When Kari Johnston worked as a camp cook, she learned to observe people silently as they tucked into their grub.
“It’s easy to watch what people are eating when everything’s free, and you can just make a whole bunch of food and watch what they want to eat.”
It’s a lesson she and Courtney Quinn heed when they’re planning menus for the 14 Acre Farm, the catering company they operate in Haines Junction. “We try to make our catering accessible to everybody, so there’s going to be something on our menu for everyone that’s recognizable and familiar and comforting,” Johnston explains. “Then we like to throw in exciting things, like vegetables that people haven’t seen before, or ways of preparing food that they maybe haven’t seen before. So there’s kind of a blend between those two things.”
In 2012, Johnston and her husband, Collin Kallio, were working in a mining camp just north of Dawson City, hoping to find a piece of land where they could live and grow food.
When their online search turned up a 14-acre parcel adjacent to the former research farm in Haines Junction, they bought it sight unseen. A couple of months later, they moved there and began clearing the land.
At nearly the same time, Quinn was about to relocate from Whitehorse to the Junction, where her partner had built a house. “My husband kept talking about this person that I really needed to meet, because we were basically the same person. Then Kari and I met and we got along famously,” Quinn says. “We look really similar, Courtney and I. We both have similar features and height and hair, so we’re sort of known as the twins,” Johnston adds.
The pair had so much in common that by the second time they hung out together, the idea of starting a food-related business together had already emerged.
When Johnston was approached about setting up a small vendor’s stall at the Haines Junction farmer’s market in 2013, her new friend “kind of got hauled into it as well,” she says. “We started doing that at the farmers’ market, and then we were asked to cater a wedding.”
The wedding was in a “stunning location about 45 minutes in the middle of absolutely nowhere,” Johnston says. “And we just felt brave enough to take it on together, so we catered a wedding for 110 people with no power in the middle of nowhere.”
Since that daring debut, The 14 Acre Farm has catered numerous events of various sizes. This week, they will share catering duties at the annual general meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities (AYC) with the new owners of the Village Bakery. “We’ve been really excited to meet them and hear their ideas and what they’re planning on bringing to the community,” Quinn says.
Besides their shared love of food and a common background of having parents who owned small businesses, the two caterers both played several sports in school, Johnston in Toronto and Quinn in Smithers, B.C.
Not surprisingly, Johnston falls back on a sports metaphor when asked to comment on the pressure of catering for a large and prestigious group such as the AYC. “It’s always about Game Day. That’s what every catering event is like for us: that exciting Game Day sort of adrenaline push.”
Last November, the business took a big step forward with the purchase of a 30-foot catering trailer at an auction in Edmonton. “It’s fully customized for what we do and it’s a full commercial kitchen, so that’s where we’re operating out of now,” Quinn says. “We have community members stopping by all the time to say hello and check it out.”
The trailer’s location is particularly handy on the two days each week when the 14 Acre Farm sells bakery products at the Little Green Apple grocery store right next door.
In its relatively short life, the business has grown to the point that both partners can foresee giving up their part-time jobs in the not-too-distant future. “We ended up having a very busy first quarter, which we weren’t really anticipating compared to our business last year,” Quinn says. “I’ve worked almost full-time for the past few months, which is great. It was really amazing, because it is primarily local businesses and organizations that are hiring us and asking us to do this work.”
There may even be a 14 Acre Farm cook book down the road, Quinn suggests.
And since they feel strongly about using locally-grown ingredients as much as possible, the time may come when the original 14-acre farm is a significant supplier to the catering company that bears its name.
With this year’s rhubarb crop already making its appearance, “I’m sure we’ll have lots of rhubarb on our menus soon,” Johnston notes.
For more about the 14 Acre Farm, including sample menus, go to http://www.hainesjunctioncatering.com/the-farm.html