The founder of Collingwood Kombucha, Christy Deere, says “I came to Collingwood for love. I grew up in Barrie and had moved away some 18 years before, but when I fell in love with somebody in Collingwood in 2006, I also fell back in love with the Collingwood I remembered and it’s abundant way of life. Lifestyle is very important to me and whilst the ‘guy is gone’ – my love of the area and the lifestyle is unchanged and that’s why I chose to stay.”
When I first moved to Collingwood, I was a contract facilitator helping organizations and started putting the entrepreneurial pieces together like registering my first business. I called it Leap to Learn, developed the branding and a website and obtained insurance that would allow me to be an official business owner. “Collingwood is such an inspirational place and I had the most amazing opportunities to meet and grow a network of people in the community when I landed a contract with the Ontario Snowboard for 3 years. Before I knew it, I was facilitating events on the escarpment through private ski hills.”
“When people without a ton of business experience start out, they often have to start slowly and so they have these ‘side hustles’ and volunteering with Be The Change docuseries turned out to also be my launching pad of opportunity into the community. I was on stage announcing the movies, meeting business owners, sourcing and thanking sponsors – all the people who really supported Collingwood as a town”.
In 2018 I got into Kombucha quite by accident. I was having lunch at an organic farm called Kolapore Gardens in the Town of Blue Mountains and met Mike Reid the owner, as well as other members of this agricultural food-producing community. Mike asked me to “give him a hand with his kombucha”(fermented tea), and that was the beginning of a whole new love affair for Christy! She was fascinated with the process, learned about its origins and health benefits from Mike, drank it, and took home her own kombucha starter.
“Kombucha produces these things called a ‘mother or SCOBY’ which are symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast that form as a result of the fermentation process. Kombucha is abundant with healthy micronutrients that are good for you, so I took a SCOBY (kombucha mother) home with me and a little bit of the finished kombucha, and I started making my own……….. rather like getting a sourdough starter handed down to you.”
The most authentic kombucha is created from SCOBY’S that are passed down to others. You start with sweet tea, the sugar and caffeine are consumed by the bacteria and yeast, and produce cellulose as a by product, which forms a pellicle (mat) on top of the product. This is a natural way for fermentation to happen and it keeps everything underneath it really healthy and happy. That thin little layer gets thicker and thicker the more sugar gets consumed, and that layer creates the ideal environment for anaerobic fermentation to occur. You take the layer away (save it for the next time), and what you pour into a bottle is kombucha.
Christy’s passion and fascination is evident, “Can you imagine maybe 2000 years ago, somebody left a cup of tea on the windowsill, and it grew this thing and they decided to take that off and drink it. Who does that? And yet the person who did that was somebody who was a serving the Emperor of China at the time, the Emperor drank it and it healed him his afflictions! His health issues became an elixir of life for the rest of us.”
Christy grew up with her grandmother who taught her about natural healing. Her grandmother was diagnosed with lupus which is an autoimmune disease. “She was given a death sentence and told there was nothing they could do. One day she was going home from her job at the Eaton Center in Toronto, stopped in at Kensington Market, and the Chinese merchat who owned the store, noticed she didn’t look well. She told him about the lupus and he took her into the back of the store where he was secretly practicing Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. That was back in 1957 and she lived a happy healthy life until the age of 98”.
When I was growing up, we always said “Whatever you do, don’t tell grandma I’m sick!” She had skins growing on top of jars everywhere that looked like mold growing and tasted terrible, and she believed in all of those old remedies today we often erroneously don’t put enough stock in. If you had something in your eye, you put milk in a cup and rinsed your eye, if you had a sore throat, she made you gargle with apple cider vinegar!”
“She was wise though” says Christy. “Here I am with jars growing things on top of liquids that look like weird mushrooms, and I didn’t realise then what a massive influence she had on my life until much later”.
Later as Christy progressed in the art, she shared her ‘babies (SCOBY’s)’ with other people and shared her knowledge, with people at Farm to Table Market in Collingwood which was a co-operative for all the organic foods in the area. There she met Martin Rydlo, the then Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Town of Collingwood who was just checking out the new store. She stored all her ‘mothers’ at the store, where they would take about a month to ferment, and then decanted the kombucha into bottles and gave it to her friends. Martin encouraged Christy to turn her passion into a business and before long, Collingwood Kombucha was being made in 7 gallon carboys and stores were asking to buy it. The following year she began selling it the Collingwood Farmers Market, and with that quick growth she realised she needed more business help. Tim Newton from the Small Business Enterprise Centre (under the Town of Collingwood), recommended she join the ‘Further, Faster’ program.
“Through the Further, faster program I was introduced to my first mentor, Gary McMullen, the founder of Muskoka Brewery and he set me on the path of making kombucha in oak barrels and being a craft producer. He shared how important it was to always stay true to what it means to make a product that I was proud of and grow the business slowly on my own, rather than pull in investors and build a commercial brewery”.
“When COVID hit in 2020, after lying on the floor crying for a couple of weeks distraught by the state of the world ☺ my phone started ringing with orders from all the little independent stores. People didn’t want to go to the big grocery stores anymore, and because the health of their immune systems had become priority, so had my kombucha.” Across North America, Kombucha sales increased by more than 40% and Christy went to work to meet the demand. Since then sales have been doubling year over year, and her best ever year was in 2021. Today Collingwood Kombucha is in over 50 stores including many of the local Foodlands, Collingwood Loblaw and Meaford Independent Grocer, and it’s growing every month.
“Collingwood is a very collaborative town where entrepreneurs thrive,” and Christy looks forward to the time when she can have store frontage in the downtown for her Collingwood Kombucha. For more about Collingwood Kombucha and where to order the medicine to keep your gut healthy, check out https://collingwoodkombucha.com/.