning a farm

CANNING, NS - A couple of 30-somethings in the Annapolis Valley are using their heads – specifically, heads of cabbage from their farm and others in the region - to make a product soon to hit grocers’ shelves in Nova Scotia.
In about two weeks, Seven Acres Farm owners Jocelyn Durston and Chris Kasza are going to expand what is now a home-based, fermented food business by renting out a commercial kitchen at another nearby farm.
In Taproot Farms’ commercial kitchen, Durston and Kasza will start preparing four of the roughly 20 fermented foods they already offer for sale at nearby famers’ markets with an eye to expanding their distribution into independent grocery stores in Nova Scotia. Those products should hit the shelves in March.
Seven Acres Farm fermented foods are now only available at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays throughout the year and the Tantallon Village Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays during the summer and autumn.
There, a 500-millilitre jar of Seven Acres Farm’s fermented foods goes for $9.
“People return to our sauerkraut because they find it has a superior taste,” said Durston. “Time after time at the farmers’ markets, people have also asked us where else they can get it.”
Until now, the answer was, “Nowhere.”
Durston and Kasza are working to change that.

Moving into retail
By using a commercial kitchen to prepare the food and getting a federal government mandated Nutrition Facts Table label for each product, Seven Acres Farm will be able to move into small, independent grocers in Nova Scotia.
“There are a lot of stand-alone farmers’ markets that sell local farmers’ produce and also sell other things. These are a lot like grocery stores,” said Durston.
The farm couple is testing the market with kimchi and three other products that are different flavours of sauerkraut.

“I’d like to see our products in stores in the Halifax Regional Municipality,” said Durston. “The stores that I have checked out so far have been in the Annapolis Valley.”
Last year, Seven Acres Farm did about $30,000 in revenues through the sale of about 3,000 jars and bottles of fermented foods. That was a threefold increase over the farm’s revenues in its first full season.
This year, Durston isn’t sure how much more of their Seven Acres Farm products they’ll sell. She and Kasza admit this foray into grocery stores is an experiment.

A growing trend
It’s clear, though, that fermented foods are a growing trend.
Ireland-based Research and Markets forecast in a report released last year, Global Fermented Foods & Drinks Market - Analysis of Growth, Trends, Progress and Challenges, that the sector is going to grow by seven per cent in the five years from 2017 to 2022.
“The market is competitive and driven by the increasing health and wellness market trend and the growing beverages market demand,” states a summary of that report.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut are considered to be healthy because they contain bacteria that have been shown in scientific studies to help the human digestive system. This “good bacteria” or probiotics are widely sold in pharmacies and health food stores as food supplements. But basic nutritional advice is that it is also good to consume these probiotics as part of a balanced diet.
“Some people prefer to get them from real foods,” said Durston. “You’re getting all the vitamins and enzymes that are also present in that food – and the fibre.”
In this bid to get product on grocers’ shelves, Seven Acres Farm is taking on additional expenses, including the rental of the commercial kitchen and increased labeling and lab costs to get the Nutritional Facts Table. The farm couple will also have to develop a wholesale price to grocers.
So while a greater distribution may lead to more sales for Seven Acres Farm, it will also squeeze profit margins, said Durston.
“We’ll be selling our product at a wholesale price so our margin will probably go down,” she said.

Come a long way
Four years ago, Durston and Kasza didn’t even have land to their name.
The two got into their car and drove to Nova Scotia from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, with their personal belongings in a small U-Haul, in October 2013.
“It was gorgeous,” recalls Durston. “All the trees were on fire with colour.”
They rented an apartment for six months as they checked out possible properties to set up their small farm.
They found a place in Canning the following spring. 
After putting in a septic system, electricity, and a circa-1975 mobile home on it, the couple’s total investment was about $120,000.
It was seven acres of land, half of it covered with forest. The rest of it was rolling land. That’s not great for farming with a tractor. But Durston and Kasza had other ideas.
For them, it was perfect.
The two are both vegans, committed to environmentally-friendly farming. Seven Acres Farm doesn’t use any animal manure or chemical fertilizers, avoids genetically-modified plants, herbicides and pesticides. The farm is also designed to work with the natural ecosystem.
And that means very little use of machinery of any kind, and certainly no big, ride-on tractors.
The rookies had done some small-scale farming for a couple of years in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia on a friend’s land before heading east. They longed for a place of their own but knew they would never be able to buy in British Columbia.
“We would never be able to afford land in southwestern British Columbia and we wanted a property of our own. So, we looked elsewhere and settled in Nova Scotia,” said Durston.

Did you know?
Seven Acres Farm also grows produce, including roughly 40 different kinds of tomatoes and flowers, which have been sold at the farmers’ markets. The sale of those products comprises roughly 10 per cent of the farm's revenues. 



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