This month, we focus our local business spotlight on Sunnyside Natural Market - not only a staple for fresh, organic produce and natural foods, but a pillar of Calgary’s local, sustainable food movement.
In the dynamic, economically-oriented city of Calgary, it’s easy for a thriving small business to quickly lose sight of its roots. But despite attracting an ever-growing customer base and branching out widely into the community, Pat Guyn and Patty Nowlin have managed to maintain the authentic values and intimate feel of the little store they first took over in 2005.
We caught up with Patty to find out the story of Sunnyside’s humble but momentous journey.
How has Sunnyside Natural Market changed since you first started?
We purchased the store from its previous owners in October 2005, and it has been slowly evolving since then. We try to stay true to the core values that started the business, while continually expanding on the initial offerings, such as bringing in local, fresh organic meats.
The biggest change was the expansion, and partnering with Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, who opened (another location) in our store in February 2013.
What's it like having Sidewalk Citizen Bakery as a roommate?
Many businesses think in terms of competition, instead we look for ways we can collaborate. It's been a fun and mutually beneficial collaboration that has enhanced both of our businesses. They bring in a new and different customer vibe, and this helps get our message out to a larger audience.
Would you say there's a growing consumer awareness of healthy and sustainable food nowadays compared to when you first took over the business?
Yes, there’s been a huge increase over the years, with the media everywhere talking about it now. Our customers have become increasingly aware of seasonal eating, the importance of supporting the small family farm and ensuring those farmers get paid a fair price.
We also use our quarterly newsletter, various social media platforms and signage in the store to shine a light on the local farms we support. The popular Meet Your Farmer section of our website is a great way to connect our consumers to the local farms we support.
Sunnyside is a true ambassador of the local and sustainable food movement in Calgary. What are some of the ways you get involved with your community?
Our BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) program is an initiative to support local charities. Every time a customer brings their own reusable bag, we donate 5 cents to a selected charity - either organizations that our staff are passionate about, or ones that find us through our online application form. Currently we’re working with the Community Orchard Project, and Water for Riley is coming up next (an initiative to get a water fountain in Riley Park, which will help to reduce plastic water bottle use, among other benefits to the community).
We support the local agriculture movement more specifically through a program that allows our staff to spend a workday working on a nearby farm (Blue Mountain Biodynamic), as well as sponsoring two beehives from Apiaries and Bees for Communities, which are located in the community of Sunnyside. The hives are also used for educating the public about pollinators, and we offer tours.
You work with many progressive and inpsiring local farmers and suppliers. Is there one that sticks out as having an interesting story?
One of our favourite relationships is with Rosemary from Poplar Bluff Organics in Strathmore, because she makes a real effort to bring together various producers. She organizes Come Visit the Farm, a day-long event where participants visit tour four farms (Winter’s Turkeys, Heritage Harvest, Poplar Bluff Organics and Cam’s Carrots), learning about local agriculture, the stories behind the farms, and feasting on a delicious dinner made with their products.
It’s such a great event because these farmers work very collaboratively, and are so passionate about what they do. Sunnyside has been involved with this for 6 years now - we donate food, sell tickets, and provide educational sessions on the bus ride out.
Catch up with the Sunnyside crew at this year’s Come Visit the Farm event, taking place on August 14th. Tickets available here: http://poplarblufforganics.com/comevisitthefarm/