“We’re a raw pet food company that sources local ingredients from BC family farms practising regenerative agriculture.” This is how Gillian Watt, the owner of BC’s Best Raw Pet Food, describes her business. “I feel happy that we are bringing the best of BC grown ingredients to BC pets. These ingredients help them stay healthy and at the same time keep local pet food dollars in our communities, and reward producers who are raising grass-fed proteins, and/or utilizing regenerative agriculture practices.”
“It isn’t anything magic,” says Gillian. She talks about how pet owners become frustrated and worried when their pets develop skin and digestive issues and how sometimes the grass-fed proteins in BC’s Best can make a difference.
Gillian makes it sound simple, but the ingredients in the food have been mindfully prepared, starting with the innovative cultivation of ingredients on the farm. This care extends down through the roots of the plants to the soil by practicing regenerative agriculture, which results in more than just higher nutrient density.
“Scientists and researchers are finding out more and more about the connection of the microbial populations in the soil to the microbial populations in our gut. It is truly amazing how that is transferred by food.”
“Regenerative agriculture is a very broad term and there are varying degrees. It is when the agricultural producer focuses on soil health, and building soil organic matter, as their prime concern.” Gillian explains that practices on her farm, like low or no-tillage, no use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and the use of cover crops to armour the soil and build organic matter. “Regenerative agriculture is working with Mother Nature, to increase soil organic matter, rather than working against her with costly inputs and reducing the life in the soil.”
A year after becoming the sole owner of the pet food business, Gillian moved the processing plant to Holmwood Farm. The plant currently employs a manager and two part-time staff. “I was absolutely scared, because I’d never been in the processing industry. But I have access to a great network of people.”
Cultivating the relationships in this network is another way Gillian has innovated to grow her business and meet consumer demand. Local farmers with similar farming practices are connections on which she relies to supply and supplement ingredients for the pet food. “What really makes me excited is to see all these local farmers who are doing the right thing on the land and being able to reward them by buying their products.”
Maintaining good relationships and connections is a valuable lesson that Gillian carries with her. When fires this past summer cut power to the stockpile of products in her freezer, Gillian used her local support network to preserve her product locally. Flooding later that year caused challenges with shipping to the lower mainland. Where the product would normally be conveniently delivered to each store’s door, Gillain worked with the stores to organize larger drops at one store and other store owners worked together to pick up from that one central location. This ensured the availability of her product to the customers who have come to rely on it.
“Don’t be scared,” Gillian advises new food processors. “But make sure to find great mentors who can help you through the learning stage and learning curves.”