This week, we’re profiling Groundswell alumni Amanda Slater. Amanda founded Rebel Soup, working with local farmers to turn unsellable produce into delicious and healthy soup! Amanda was interviewed by Conlan Mansfield, one of her Groundswell peers and founder of Salish Sea Movement Society.
CM: Hey Amanda! How’s it going? Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to founding Rebel Soup?
I was really lucky to grow up in a very fruitful and bountiful part of the world, the Okanagan. My mum had a garden, but I hated gardening as a child - it was work to me, so I didn't appreciate it at the time. Being raised by a single mum on a budget you learn to be both frugal and creative in the kitchen. She did shift-work, and wasn’t home for five nights of the week, so I learned to cook at very early age. When my mum and step-dad got together when I was 13, I became the “family cook”, and I made my first turkey when I was 14. So, cooking and feeding and nurturing loved ones came to me really young. I have fond memories of a friend who called me up one day and asked me how to make scrambled eggs! We still have that ongoing joke to this day.
Ever since those years, I was always the person that people would come to for “how do I cook this?” - or the assumption would be that I would cook for them! Yet, in a way I didn’t want to pursue anything related to cooking; when I graduated high school, I actually wanted to go to school to be a criminologist! So, nothing to do with food! At the same time, I still had the passion and the dream. I’ve worked in the food and beverage industry since I was 18; Never in the back of house, and never “in the kitchen as a cook”, but have always loved and appreciated food. I always dreamed of opening up my own cafe, of having a food truck, or a catering company, and for the last eight-to-ten years, where I want to be and what I want to do has always been food related – but I just never knew how to do it.
I applied to culinary school twice, and considered going to pastry school… but after talking to some chef friends about what I want to do and have, and what my skill level is already – I don’t need to go to culinary school, because my goal isn’t to become a chef that runs their own kitchen in an established restaurant.
CM: So, what's Rebel Soup, and what’s all this talk about mis-shapen veggies?
Rebel Soup is good for the environment, good for the farmer, good for you. What does that mean? We want to reduce the amount of food that’s not being consumed and that’s instead being wasted at farm level.
Thirty to forty percent of what’s grown doesn’t make it to market, because it’s got a bruise, a bump, or entwinement, or something else that’s so-called wrong with it. It doesn’t fit the mold of what we see as a nutritious healthy veggie. That food is tilled back into the earth, composted, or wasted. It’s not coming to market, and people aren’t eating it. Farmers aren’t being paid, so they lose money, and consumers don’t have access to these otherwise delicious and nutritious veggies.
Rebel Soup is born from a passion and love for feeding people. It truly started when my father-in-law asked me what my favourite food is – I said “soup”. Then, on a road trip a few years ago, I turned to my partner Brandon and said: “I think I want to start a soup club.” Brandon, being super supportive, said, “So how are you going to do it? Go and write your ideas down!”
I went home, went straight to Facebook, and wrote everyone I knew in Vancouver about my burgeoning soup club. Within a month, I had people who had bought my soup emailing me saying, “Hey, other people in my office tried your soup and they want to become members. How do they do that?”
Everybody knew I was making it out of my house – but you can’t keep doing that, owing to laws, health codes, etc. We wanted to be really grassroots – so I just DID it, and people would come by and pick it up, or I’d do deliveries. I had close to fifty people on the list! On a slow weekend, I’d make about fifty litres of soup. On one of my busiest weekends I made eighty litres!
When I started the soup club I was between jobs and really thinking about “what do I love to do?”. When I started the soup club, I had a clinical job in nutrition, and it was crazy to do both at the same time. I was thinking both “I need a proper job” and “I need to give this another shot and try really hard”. When the next season came around, and I didn’t do my soup club again... I became really depressed, and realized that I was the happiest I’ve ever been when I was making soup.
That realization was what brought me to Groundswell.
CM: Tell me a bit about Groundswell – what did you gain from the program? What was it like?
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and it happens when it’s meant to happen. Jim Barker (one of Groundswell’s co-founders) approached me when I was at a market selling soup – I was so high on adrenaline, selling my soup to the public for the first time. When he spoke to me in his thick English accent I heard him say something about “Groundswell”. I just smiled at him in the noisy venue and didn’t think much of it at the time - and then Groundswell popped up in my news-feed on Facebook right around the time I realized I wasn’t happy in my clinical job and would rather be making and selling soup.
At that moment I was like – “what am I going to do? Culinary school? Business school?” I had to think about the skills I wanted to gain in order to launch a business. After a lot of talks with friends in both the culinary and business worlds, I chose Groundswell.
Literally the best decision I’ve made in my entire life.
My time at Groundswell has not only given me the skills and the support to build a social enterprise, but it’s also given me confidence. Going to events, approaching people, starting to become recognized in this community that I’d always looked at from afar – I’m now being recognized as a contributing member to it, and it’s the best feeling ever. To have this home, this community to lean on – to know that you can come into the Groundswell café anytime - I’m there every Monday! You see the cohort, the facilitators, the community. You can always find mentorship. It keeps me grounded and focused to have this space to come to on a weekly basis. And they motivate you – I feel like I’ve got a personal cheerleading team here, haha! Maybe that’s selfish – but it makes me feel good to be here. And I have a lot to offer to this place, too; I feel honoured when new participants come to ask me questions, and I feel blessed to be able to give back in that way.
CM: Where are you now, and what are you working on?
I am preparing to launch Rebel Soup – officially – in September. Currently I am meeting with professionals on a weekly basis, connecting with small business owners, local community leaders, etc. to continually learn from people and to make sure that I have people to consult about my questions, process, etc. We’re in the midst of building a website, and I’m attending a bunch of different food-related events in the community. Most recently, I pitched at the Knives & Forks Community Investment event – I was selected for the second round, and I’m waiting to see what happens. Essentially, it’s due diligence – looking at numbers and projections for sales. I never thought I’d be in this position a year ago!
CM: How would you advise other entrepreneurs?
Immerse yourself in whatever it is that you want to make your career. What I’ve learned from Groundswell is that I can make soup into a social enterprise. When I came in I wasn’t thinking about “rescuing food from being wasted and make soup out of it!” That wasn’t my first idea. My passion is food, so the next question was – “okay, what’s going on locally with our food?” So, hone in on those questions and immerse yourself. Whatever it is, make it your life. Become an expert in it. Be able to answer those questions that you don’t yet have answers for. Dedicate yourself – it’s not going to be easy, and it won’t come overnight. Surround yourself with the right people, dedicate time to it – and it will come.