Balancing an Organic Life {Food Love}

How do I balance an organic life while owning and operating a candy business? It may seem like a contradiction when I talk and share about food rules and organic food when I also make and sell candy. Well, actually, the whole reason I started my candy company was to provide a better quality sweet treat for my family and others.

I started with a few principles that have helped me find this balance: No artificial or synthetic flavors and colors, use organic and Fair Trade ingredients whenever possible, reduce plastic in food production by sourcing more sustainable packaging options, and provide a quality product that is delicious and memorable.

Artificial and synthetic colors and flavors are rampant in food production, not just candy. They are in so many produced foods and in Canada we have very loose labelling guidelines for declaring these items. Think of it this way, any time an item has vanilla extract in it, it is a highly processed flavor. Far from the natural vanilla bean. It is processed with alcohol which itself is highly processed. Now, most items would contain a very small amount of this. But think of all the food you eat that has added color, flavor and undeclared ingredients. It adds up.

Choosing whole and natural flavors for my marshmallows has been the most time and money consuming aspect of what I offer. Using extracts and flavors for marshmallows and candy is easy and cheap. And there are now an array of flavors so you could make anything from banana to cotton candy. Trust me, those are not made with natural flavors. I made this choice because as I started selling and labelling my products I wanted to be able to say that all flavors were sourced from whole, natural ingredients. Like vanilla bean seeds that I scrape out of the pod. Organic and Far Trade, these vanilla beans are expensive. But if you have had one of my Vanilla Bean marshmallows you know the difference that it makes. I also purchase these from a small, Canadian importer, with the hopes that I am helping another small food business rather than a huge company that has no values when it comes to natural food.

Organic and Fair Trade ingredients tend to be more expensive because this usually involves chocolate and coffee. If I am going to rely on ingredients grown elsewhere and imported, I wanted to ensure it was sustainably sourced, supporting smaller Canadian importers, and supporting ethical growers in other countries. Vanilla beans, chocolate and coffee are my most expensive ingredients. The difference is worth it in terms of flavor.

When searching for a good espresso for my very popular espresso marshmallows, I was delighted to find a local roaster that crafts organic, fair trade coffee and roasts an excellent dark roast. Chicken Creek Coffee if our coffee of choice at home and makes for a better marshmallow. Once again, supporting a local (in Smithers) business, reducing our carbon footprint by not purchasing from a large food company, and offering a whole, natural flavor that is simply better tasting.

Plastic is a curse of the food industry. On the one hand, it is cheap and makes it possible for food producers to reduce weight in packaging, cost, and make more "convenient" food. On the other hand, just think about how much plastic food packaging is going into our land fills, our oceans, our planet. I promised myself that if I could only use conventional plastic for packaging, then I wouldn't sell candy. I spent a great deal of time and money researching and testing alternatives. Luckily, there is more and more demand for sustainable choices and I was able to find a compostable "plastic" bag that is approved for food. This cost is 300 times the cost of conventional plastic bags. I also use recycled/recyclable kraft paper bags and boxes. There are so many beautiful plastic options for food packaging, that are cheaper and more available. But I will not package in plastic. And now, I am currently designing a custom box that is going to be very expensive, but beautiful, useful, and perfect for retailers. It will be worth it.

Crafting delicious and memorable confections truly comes from my heart. I dream up seasonal treats and test confections with simple and whole ingredients. My line of confections is often inspired by my Dad who passed on his sweet tooth and love of really good candy. My marshmallows are inspired by the ingredients I find. This summer, local strawberries and rubharb were abundant at my farmer's market. I bought some, created a preserved syrup, and will feature this flavor next summer. The possibilities are endless for me.

My hope is that you enjoy eating and sharing my handmade confections as much as I enjoy making them. I am always working on improving every aspect of my business and love your feedback and suggestions. I love hearing stories from my customers about how they enjoyed their treats and the small part Kimberley's Kitchen has played in their special occassions. Please keep sharing- it inspires me to continue.

Once again, thanks for your support!


Building a Family {Family Love}

Since having children, we have never lived close to family. My husband and I moved back to my home town on the West Coast before we were married, with the intention of starting a family and being close to my family. But in all that time, my family was always been a fair distance away.

We definitely felt it when we had our first daughter- the distance meant that visits were either "trips" or quick meals at a restaurant. We quickly realized that "help" from family was not going to be in the form of babysitting, Sunday dinners, playdates.

