Wild Wednesday


Hello and happy Wednesday!  This is a very last post for me, usually I post my Wild Wednesday features in the morning!  But Keeley and I have been driving and sampling all day up near Seattle, so it’s the first time I’ve been at my computer!

Two weeks ago I posted on our Facebook that I was looking for Wild Wednesday “nominations!”  I was fortunate to be put in contact with a wonderful woman named Heather who was nominated by her friend, Anni.  Thank you Anni for making this connection!

I am SO thrilled to share with you Heather’s story, who I have found to be incredibly inspiring and I know you will too!  I wish I could bottle up her passion and dedication to bettering our world, and sprinkle it in communities across the globe!  Her mission…to spread awareness of where our food comes from and how what we feed our bodies can hurt or harm the overall health of communities.  I hope you enjoy learning more about Heather’s mission and please visit her site to get more information!

1) What is your name, where do you live, and please explain your work!

My name is heather Lehman, and I live in Vancouver, Washington. I am a librarian, and I am a social justice activist who runs a market (Hearth of Vancouver) that highlights small regional farms and local producers. 

2) Where did your inspiration for The Hearth of Vancouver come from?   How long ago did you start this? 

I have been involved in or working on environmental and justice issues for 20 years. After a long time of working around these issues, I realized you don’t have to 
do anything grand to make the world a better place. I also know that our farmer population is aging fast, and that our food infrastructure is dominated by only a few entities. It seemed an overwhelming problem until I stopped thinking about big things and started looking right next door. Ten years ago we had no co-op in Vancouver, so I worked to help start our first co-op. After that, I realized that what I wanted to do was not just the market creation, but something that helped people do the small business “thing”. So, here I am working on hearth!

I am driven by the understanding that if real people don’t stand together to control their food supply, they will be under the control of a market in which profit is everything and not livelihood.

3)  How many people are involved?  What is the motivation for people to buy from your site rather then go to the grocery store and buy the same product?

We have so very little in the way of good food in west Vancouver, but we have a lot of people that support local and understand how they can help our area with the purchases they make. 

The motivation is both convenience, price, and the nature of the 
project being really, really dedicated to this small area and its residents.
Soon, many things will change about the nature of hearth because we are
working on a commercial kitchen and storefront.

There are currently about 75 households involved in hearth, and this is after just one year of testing and trying and making farm connections. It is exciting!  

4)  How do you go about selecting the products for your store?  How does the ordering from distributors work?

I travel within 150 miles for produce connections, I use regional distributors with products that are locally sourced and ethically made. I also search for products from all over the world that are fair trade. So much is changing right now, but not the local focus. 

Distributors must carry organic and fairtrade products if they are 
even going to make it onto our possible list. Producers have to be 
local and have great products. Like yours!!

5) Where did your passion for connecting rural with urban come from? 

I grew up all over the world - literally! I lived in Mexico City, Mexico, Cape Town, South Africa, and all across the United States. I was exposed to poverty and the sharp contrast between city and country at a young age. Growing up to see so much contrast has left a permanent mark on my worldview.  As an adult, my studies as a research librarian and my involvement in policy and politics has revealed the many problems associated with people leaving their ties to land and food. I felt that the best good I could do was to get more people to understand what has happened, and to get them more involved in agriculture and food production. It is not fancy, but it incredibly important in a world that has become too dependent on transportation and an oil driven infrastructure. 

6)  What has been the response to your business? 

So far, so good! I love what I am doing, and I am told that this service is appreciated by everyone involved. It is really heartening to get to know my wonderful community. And saving them trips to the store is outstanding - let’s drive less, please! I smile really big every time someone tells me “thanks, you just saved me a trip.” The most satisfying thing is that the small farms are as happy as the community. It is not often that small producers get the focus, and even more rare that they get paid a good price for their goods. This is the best thing that I could ask for - households more directly connected to farms!

7) I see there are some yummy recipes on your site as well!  Have you always been a “foodie?”  Please describe your food philosophy and how you hope to inspire people.

I hope to get people to understand that the convenience aspect that they have become used to is a lie. And a really big one. What seems cheap and easy often has a very dark side along the supply chain. I don’t want to beat people for not understanding food production and agriculture like I now do! I want to get people to understand that they can eat incredibly well, produce less trash, and support their community…on a really tight budget. It is a slow process, but I am dedicated. 

I started out as someone who loves food, food art, master chef creations, etc. I was exposed early on to the chefs and food movement to buy local, and I think that it was that focus on supply that really tipped me from a love affair with the delicious end product to a dedication to the supply chain that got that food to the table. I now think of myself as a librarian of ingredients for people who are looking for the right book is a lot like looking for the right tomato!

8) Can you explain your history/connection with farmers and why you think it’s important to reenergize the connection of rural and urban lifestyles?

Almost everything I do is colored by the activism in which I am 
engaged. I have witnessed and studied rural economies and 
understand that the production chain of most modern food stuffs is 
filled with lots of terrible problems - slave labor, chemical exposures, lack of political voice and control, damaged environment etc. All people must eat - and to NOT know what is happening with this fundamental part of life is something that must change. 

The consolidation of small farms under giant corporate entities, the 
control and abuse of seed technologies, chemical inputs, transportation costs etc, are all driving factors in what I do. It is a small part, but it is something that 
underscores that we need to be as resilient and self reliant as possible! And 
that means local food first! I have learned that being too focused on money has a tendency to stop great project and events and creations from blooming. People need money, that is true. But you don’t really need much if your community is self-supporting. 

9) What are your hopes for The Hearth? 

I hope that hearth grows to be a resilient network throughout West Vancouver and our region. I want to see the producers network take off because that would mean that more people are involved in livelihoods that are self-inspired and supportive.  We want to do Micro Farm Aid every year, and we want to get more people involved in agriculture and local production. 

If I were to dream really big, I hope that hearth becomes a resources for people
in west Vancouver to change the health of their lives. We have a lot of food related
illness in our area, and I believe it is tied to not having access to an alternative. hearth is fundamentally about access and connectivity and not ownership.

10)  What do you enjoy doing in your spare time…if you have any ;-) 

I can and bake, and I pretend to play piano and ukelele. I also run and hang out with my family and neighbors because they are really good people who never fail to make me laugh.

11)  I love hearing about other women entrepreneurs, so I was thrilled when Anni nominated you!  Do you have any words of advice for Keeley and I and Wild Squirrel!

The only advice I might have is that you have to do hands on stuff and not just think about it!  And, once you get going, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try and get better! Don’t freak out about failure, never let failure stop you.

Heather I am so lucky that we got the chance to connect!  I have grown to become very interested and aware of the crucial role food plays in our lives, so it was such a pleasure to interview you and learn about your mission.  

You couldn’t have said it better, “…you don’t have to do anything grand to make the world a better place.”  By bringing fresh, local and sustainable products to the people of Vancouver you have already impacted so many lives and I know you will continue on your journey and hopefully be able to expand the Hearth’s mission beyond your city!

Best of luck and I hope Wild Squirrel can be a part of your site someday soon!

That’s all for now, 


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