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Growing more than food in Westsyde

February 1, 2016 3:20 P.M.
Sheila MacKenzie and Ed Babcock with friends at Rainbow's Roost.

Sheila MacKenzie isn’t sure which one of her employees nominated Rainbow’s Roost for a “best place to work” award, but the co-owner is glad to be in the running for the Small Business B.C. honour.

The 21-hectare farm and events facility, nestled among the rural properties above the North Thompson River north of Westsyde, has made it into the Top 5 in the provincewide awards.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “Our employees are our family. We try to present them with a lot of opportunities.”

They’re a small employer with just eight staff members, but their heart is big. For example, they’ll hold a fundraiser on site to support the day care expenses of one young employee’s family. 

They also show personal interest in their workers. A young woman who was hired to do landscaping chores and clean up animal waste — the resident animals are also a big part of the operation — is now pursuing her veterinary technician training.

On a community level, Rainbow’s Roost creates volunteer opportunities for clients of People in Motion and extend a welcome mat to others as well. One visitor from the Coast was thrilled to be able to give his daughter her first direct encounter with farm animals.

The added human touch must be working for the family operated farm tourism business that MacKenzie runs with her husband, Ed Babcock.

“Suddenly, it’s skyrocketing for us, which is really exciting for us,” she said. “We’re really passionate about community and providing an opportunity that might not otherwise happen in Kamloops.”

MacKenzie noted that they are not alone in terms of farm tourism, with nearby Thistle Farm and Tranquille Farm Fresh also offering variations within the relatively new sector. She’d like to see more people building on that, but doesn’t feel the City of Kamloops has played a supportive role in the enterprise.

They’re not developing farm tourism for the sole purpose of hosting events, she said.

“No farmer can make it farming,” she observed, a sad truth about the state of agriculture in a country heavily reliant on food imports. “You don’t make money farming.”

In other words, farm tourism is not so much a golden opportunity as it is a means to an end, the end being food production. In the case of Rainbow’s Roost, it’s beef, pork and lamb production.

Their difficulties date back to 2010 when they started developing facilities to accommodate events and were ordered by City officials to add fire-prevention works that were prohibitively expensive.

MacKenzie is relieved that those troubles are behind them and they can focus on growing the business. To that end, she’s working with Net Shift Media to develop their existing website and gain a promotional boost.

She sees the value in farm tourism, not only in sustaining agriculture, but in educating a public that has become removed from the natural world. It’s not just about showing compassion for animals, it’s about basic human needs as well.

“I honestly believe that there is a huge disconnect with nature and disconnect with food.”

Competition for the small business awards was strong with a record-breaking 535 nominations from across the province and a standout selection of Top 10 Semi-Finalists.

Now, the Top 5 Finalists, with the exception of the Premier’s People’s Choice Award, will present a 10-minute Dragon’s Den-style pitch to a panel of leading entrepreneurs and industry experts. These judges will determine the winners. The Premier’s People’s Choice Award is awarded to the business with the greatest amount of votes.

Winners will be announced on Feb. 25 at a ceremony at the Pan Pacific Vancouver.

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