April 17, 2023 – A few years ago, a young couple in southern Alberta made a life-changing decision. Today, they and their young son are part of Qualicum Beach’s community of local, sustainable and healthy, home-grown food producers.
A travelling salesman that Dustin and Kelsey Meena knew well in their High River community had been struggling with gut health issues for over a year. Each day started with an hour of misery. One day on a trip into Calgary, the man dropped into a health food store next door to one of his customers, explained his plight, and asked for suggestions. He left the store with a bottle of garlic scape brine, and a recommendation to drink a little with each meal. That morning turned out to have been his last morning waking up with gut pain.
Dustin and Kelsey were amazed at his remarkable recovery. And curious enough to hit the books to find out why and how this simple elixir could so dramatically restore a healthy gut. They found the basic answer lies in one word — fermentation.
For Dustin and Kelsey, a life’s mission was born — creating health-restoring fermented foods.
Unfortunately little, if any, of this chemistry gets into the mainstream curriculum of “modern” Western allopathic medicine. Maybe it’s time to take back responsibility for our own health, eschew adulterated, nutrient-depleted industrial food, and learn from what our local farmers can teach us.
Food as medicine, good for body and soul
Fermentation is not a simple science, whether turning fruit into wine, grain into beer, cabbage into kraut, milk into cheese, yogurt and kefir, or veggies into pickles. Creating these fermented powerhouse foods requires a complex chemical interplay of microbes and enzymes under exacting conditions. Equally complex are the synergistic effects of the resulting food when ingested into the human gut.
“When we originally started out in Alberta, we were partnered with a couple of our friends there, and we just started making sauerkraut,” Dustin explains, with cabbages grown in a small 12 x 4-foot backyard raised bed.
In May 2021, they relocated to Vancouver Island, and looked for land with assistance from the Young Agrarians. Eventually, thanks to a distant cousin, they found a four-acre piece of land in Cassidy south of Nanaimo, bought a fifth-wheel so they could live on-site, and got to work.
It may sound like a modest farming operation, but Dustin and Kelsey quickly created 83 fifty-foot beds plus a 100-foot-long greenhouse. “We were lucky to have the soil we did there,” says Kelsey, “it seemed almost a little too easy how well things came up.”
The cold damp spring of 2022 was a disappointment.
“Coming from Alberta, we thought on the Island we could grow in February. That was definitely not the case. We didn’t get anything into the ground until May 24th long weekend, which is what you do in Alberta,” she says.
Still, the couple managed to introduce their Fermented Future Farms Sauerkraut to the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market (and into the refrigerators of many happy customers) in August 2022.
The label on the sauerkraut jar spells out their mission: “Products that will help to take back control of your health using the time-tested tradition of fermentation.”
Next stop: Whiskey Creek
Last summer Second Opinion QB profiled a piece of paradise just outside of town — Whiskey Creek Farm. At the end of the article, we noted that Lori and Brian had decided it was time to move on and, after several decades turning the land and property into a destination for foodies, their enterprise was for sale.
We were thrilled to hear that the new owners, as of December 1, 2022, are Kelsey and Dustin who, along with their young son Maddix, will continue to build on this farm’s heritage as a source of quality nourishment — for the body and for the community.
Dustin and Kelsey’s efforts in Cassidy have not gone to waste. They were able to pass their leased acreage over to another young family who essentially stepped into a turn-key operation, complete with cultivated beds, irrigation, and greenhouse already set-up and ready to go.
On the horizon at the new Fermented Future Farms
Expanding their selection of fresh vegetables is one priority. “Last year we got to experiment with a lot of different types of veggies, and so we really learned which ones we liked to grow, and which ones we didn’t like to grow,” says Kelsey.
The Meenas are eager to partner with other local farms to help supply additional produce, whether for processing in their commercial kitchen, or retailing at their planned on-farm store, or menu ingredients when the bistro comes on stream.
When asked if they found the growers in and around Qualicum Beach eager to co-operate, Dustin replied, “That’s been one of the biggest things that drew us to the Qualicum area.”
“Last year we started at the QB Farmers Market in August and it doesn’t feel like competition.” He feels “there’s more than enough business to go around, and everyone is in it for the right reasons.”
He says they are grateful for “the amount of help the other farmers in the area have given us — the little tips and advice — it’s a great community.”
The staff of life
Bread has been a staple food across the world for millennia.
We’re talking real bread here, not the nutrient-depleted, tasteless industrial concoction called Wonder Bread. This bread is born of a fermentation feast resulting from organic grain coupled with the microbial magic of natural yeasts and bacteria, leavened and flavoured with a living sourdough culture. Of course, all supervised by a skilled maestro.
While Dustin enjoys baking muffins and cookies, he says “Kelsey is the sourdough maker in the family.”
She climbed the learning curve since attending an artisan bread class “with a really amazing bread maker” two years ago in Ladysmith. Her sourdough starter from the class serves them well to this day, as they continue to perfect their technique to scale up production to the commercial kitchen capacity they now have, as well as master the use of a proofer for the first time.
Like any project they take on Dustin says, “We’re just trying to do the best, the healthiest possible.” Kelsey chimes in, “And, we want it to taste the best. We want it to have the best ingredients.”
She then added what might be the best corporate slogan ever: “We’re not going to half-ass anything.”
Meanwhile, Dustin and Kelsey are also learning all about poultry, to find the best dual-purpose (eggs and meat) breeds that will meet their high-quality standards. Always learning, always growing.
The personal rewards
The Meenas thrive on connecting directly with their customers.
“The community is super-supportive. The first day that we were at market [in QB], we had four or five customers thank us for growing food,” says Dustin. “It’s a good feeling, and motivates us to do more. It’s important to know your farmer. It’s something that has been lost over the last 30 years, no longer having any idea where your food comes from.”
Especially important is enabling their son Maddix to spend his childhood on a farm.
Dustin’s conviction that “it’s the best way to grow up” is echoed by Kelsey who says, “I grew up on a farm and always wanted to have our kid grow up on a farm. It was a great experience.”
“It’s been amazing,” she says of the transition to farming on Vancouver Island. “Maddix tells us all the time how much he loves his home.”
Dustin adds: “He throws his head-lamp on every night to go out and grab the chicken eggs. It’s good for him.”
For Dustin himself, “to be able to work at home and watch our kid grow up — that’s huge for me.”
Maddix is part of the planning team. “He’s already telling us what we need to sell at the [planned] farm store,” chuckles Kelsey, “ice cream and milkshakes.” He may have to settle for the pastel coloured eggs (Kelsey’s fav) that their hens lay.
Meanwhile, you can find Dustin, Kelsey and Maddix on Saturday mornings at the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market.
And soon at the farm store and bistro!
Check out Fermented Future Farms’ website for more information about event rental facilities, farm stays, and classes.
Fermented Futures Farm, 1229 Walz Road, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia V9K 2S8