#103 East Van Jam
“In 2020 during the shut down and the social unrest we saw, I heard a lot of ‘I am just a small business, I can’t do much’ (in response to the call to do anti-racism work, making donations to organizations) and it really got under my skin. I feel like there is always something we can do. When we have even a small amount of buying power, we still have the ability to affect, connect and engage. Having a base in East Vancouver for 7+ years and the fact that my business hasn`t folded during Covid-19, I feel a strong responsibility to really give back. All those people who have bought my jam over the years, every purchase has mattered. It has helped in my own personal journey, my financial goals, my family, and why wouldn’t I give back in significant ways? Show how I’m grateful, bring it back to the community.”
Natalie, owner at East Van Jam
Natalie worked in a corporative environment before becoming a mother. Once ready to have kids, she and her husband purchased a home in East Vancouver and decided that she would stay home and take care of their kids. In a house they moved into, they had 2 old plum trees in the backyard, and boy, they’ve had so much harvest from the trees.
A great solution for nature’s bounty came up which was her love of canning. She started hosting low-sugar canning workshops under the handle “Homesteading Mamas”.
Natalie(N): “Through teaching canning classes I was able to start gathering input from my community. I kept teaching how to make low-sugar jam to people and teaching them that it was a great alternative you can bring into your home – that you can control how much sugar you use and the quality of the food that goes into the jar. I was often asked the question why isn’t low-sugar jam available commercially?”
This gradually became her focus, and then, she was ready to make a leap into a full time jam maker from being a stay-home mom.
VOICE (V): “What differentiates East Van Jam from other brands?”
N: “Staying local and low on sugar are my key elements. The only exception that I make is the use of lemon juice and a couple of flavour compliments like organic vanilla extract (only natural inputs!). When you are working with beautiful local fruit, you want to make it taste as good as possible, and you want to have it as true to the fruit as possible. Traditional methods of a sugar to fruit ratio (1:1) are wonderful, but I wanted to respect the fruit itself in my view. I came to the decision that my main mandate should be low sugar and BC local fruit in 1:4 sugar to fruit ratio. All fruit that I use are grown here in BC.”
Once you open a jar of East Van Jam, you need to refrigerate and consume it within 2 weeks. Purely because of the low-sugar content, but you will have no issue finishing the whole jar in that short time period!
N: “Sourcing 100% local is actually very difficult and it requires a lot of hard work, but it is a very big focus for me and I feel its worth it. I could actually make a much cheaper jam if I bought clampack strawberries from California that travel far burning so much gas. I feel buying local can have a pretty large impact when you look into all the details.”
In her view, buying local is not just supporting local, but it goes beyond and into a much bigger circle.
N: “The farms that I work with in the Fraser Valley, they went through a LOT last summer to try and make it so that foreign families – with whom they`ve been working for years and relying on to pick their fruit – were safe and able to still be here. There are families from Mexico who come here and rely on this work every summer. It is one thing to say purchase local, but we are also supporting these other families who have chosen to make that seasonal journey for generations. I would like to use my buying power to help in that process too.”
V: “How do you get inspirations for your flavour combinations?”
N: “Mostly it is a process of imagination! There is a character attached to every flavour. For example, Serene Nectarine, I had an idea of a character before I had an idea of the recipe. She is based after someone who I used to work with and whom I really respect and love. She has always reminded me to always “practice loving kindness.” Serene Nectarine is after her in a sense that she is calm, cool, collected, and she hangs out in her garden with sage and lavender which are also calm and soothing botanicals.
Corvid Currant – with a cultish following – is more inspired after the East Vancouver experience of the crows flying to their roost every night. I purchase my Juniper berries through Odd Society Distillery whom I’ve had a great working relationship with since the beginning. The best seller, Raspberry Dandy, is a little bit of narcissism! I grew up a tomboy and my sense of the world was always viewed through a not-so-traditional feminine lense. Raspberry Dandy is a spin on a woman who doesn’t settle for the traditional norms imposed on her as a female – she is strong and empowered. I definitely identify with her spirit.”
V: “How did Covid-19 affect you personally?”
N: “At first, the way it affected me was that I got busier, but my staff decided it was safer to stay home, so I did have to work alone for a while. My husband took time off from his work for a few weeks and came to work with me for a while. I hired back my staff (thankfully), and then we hit a big snag in late November – a jar shortage! I am actually in another round of dealing with jar shortage issues right now. I have almost none in my hands, but this is just out of my control.”
Although faced with some Covid-related challenges, she always reminds herself of everything else she is grateful for.
N: “I have been healthy, my family has been healthy, I have a roof over my head, and I can afford to buy food. I really don’t have anything to complain about! The pandemic has been a big wake up call. I always feel like I could do more, and this year I gave myself permission to do more by committing to much bigger donations than any other year. My husband and I are big gardeners in our own backyard and grow way too many plants from seed (especially tomatoes). This year, we decided to sell the left over plants to fundraise for A Better Life Foundation(ABLF).”
Natalie is also working on other cool new projects and volunteer works to support various organizations. She is determined to help motivate other small businesses to do more and make a difference together. She is spreading a lot of love around the community as her jam suggests: More Love. Less Sugar.
Natalie’s Favorite: Serene Nectarine! Surprisingly delicious with cheddar and crackers! But also its great in one of her favorite cookie recipes from The Tassajara Cookbook and can be found on the recipe page on her website – the best birds nest cookies!
Raspberry Dandy is a breakfast staple in her household. It is the best way to feed the kids and not load them with sugar before school. Enjoyed with a slice of whole grain toast atop peanut butter!