Metchosin-based Local Food Box helps B.C. farmers grow customers

Founder Virginie Lavallée-Picard was featured in Open Food Network Canada's recent documentary on women entrepreneurs innovating in agriculture

Like most students, Local Food Box founder Virginie Lavallée-Picard was always looking for good deals when she was in college. That’s how she came to learn that College of the Atlantic students like herself could score a box of fresh fruits and vegetables if they helped farmers harvest CSA boxes from Beech Hill Farm in Maine.  

“I was like, sounds great, sign me up! Didn’t know anything about it,” she remembers with a laugh.  

It was 2003, and Lavallée-Picard was pursuing a degree in human ecology. Farming seemed like a tangible way to address some of the systemic issues being discussed in her environmental policy classes—and get free food in the process.  

She started volunteering at Beech Hill Farm and worked her way up to the role of co-manager. “I was really interested and involved in the climate change negotiations of the time, and it just felt like farming was a positive contribution,” she says.  

Economically speaking, Canada’s agri-food industry is one of the most important sectors in the country. Yet around $49 billion worth of food gets lost or wasted here every year, according to environmental network Circular Economy Leadership Canada, and the industry is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gases as well. So the need to boost sustainable farming practices and local food consumption is greater than ever. 

After graduating in 2007, Lavallée-Picard’s interest in food and sustainability deepened: she started chatting with other students and faculty in Victoria and realized that the city was hungry for local food initiatives. So it worked out perfectly when, two years later, Lavallée-Picard and her partner Alexander Chisholm Fletcher got the opportunity to run their own little farm in Metchosin: Wind Whipped Farm. 

The budding entrepreneurs started growing and selling all sorts of vegetables together—lettuce, herbs, carrots, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, you name it. But they were curious about what other farmers were doing. So, the following summer, they embarked on a 3,000 km bike trip around the East Coast and visited over 30 farms in Canada and the U.S. 

“We were interested in seeing the different types of farming models that were out there,” says Lavallée-Picard. She remembers riding up to a farm just outside Quebec City and seeing a storefront with aggregated products from different local producers. “We were already familiar with the straight-up CSA program, but we didn’t know much about these different partnerships where you bring multiple producers together. That was really where we got a first taste of what we could build on or develop here.” 

Local Food Box customers
Local Food Box customers

After returning to Metchosin, Lavallée-Picard launched the Local Food Box program to help diverse producers in the area connect with more local eaters. Farmers in Metchosin/Victoria who partner with the program can offer seasonal items between June and October, and consumers can customize the contents of their weekly/bi-weekly/monthly food box during that time.

The business started with vegetables from Wind Whipped Farm, but has since grown to include eggs, grains, meats, mushrooms, honey and even flowers. “We’ve got nine producers confirmed for this year,” says Lavallée-Picard, citing Parry Bay Sheep Farm and West Coast Mycology.

She’s also excited to have been featured in Open Food Network Canada’s recent documentary about women entrepreneurs creating new ways for people to access food and farm products. “[The Women Leading Change series] promotes relationship-building among the producers, but also between the producers and consumers… What I also love about Open Food Network is that it’s open source. [Meaning it supports online farmers’ markets, too.] For me, that aligns really well with our whole goal of collaborating with our community—producers and eaters and consumers—to create more local, more just and more sustainable food systems.”