The Root Cellars’ Daisy Leslie-Orser and Adam Orser at Galey Farms in Victoria. (Don Denton/Boulevard Magazine)

Vancouver Island’s Green Grocers with Soul

Daisy and Adam Orser have a passion for local, quality food at the Root Cellar in Victoria

  • Aug. 23, 2018 12:00 p.m.

As far back as I can recall, I’ve been outright obsessed with stories. When I was little, my mom and dad shopped at farms and farmers’ markets for wholesome foods that were locally produced. My personal fascination with markets steadily grew as I discovered that items were produced on local land by a farmer who was sure to have a great tale to share about the process of farm-to-table ingredients.

As an adult I have continued to buy local ingredients produced by dedicated individuals with great stories.

And today, I have the opportunity to do a personal grocery shop with Daisy and Adam Orser, owners of The Root Cellar Village Green Grocer. Their grocery store team researches and selects food that is ethically produced and packed full of healthy nutrients and a lot of heart — and it’s this combination that creates the best kind of soul food out there.

“We work closely with our growers,” Adam says. “It is important for us to stay true to the farm market roots.”

Working at this grassroots level — which includes assisting in crop planning — safeguards the market from becoming over saturated in any particular product, he adds. More broadly, this ensures farmers receive a fair price for their crops (as prices are driven down by over-supply), leading, ideally, to a strengthened farming industry in British Columbia, and ultimately enabling future generations to see farming as a viable career choice and therefore maintaining a sustainable community.

Adam and Daisy are trailblazers in sustainability with a variety of programs designed to mitigate food waste at The Root Cellar. Through their Ripe & Ready cart program and weekly donations (in excess of 500 pounds of food) to The Rainbow Kitchen, The Root Cellar sends less than two per cent of the food it purchases to the compost. What isn’t fit for human consumption goes to bins for farmers to collect to feed their animals — composting is a last resort.

With its vibrant market atmosphere, The Root Cellar is a destination for many in Greater Victoria. Live music floods the space four days a week, and the smell of fresh food beautifully intermingles with the scents of plants and flowers wafting in from the market’s sprawling garden centre and floral bar. Food samples are frequent, and the newly established Coffee Project offers shoppers a quick stop for local Discovery Coffee and restaurant-quality grab-and-go items made in-house with local ingredients.

“We revitalized the shopping experience and have worked to make The Root Cellar a destination. The percentage of our lives we spend shopping, cooking and eating is insane. For most of us, that’s time wasted – but it’s so much of our life. So we want to drive value back into that time [as well as] appreciation for the people involved in growing and making our food. It’s about community building around food,” Daisy explains.

The Root Cellar opened in 2008 with eight employees and 4,500 square feet. Now celebrating its 10th year in business, there are over 100 employees in the 10,000-square-foot space.

“We are originally from the Kootenays. We both grew up with families who grew a lot of their own food,” says Daisy. “We both always had root cellars in our homes. It was the obvious name for the business because the root cellar is where you keep all the fresh, healthy, beautiful, homegrown food.”

Walking through the produce section in The Root Cellar, I see an astonishing kaleidoscope of colour from the different fruits and vegetables. Daisy is a pro-shopper and I encourage her to select some items for me to try as I load up on staple ingredients. She picks up finger limes, which burst with tiny caviar-like beads of citrus, and two delectably sweet atemoyas, and places them in my shopping cart.

“We weren’t interested in creating a typical grocery store. We focused on creating the store that we wanted to shop at,” notes Adam.

We duck into the Coffee Project and I buy a cup of java, which I place in the super convenient coffee-holder in my shopping cart. I browse the gourmet quality grab-and-go items for something to eat, settling on a house-made fennel and orange roasted pork loin sandwich that also has kimchi and house-made garlic aioli — one of The Root Cellar’s many proprietary recipes.

“We were always interested in local food and agriculture. We just needed to find a place where our values best aligned with the people, therefore making our dream store, their dream store. We also needed somewhere agriculturally thriving, where the people were interested in being self-sufficient because food sustainability is not something all places understood 10 years ago. We found our people here in Victoria,” says Daisy.

The couple, who are parents to three boys, aged 10, 14 and 19, are extremely proud of The Root Cellar’s “local focus,” which involves buying from over 250 Victoria and British Columbia farmers and producers.

“We fiercely pursue our local focus, which means everything we can buy here, we do, and then we work our way out,” Daisy says.

We stop at the deli where I pick up some house-made buffalo chicken salad and then we hit the meat counter where Daisy puts house-made chicken sausage with apricot, goat cheese and herbes de Provence into my cart — a recipe designed especially for her by Adam.

Our last stop involves picking up a jar of The Root Cellar’s Chocolate Peanut Better — made with Bernard Callebaut Chocolate — and some of the Secret Green Sauce (warning: it’s highly addictive).

My cart is full by the time I reach the till. The clerk asks me if I want the tops of my red carrots cut off. Knowing they are going to a farm for an animal’s consumption makes my heart sing and I nearly shout “yes” from the top of my lungs.

At home that evening with my partner, I’m sitting in front of a full-fledged smörgåsbord of food. We’ve made a spread for the books with a bit of everything I purchased. As we make our way through the delicious food, I chatter about what we are eating, where it came from and how Daisy and Adam presented it to our community in such a spectacular destination.

Their story is one about creating a business with many layers. It is one of hard work, perseverance, partnership, love, family and total commitment to the betterment of our beautiful community and the well being of the people in it. It is one that fills me with gratitude, which somehow makes my banana — covered in The Root Cellar Chocolate Peanut Better — even more delectable.

– Chelsea Forman

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