The Community Farm Store
What began as a small organic grocery store in Glenora, British Columbia, has grown into an expanding community movement. The Community Farm Store moved to downtown Duncan, British Columbia, in 2003. Ever since, it has served as a grocery store, home goods shop, wellness center and community hub, selling organic foods and natural products.
Nicolette Genier, owner of The Community Farm Store, first worked at the business from 1997 to 1999. She returned in 2004 as a manager of the grocery store and purchased shares from a former partner a few months later. “Most of my life I was self-employed,” she recounts. “I worked as a journalist and a designer and later ran a printing business. I had always been into health food, though, since my late teens. I moved to the island for my children’s schooling. I found The Community Farm store and it felt like home.”
A holistic business approach
The Community Farm Store is a far cry from the typical big-box grocery store. “We consider ourselves educators and community builders,” explains Genier. “Our growth is testament to that. The way I describe it is that we really focus on serving people who come through our door. We don’t focus on who’s not coming – we’ve been doing business like that for the last 24 years, which has resulted in a loyal following.”
With growing awareness of food-system-related issues facing the planet and the people on it, Genier and her team believe that even small community stores can make a difference. Responsible purchasing is the rally cry of The Community Farm Store. “Responsible purchasing can result in big change,” Genier explains. “People are realizing we have a lot of problems on our hands and how much of the environmental aspect extends back to what we’re eating.”
From a sales perspective, The Community Farm Store deals in fresh, local, non-GMO and organic produce as well as dry goods, fermented foods, snacks and beverages. But most of Genier’s customers do not come in solely for the selection in the shop’s aisles.
“We place a lot of focus on the educational and community factors, bringing attention to the fact that organic food is best – not just for health reasons. It is better for the planet and I’m thrilled that here in this area, that awareness is growing,” says Genier. “People don’t want to be the cause of pesticides and herbicides in our air, water and soil.”
The store’s success has come through a combination of public awareness, personal service and community engagement. “People come here for a different shopping experience,” adds Genier. “We have friendly people here who strive for genuine, authentic engagement. Everyone is an educator – we always have enough staff that there is time for conversation or a tour around the store.
In 2015, The Community Farm Store relocated to a brand new 10,000-square-foot store. “Part of the design of the new building is a staff teaching kitchen, a massage and healing room for staff, and a day care, among other services,” explains Genier. “We also have a community kitchen that people can rent and produce their own products. For example, we have some young, local farmers putting out sauerkraut and jam. I went on a road trip to look at other stores before building this one and really didn’t like any of them so we did it all from scratch.”
The store is also adding small, neighborhood locations to better serve customers in surrounding areas. Genier notes that the neighborhood stores are not so much a revenue boost as they are community outreach. “We’re really not doing this because we want to be a bigger business,” she says. “We want to make organic food and this kind of shopping experience available to more people. We don’t want to be just a destination shopping store; we want to foster the idea that people can stop using their cars and live somewhere where organic food is available and we can build communities around these little organic food stores where people are starting organizations, volunteering, growing food and supporting farmers.”
Genier is encouraged by growth in other areas as well. The food industry is changing and adapting to growing interest in organic foods. “Many things we wouldn’t sell a few years ago we can carry now because companies are making them organic,” she says. “The industry sees demand and follows through. It’s been the same with gluten-free food. In the beginning there were only a few options, all made with inorganic ingredients.”
As awareness increases and demand rises, food manufacturers and producers are catching up to the organic trend. “If each person takes on the belief system that we can be the change, we can do it,” says Genier. “We can change ourselves and in doing so, we change our communities, our provinces, our country and the world.”
Over the coming years, Genier and her team plan to keep rallying for positive change in the world’s food systems as The Community Farm Store continues to impart education and tasty organic foods in communities in British Columbia.