Little did I know, when I picked up the phone I was about to embark on quite the journey… I dialed the phone number for Little Creek, bridging the distance between us, the rolling hills of the Alberta Prairies and vastness of the Rocky Mountains. The dial tone sounded but twice, and a warm voice answered on the other end, “Hello Ashley...” said Donna.
Donna, is the owner and founder of Little Creek Dressings in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, a household brand that has slowly built its name in and around British Columbia and the prairie provinces over the past 20 years. Made with wholesome, organic ingredients like home-made berry infused vinegars, dried basil, and fresh garlic; the flavours behind the brand have more than proven to be favourites amongst their loyal fans, toting a bucketful of short stories worth sharing.
“There was this one time,” Donna told me, “a little boy, maybe five years old was attending a friend’s birthday, where a fresh vegetable platter and dip were laid out on the table. Grabbing a carrot, the youngster looked at the dip, tasting it, then turning to the parent and asked, “but, where’s the Little Creek?”
“Isn’t that sweet?” said Donna, after sharing this memory with me. This was but one of the feel good stories that confirmed Little Creek Dressings are well loved in the Okanagan Valley and beyond. "I need not mention the time one child asked Santa for Little Creek Dressing for Christmas - priceless."
After introducing myself to Donna, she turned the conversation to me, and asked “Well, what would you like to know?” curiosity sounding in her voice.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” I began, “can we start at the beginning? What inspired you to begin making Little Creek Dressings?”
“Why of course! I love to tell a good story.” Donna said, a light note of laughter in her voice. “Make sure to catch me if I carry on too long.”
One filled with passion, dedication, and community, here is her story.
The Early Days
“I first met my husband Dale, in Summerland… I was a potter then, and Dale was an orchardist. In 1947 my Great Aunt and Uncle purchased this land which is on the west shores of Okanagan Lake; in 1969, my parents bought the land. Dale and I moved to the property in 1984. Together with the help of our family, we cleared the forest and planted our gardens on the most arable five acres of the property. We built our pioneer-like home from the ground up with lots and lots of recycled supplies, for just $14,000 at the time. Can you believe that?"
"Our land, was appropriately named by my Great Aunt and Uncle “Little Creek” thanks to a small creek which runs through the property. We settled in and Dale planned to grow fruit trees, but instead changed course, growing salad greens instead since there was no one was doing that at the time. Soon after I found out I was pregnant with twins and quickly realized I had my hands full, and being a potter simply wasn’t an option."
Little Creek’s First Dressing
"I worked off the farm, but wanted to be closer to home, so when the girls were 9 years old I had an idea. I was well known for my home-made dressing, a favorite amongst my family and friends. It was a wonderful complement to Dale’s home-grown salad greens. So, I decided , Wow! I’m going to bottle it! At the time, the government was also encouraging the production of value-added products. Dale was already growing basil, garlic, and raspberries on the farm, and I made my own raspberry infused vinegar from scratch. We didn’t have much to get started, little money, but I did have the farm, fresh grown ingredients, my friends and family and an entrepreneurial spirit!"
"I believe you’re empowered by the people you know and those who raise you. My dad was the original builder of the ice roads in the NWT and I think you have to have some willingness to take risks to work in a job like that. That year, ‘95, I called the research station in Summerland and they guided me through the legalities of production. We adapted a small building on our property that was first devoted to my pottery studio, and transformed it into a kitchen for preparing and bottling my dressing. I felt like I had the support I needed to make it work."
"In 1998 my first grandson was born, and the same year my kitchen burnt down. It was a horrible tragedy and I was ready to quit; but my dad, came up to visit. He shared some words that changed everything."
“So kid, I hear you had some bad luck. Well don’t even think of should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. What do we need? Let’s get going.” This was exactly what I needed to hear. My family and neighbours rallied in support and organized a fundraiser to support rebuilding, and a nearby resort allowed me to work out of their kitchen to keep me going. My son was living on the property then, and he built me a brand new kitchen from the ground up. I continued on.
Growth and Success
“We slowly built the business over the years. Eventually demand for our dressing outgrew our ability to produce enough basil, garlic, and raspberries on our own farm. We sourced ingredients from other farmers until we outgrew their production too. Our success has been solely dependent on the support of our family, friends and consumers. In the early days, friends within a 5 Km radius would come and help us strip the basil, while Dad peeled the garlic as well as labelled the bottles, and then filled them with dressing!
My Mom would help with production by shrinking the tampering sleeve with the steam from a thrift store electric kettle. My brother would help to make deliveries of dressing to the Kootenays, and my sister to Vancouver. Today, my twins help with designing my labels and running my social media, and my son is now also getting involved with running the business. Business has evolved slowly but surely. Of course it wasn’t easy, and it surely wasn’t a lifestyle that would make us rich. But we are millionaires in the life we live. It is so beautiful here in the Okanagan, and to live off of our property was a dream; Little Creek Dressing enabled that."
Little Creek Dressing Today
"Today Little Creek Dressings are made with organic ingredients in 5 flavours - Original, Spicy Strawberry, Cherry Balsamic, Okanagan Caesar, and our most recent Asian Apricot . The dressings are vegan, made in small batches without emulsifiers, without added sugars, and made with high quality ingredients and flavours that represent British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Today the business has grown enough that we’ve outgrown our 1000 square foot facility on our farm, and moved into a new 4000 square foot production site in Kelowna."
When you pick up our product in your grocery store you'll notice each of our artisan dressings has its own symbolism. Take 'the Original' for example, it is the first dressing I bottled, and I dedicated it to my dad because he was such a great help to me. You'll find a unique short story on every label which I feel gives provides people with a connection to my dressing, and to Little Creek. What's next? I'm excited to share we are working on a new simple but delicious product line using just oil and vinegar: Tuscany Vinaigrette and Vineyard Vinaigrette - watch for these coming soon!
How to enjoy Little Creek Dressing
They are fabulous on salad greens of course, but there are a number of ways to enjoy any of our Little Creek Dressings. Try them as:
- Marinades on chicken, salmon or other fish, and tofu
- Dressing for pasta salads, potato salads, and rice salads
- Sauces for perogies, rice, pasta, and meat
- Vegetable dips (the dressings can also be thickened with a little mayo if you like!)
Donna’s attributes her success and growth of Little Creek Dressings to the unfaltering support of her parents, husband and family, her friends and community who lifted her up in the face of hardship and supported her as she grew Little Creek Dressings from one bottled dressing to a well recognized brand present in large retail chains across Western Canada including Calgary Co-op, Federated Co-op, Save On Foods, Thrifty Foods, Sobeys and Whole Foods.
Connect with Little Creek Dressings
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/littlecreekdressings
Store Finder: http://www.littlecreekdressing.com/-store-finder.html