Christine Whelan FEO, May 25, VOL. 4 ISSUE 20
Christine Watkins of Fort Erie is opening her food stand at 2271 Stevensville Road, in front of Rob’s Garage, again. This year, she is partnering with another Niagara woman, Renee Delaney, who shares the same goal — to work within a system that brings local produce to the people who need it.
They are in the brainstorming phase. Their collaborative journey has just begun.
Christine began, “My business was a pre-existing fruit stand, built by a man named Graham who owned the garage in behind so his daughters could make money for college. Once his daughters went off to college, he sold the business. My mechanic, Rob Boulton, bought the business.”
After getting to know Rob for a couple of years, Christine asked him if she could put a hot dog cart on his property. He agreed and offered her the use of the fruit stand.
She opened Christine’s Soul Food and Fruit Stand. As a part of her hot dog cart sales, she offered hot dogs, sausages on the bun, and her jerk chicken. That was 2019.
“My first year was amazing. And then COVID hit.” She described how the limitations and restrictions of the pandemic made it very hard for her to make money.
Watkins had been getting her produce all over Niagara. “I was driving to different farms,” admitting the time it took to drive around to gather her inventory was too time-consuming.
This year, Christine and Renee Delaney, proprietors of Small Scale Farms Marketplace, have connected and are now brainstorming how they can pull their resources together to contribute to bringing local fresh food to the Greater Fort Erie area.
Christine affirmed, “I really would like to nail down something. I know there is a need in the community for local produce and I want to help provide that, to help make it accessible.
“I reached out and spoke with Renee, and told her I have a location. I would like to offer my services, whatever that looks like for her.”
Testing the waters, “First, Renee is going to give me a certain amount of her produce bags to sell. And then we’ll go from there. I’m excited.”
Fort Erie Race Track: Christine’s Start
Watkins says she was given a chance years ago. “Angelo, who used to own Royal Town Diner in Fort Erie, now retired, was contracted to run the back side kitchen. He hired me to work there. I loved it.
“It also gave me the opportunity to cook some of my food, give people samples and get their feedback.”
She had previously been cooking for big family functions. “But to cook for strangers, that was a different experience.”
This was a pivotal point in Christine’s life. “After that, it really hit me that this was the direction I needed to go in, to cook food. I started doing markets.” She set up at the back of the old fire hall, now Regional Limo, on Jarvis Street, where the indoor market was. “We ran a winter market before Christmas in 2019.”
Christine started using the Optimist Club’s kitchen as her commercial kitchen in 2018 and currently continues to do so.
She is still working at the Fort Erie Race Track and will also be cooking in the kitchen for six Sundays (events) this season.
Renee Delaney’s journey began with being a single mom who chose to stay at home and raise her children. After first making peace with functioning with very little, she decided not to feel like a victim and blame others for whatever she lacked and asked herself, What are my options? How can I get out of poverty?
Renee’s First Garden
Years ago, she wrote a letter to a gentleman she had found out owned an empty house with space for a garden and made him a deal. He went for it.
Once the garden was growing and producing a lot of food, she considered selling the produce. She again began asking herself questions. How would I sell it? What are my options for selling it? She didn’t live on a really busy road but it was a road she could put a fruit stand out on.
“I then started to learn about how to sell food. I had to start by giving it away first because I didn’t have a market. I didn’t have a website. I’d never farmed before. So, it took me a couple of years just to get to the point where I could be at a farmers’ market, to know what I was even talking about.”
Eventually, Small Scales Farms, located at 13145 Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls, was founded.
A small scale farm is a system of growing fruits and vegetables with a lot more natural practices because it’s smaller. It is anything that is not mass-produced. An example is a homestead with a farm that feeds its family. A small scale farm can provide for that family, the neighbours, and the community.
About Small Scale Farms Marketplace
Renee explained, “I am the hub that allows the other small scale farmers to enter the market. It’s the space where they sell their food because they can’t set up a store. They are farmers. They’re not marketers or bookkeepers.
“I build the customer base, I’m the marketer, I’m the sales channel. The farmer grows the food and brings it to the food hub. I buy it at wholesale cost and sell it to the community.”
Renee talked about the hard-working people involved, in moving her produce, and in making this system work. “My crew works towards doing what is needed. When everyone does what is needed, then nothing heavy falls on one person’s shoulders. This is ‘community’.”
Delaney values her volunteers, calling them a crucial part of this system. She is looking for more volunteers to join her crew — people who enjoy working as a team and feel a sense of inclusion and involvement at one of the venues providing the rural and small town experience.
Finding a way to get Small Scales Farm produce to the Greater Fort Erie area in a way that is easier for residents to access was the initial goal of the partnership. One of the reasons why Renee is not moving her produce as she anticipates is, there could be a transportation issue. For example, while the hub is not accessible by Fort Erie’s On-Demand Transit system, Christine’s Soul Food and Fruit Stand is.
Christine and Renee are both thrilled with this concept of women supporting each other to help provide a food system for the community.
Renee commented, “In the farming realm, it has been coming out that a large number of those involved are women.
To pick up a produce bag from Small Scale Farms at Christine’s Soul Food and Fruit Stand, watch for the sign displayed at the stand along Stevensville Road.
How to Shop Local
Renee says their theme at the marketplace this year is, How to Shop Local. She asks each one of us, Are you shopping locally?
Delaney remarked she is the hub of local farm produce and she is not seeing the result of people saying they shop local, and asking, “Where are they?”
Small Scale Farms’, Another Step Forward: Local Sponsorships
Renee is looking for new and creative ways to get the food to the people who need it. She talked about the average community member being conditioned to go through the flyers and find the specials, drive to the grocery store close to their home, stopping on the way home from work.
“I cannot break that habit. I have been trying.” So, she’s ready to try another approach, working with what is.
“I’m targeting corporations, now looking for sponsors for my Pay What You Can bag. The people who need these bags are not currently my customers.”
She is turning to the Greater Fort Erie area, looking for sponsors for these bags. “That way, everyone in Fort Erie can access affordable food.”
Christine’s Soul Food and Fruit Stand will officially raise its shutters along the road at 2271 Stevensville Road, in front of Rob’s Garage, just north of the Bowen Road intersection on June 1.
You can follow Christine by checking out her Facebook Page and her Instagram account: @niagarasoulfood.
To learn more about Small Scale Farms Marketplace, go to smallscalefarms.ca.
- Photo of Christine Watkins and fruit stand, 2020 – provided by C Whelan