VOICE 140 - Amy Quarry, owner
of Long Table Grocery
"Long Table Grocery is a community-driven and community-centered space. It is a community project, and it is grown from the community.”
Amy Quarry is a powerhouse when you talk about localism and community building in northern BC. She co-founded the Quesnel-based local food systems initiative, Long Table Grocery, in April 2017 with her sister (who has since moved on to other projects). Long Table Grocery specializes in offering fresh, locally-grown, and organic products, including a range of seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, cheeses, locally-roasted coffee, preserves, and baked goods from more than 50 farmers and food producers around the region. Since its establishment, they have been working at growing community through food in their hometown of Quesnel.
Amy grew up on a cattle ranch between Quesnel and Williams Lake and she experienced farm life as a kid with her sisters. At the time she didn't appreciate the rural lifestyle as much as she does now, but it certainly contributed to building who she is today. Working on local economy development became more interesting to her when she was working as a graphic designer, publisher, and business consultant for local businesses. As she built relationships with them and started to understand what they were going through, as a small business herself, more and more she felt invested in the local business community. Back then, talking about buying local and local economies was less common. "There is definitely more awareness now than it used to be. People are becoming more aware that their shopping choices can affect business and can affect bigger change. We all benefit when our community businesses grow. We can all help each other."
Before founding Long Table, Amy was the creator of a project in Quesnel called Small Town Love which celebrated local business owners and their stories. Out of that project came another, called Love Northern BC, in partnership with Northern Development Initiative Trust. The Love Northern BC websites highlight and promote over 1,500 locally-owned businesses in 30 different towns in northern BC.
Thus, Amy has been working in the local economy world long before starting Long Table Grocery in 2017. " We started small as a produce box subscription kind of business. It received a great response from the community right from the start. We didn't expect it to be what it is now and it sort of evolved organically."
Today, Long Table Grocery not only offers fresh local produce, an online grocery store, and weekly delivery, but also they have added a commercial kitchen with a full-service cafe and catering company. They use surplus produce from the grocery side of the business and make delicious soups, baked goods, fresh salads, and sandwiches among other things. As a result, they have been able to operate their grocery store with less than 1% food waste, in an industry that typically has a food waste percentage of 30-50%. They also partner with local charities to feed about 30 families a week through their donation and Pay-It-Forward programs.
On top of it all, Amy was one of the project managers of Sprout Kitchen Food Hub and Incubator since 2019. It is much like a Commissary Kitchen in Vancouver that offers regional food and agricultural businesses access to a shared commercial kitchen. In the summer of 2021, she further expanded her Long Table Grocery business and opened a new sister store next door called Turntable Vintage. It is a small record and vintage clothes shop, where people come to buy/sell/trade records and vintage clothing as well as art, jewelry, and gifts. This new venture keeps things from the landfill, promotes music and fashion in town, and creates local employment.
There is no doubt when Amy talks about the state of our environment, our food systems, and labour systems, she has invested significant time and energy to contribute to making these issues better in her own way. Born and bred in the town of Quesnel, she is a true leader in the process of change-making and localism in the region.
VOICE (V): What makes the city of Quesnel unique?
Amy(A): "I think what makes any community most unique is the people. Every community has a different scene based on the people who live there. The business community contributes a lot to the culture of any community, too. Quesnel has a strong independent business community as well as a high number of female business owners. Also, there is a high number of people who are involved in volunteering and investing their time in the community. My business benefits from years of hard work of food pioneers who started things here. Many people - farmers and ranchers especially, have devoted tons of their time to a local food movement along with lots of other business owners. Building a community scene is something I want to carry on in support of their legacy."
V: How is the food resilience system in Quesnel?
A: "I think there is a lot of work to be done as far as the food resilience system in Quesnel. We have a high amount of cattle production and meat processors, but there aren’t many people who are growing produce. There is a lot of room in the market for gardeners and different food businesses. We are still fairly dependent on products that are coming in from out of our region. Until we become more food resilient, we are always more vulnerable to events like flooding. There are very limited processing facilities in the North Cariboo region, so everything needs to be processed in Vancouver and come back, which is kind of silly. The centralization of processing facilities is not a sustainable option in the long term. It takes political will, social will, consumer interest, and money to change all those things."
V: What do you think is the role of Long Table Grocery in the community?
A: "Our mission statement is “Growing Community Through Food”. We grow the community by investing in other local businesses and purchasing as many local products as possible. In the 5 years we've opened, we have channeled over 2 million dollars back into the local economy through our business. We create a community by creating a place for people to gather for events, meetings, and workshops and bringing people together. We also try to grow the community by partnerships with other local charities. Our Pay-It-Forward Donation program feeds people who are facing food insecurity. We do a lot of different projects like that to get healthy fresh food to people who need it."
V: How do you curate products in your store?
A: "We carry over 50 local brands that focus on the Cariboo region, but we also buy products from other BC companies. We curate by feel and by relationships we build with other suppliers. I know we don't carry every product in Quesnel, but we try to carry as many products as we can when it works for the business owners. For smaller-scale businesses, sometimes they are better off selling at the farmers' markets or directly. We understand that and support that as well."
V: If you were not living in Quesnel, where would you be?
A: "I would maybe live close to the ocean. I've always wanted to spend some time in Europe as well because I like history there. But, I am pretty settled here and I have my family here, so I can't see myself being in any other small towns in BC. The people here are what makes it home. Where I want to be is where my community is."
V: The summer is coming. What are your favorite things to do in the summertime?
A: "I love to get together with friends, spend time outside and play a lot of music. My family likes going to Bowron Lake and Wells. We go camping there every summer."
V: Can you tell us about a local hidden gem that someone has to experience in Quesnel?
A: "When you are in Quesnel, you must visit Edgewood Farm. They are located south of town. They have a gorgeous gift shop and coffee shop on 102 acres of an historic farm.
V: How has Covid-19 or the recent climate change affected your business?
A: "During the initial stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to close the storefront and we focused on grocery deliveries in the first couple of months. In a way, we were able to step up for the community when they needed it because we were the only company doing grocery delivery at the time. Being a small business in a small town, we are thrown curveballs all the time. During the 2017 wildfires, we had to close for 2 weeks when all roads were closed and all grocery supplies couldn't get through to us. Honestly, we have been through some tough situations before Covid, but the pandemic is definitely one of the big ones."
V: What does food mean to you?
A: "Food, to me, is community. Food is culture, love, family, and all those things that are universally valued. It is how people connect and come together. From a food system context point of view, we spend most of our disposable income on food. Changing the food system has a huge impact just because of the amount of money that's spent on food. There is a lot of potential for more positive impacts to happen when we invest in localizing our food."
V: What is the most joy in your work?
A: "What I love most about working at Long Table Grocery is the people. My business partner, Will, and our team of 15 employees are all very close, and I appreciate all the relationships that I've been able to build through my work - customers and colleagues. I also have met so many amazing people who are also working in the food business like farmers, ranchers, and people who care deeply about our food community. "