Innovation Stories

Afke Zonderland | Okanagan Rawsome

After operating a successful home-based interior design business for 25 years, Afke Zonderland decided it was time for a new adventure. While growing up in the Netherlands, gardening and cooking innovative meals had always been a passion and after moving to a nine-acre property in the North Okanagan in 1979, that passion would play a huge role in her next chapter.

Curious about the raw food movement, Afke travelled to the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in California with a friend in 2005. There she learned the necessary skills for her business today, Okanagan Rawsome. Created with her daughter Anna, the company produces nutrient-dense crackers and dip.

“Our Crisps are loaded with local produce and sprouted seeds,” says Afke. “We’ve found a way to turn local farm food into fast food without compromising on ingredients, taste, or nutritional density thanks to the ancient practice of dehydration.”

Dehydration is one of the unique innovations of her business, explains Afke.

“There are hardly any crackers on the market based in vegetables, with no dairy, no grains, and that are really dense in nutrients. That’s a big innovation in itself, but on the other hand, it’s like we’ve gone back to the past. This (dehydration) was the way of life in Canada back thousands of years ago when people dried their harvest to survive the long winters. So, is it ‘innovation’? Of course. But it’s really ancient.”

Afke says dehydration also means less waste and more nutrient density, as her products enhances bioavailability, allowing better absorption of nutrients. But being ‘healthy’ isn’t enough for genuine success, says Afke.

“The other important incentive of course is that the food must taste good. No one wants to buy healthy food and have to eat it with their nose pinched. The proof is in the pudding, though, because what started off as just a little hobby is now like twelve years with a really consistent income each year.”

In addition to earning profits, the company has also been nominated for several industry awards in BC. This includes winning the 2018 Micro Business of the Year, Top Five finalist of 2018 People’s Choice Award and last year, Top Five Finalist for Community Impact Award.

“We are thriving because we have no debt and live in a valley that grows amazing food. A quote from Winston Churchill that my father used to say is that the health of the nation is the wealth of the nation, and that still rings true today. Food has to give you energy, not make you want to go lie down on the sofa like most people after a big turkey dinner.”

The company sells retail and online, including Sobey’s, Whole Foods, Save on Foods, Buy Low, and privately-owned health food stores. The business has enjoyed steady growth, and the Small Scale Food Processors Association in BC played an important role in that success.

“The SSFPA was instrumental in alerting us to financial grants. We updated the kitchen and bought a commercial dehydrator with a twenty-thousand-dollar grant. This allowed us to expand and have our product in retails stores all over BC and Alberta.”

It has also been the incredible support of her community, says Afke, that has helped her and other local business survive through tougher times as well.

“I’m really proud of our community and the community of organic farmers. When our valley filled with smoke two years ago from all the fires burning, our crops and spinach failed. They didn’t grow and we knew we were going to be short. We can’t afford, and didn’t want to, import spinach in February from Mexico. So, we just sent out a notice and people phoned us and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got lots of spinach.’ We came home with plenty of produce to spare.”

Afke says there’s been a huge shift in the way people think about food. “I believe that people have awakened to the fact that food is the best and least expensive medicine along-side exercise and meditation. They truly recognize it now as one of the pillars to our health and the fact that food is medicine really hit home during the summer (during the pandemic).”

Her advice to anyone starting out is to start small. “You can still make a profit, but when you’re new at something, start small as you will learn so much. When I started, I really had no retail business experience. None. But I learned that bigger is not necessarily better. We chose to remain a farm family. Having a lifestyle that we love that covers the expenses, with some set aside for a rainy day, is our idea of success.”