Preserving Life in the County – Bree Seeley

sweet potato flyBree Seeley is the proud owner of County Yum Club. It’s a serious business with an amusing name. Bree produces delicious, healthy preserves, both sweet and savoury, here in Prince Edward County, in a shared space in a commercial kitchen. It’s a big change of direction for Bree, who worked in the publishing industry for 15 years in Toronto and Europe, but one that fits neatly with her childhood dreams.

She’d always wanted to pursue sustainable agriculture, but that was not going to happen, working a demanding job, living in the city and juggling family life and two young children. Rather than farming, she chose to pursue a culinary track. Bree had been making preserves for years, reading everything she could find and teaching herself old and new techniques. She began making a list of chefs in Toronto who had roots food ideas – traditional, natural, healthy, sustainable, all those good things – included in their individual mandates. After creating this list, she handed each chef a resume that had no food related experience, but had the look and feel of a menu. To get their attention and showcase her abilities she included a few of her preserves with each resume. Every single chef contacted her and she embarked on an impressive and scrumptious endeavor.

Possessing only knowledge gained from reading and doing, strictly self-taught, she started a French Brigade style apprenticeship recognized in the industry and administered by Evergreen Brick Works. After finishing this apprenticeship herself, she found work around Toronto mostly as a second chef, creating mostly pantry food and having made the break from publishing, Bree yearned to leave the city but had no clear idea where to go. Then came that magic moment when someone discovers Prince Edward County. “There was something about the twists and turns of this area that Franc (her husband) and I fell in love with,” she says. The location and the feel of the area resonated with them. Though they had heard of the exciting culinary things happening here, neither had ever been to the County. Just one year after that first visit, they were living here, in a little house with a big garden in Cherry Valley.

To Bree, the County is very farm-to-table oriented. She enjoys that many farms are small or mid-sized and easy to connect with. Here in the Countyher fledgling  County Yum Club truly took off. “The Yum Club is a way to formalize what I’ve been doing for several years. Though I entered a new food movement as an apprentice, I had already been preserving and doing my own heritage style food for about 15 years.” Today, her products include Hot Honey, made with raw, local honey that she infuses with chilies, horseradish and ginger for complex sweet heat, and Sweet Potato Fly, an authentic lacto-fermented peppery ginger beer that not only tastes fantastic but gives you probiotic nutrients and enzymes. And that’s GOT to be good!

maple syrupBree has single handedly produced 3,500 litres of preserved and fermented products for clients that include The Vic Café, East and Main Bistro and Fifth Town Cheese. They use them in their dishes and some sell the condiments to customers, with or without their own labels added. Bree hopes to have her products available in grocery stores soon.

Bree Seeley thinks she chose well, coming to Prince Edward County. She even calls the winters here joyful! “This community is resourceful. People come out and support each other, it’s got that old fashion sense of community.” Being fiercely entrepreneurial herself, the County’s self-employed, business-creating sector made a big impression on her. She says it’s a big factor in her own success, because of the way entrepreneurs share knowledge, give support and truly feel each other’s wins and losses.

She loves her country home where her kids son Beau and daughter Billie can “head to the creek in the backyard with walkie talkies and have the sense of adventure we grew up with.” Then she adds “And, of course, the price was right!”

Check out some of Bree’s products on her website,  County Yum Club

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