I made a photo album with family photos for my daughter to learn her grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins. We talked about our family often so they became a regular part of our lives, even if she didn't see them often.

My mom was amazing and helped us on several occasions with babysitting, especially when we had our second daughter. But even then, it was a strain because it meant my mom was away from home.

When my husband and I started talking about moving to a small town, one of the reasons was to live somewhere where we felt a sense of community. We figured, we are far away from family anyways, what difference does it make if we are now a plane ride away? We moved to our new town for all the right reasons, but we knew it meant family visits would be even further and farther between. We agreed that we would create a new "family" for our children here with friends and neighbours.

About a month after moving here, a mom at my office offered to take the kids for a sleep over if we ever needed a date night or weekend away. The concept sounded kind of crazy to me. A date night? We honestly have had 4 dates in the past 4 1/2 years. I am not joking. One was a friend's wedding and one was a work Christmas party. So that brings us to 2 meals alone together, sans kids.

My new friend offered this without hesitation, and admitted that because all her family is here she has always had lots of help with her children. She is a single mom, works full-time, and is active in the community and her kids' lives. She and I quickly bonded over our love of baking. But her offer seemed like such a foreign concept to me, I never even considered it.

We have, in the past year, built our community of friends and neighbours. We have slowly grown our new "family" for our kids- people who we trust and enjoy spending time with. So when this past week threw us a curve ball and I was forced to take time off of work and recover, we were overwhelmed with all the help that was offered. I am not seriously injured. I am okay. But still, people gathered around and offered what they could.

My baking friend, whom my girls love, offered to take them for a sleep over. I thought it would be nice- I could rest and they could have more fun with her than with me right now. Our neighbour loaded car seats into his truck to drop them off. Co-workers stopped in with a week's worth of prepared meals AND chocolate cake (they know me well). Flowers, get well cards, and lots of reassurance that I needed to rest and just take care of myself.

While my husband was at work on the late night shift, and my kids were off on their first sleepover, I cried as I sat down to a delicious meal. I was so overwhelmed with the kindness. During a time of relatively mild problems. Our new "family" did what we would do for others. I have never experienced this before. I have never had people just help out with the kids and do things for us "just because".

I am beyond grateful and I have really learned who our friends and "family" are. The support my parents have offered has been in the form of talking on the phone, and being compassionate and supportive. Of course if they were closer they would be helping out too. But now, with our new "family" they are reassured that we have a supportive community around us.

I have also been incredibly grateful for all my friends online that have sent notes of support, encouragement and inspiration. Having so many people be so kind and caring really feels good.

I am a big believer in karma. I really do believe that what we give the world we get back. In one form or another. So thank you for all that you have given back to me and my children. We are grateful, uplifted, and are stronger because of it. I look forward to being back on my feet to do more for all of you.


The Sisterhood of Motherhood {from the archives}

Having two daughters has me thinking a lot about sisterhood these days. I have one sister (no brothers, except for my brother-in-law who really has been a brother to me). She is older than me so by the time I was aware of the world, she was off living her life and we didn't have that much to do with each other. When I was 9 she moved away to travel and work and I rarely saw her until she moved back to Vancouver when I was 17. My sister and I started to get to know each other but we weren't very close. I moved to Toronto, she got married and had kids, we lived very different lives.

But all of that changed the day I told her that I was pregnant with my first baby. I think she was more excited than I was, and even though we had yet to find out the sex of the baby she bought it shoes. Of course. And luckily, it was a girl. My sister has two boys (amazing boys whom I love) so having a niece was going to be fun for her. She bought every girly thing you can imagine. But it wasn't just about the baby. I instantly felt a connection with my sister. One I never had. I had joined the club. Motherhood.

Since then, I have had a second girl. My sister is so close to both girls and has been the Aunt Extraordinaire. My oldest daughter simply calls her Aunty. But for me, having a sister that is a mom that I admire, someone I can talk to about pregnancy, recovery from c-sections, raising babies, feeding children, life with children, is something that has really changed me. I wasn't expecting to feel a connection with her in this way.

Now I have the sister I never really had before. And I am so happy that we are close now and sharing our lives now instead of wishing we had stayed close and kept in touch. Because now is when I really need a sister. Because Motherhood is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is also the part of my life that brings me the greatest joy and that I feel most proud of. And now I get to share it with my sister. The sisterhood of Motherhood.

(first published by Kimberley's Kitchen Nov 2010)
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