b r i t n e y g i l l - f a r m a c i e
If The Happenstance // Project had a cool older sibling, it would hands down be Farmacie, Britney Gill's passion project that's farm-to-table and so much more (no guarantees we won't stop gushing). Britney knows food in a way that is real, authentic, and community-based. Just like the food that's served at the non-profit's curated dinners in partnerships with local businesses, charities, and people, Brit is a connector. She's also a full time photographer and between the two, she's become an integral part of a community of innovators in the Pacific Northwest and is capturing some of her city's most beautiful events, scenes, and people. Read about Brit's take on mantras (there are many), food (her passion), and counter culture. Also get to know her and her team on camera here.
How is your day going so far?
I really don’t have typical days, everything is completely different. My business if all freelance, from home and Farmacie just pops in here and there based on meetings or whatever events we have coming up. I guess you could say today has been typical, I met some people for coffee. They’re a PR company that wants to partner with Farmacie on some events. It will be really exciting if the partnership happens. We feel like we have a big responsibility to not only partner with the people that love us and align with our values, but also surprise us and be a part of events where people may not share all of those things. We can come in and inspire them. That’s our vision - shake things up a little bit in places that aren’t expecting it.
Let’s zoom out a little bit, what’s brought you to this point of your business?
When I graduated high school, I went to UBC (University of British Columbia) to study nutrition. I wanted to be a nutritionist so I continued on a path to be a dietician and then realized that I needed some time off, it was too intense to do all science classes. I did a lot of traveling and exploring in my undergrad and then realized I didn’t really want to be a dietician. I still loved food and a lot of the issues surrounding food. I was curious about why people go hungry or have poor nutrition. I started looking at developing countries and their food security and food distribution. There’s a much bigger question and conversation around food in the world. I started learning about genetic engineering and all of these big companies getting involved in food - it ground my gears and I realized that essentially, if people don’t have access or availability to good quality nutritious food then nothing can really change. Being a nutritionist just felt like a band-aid solution to a bigger issue. Long story short, I shifted my degree to global nutrition and I studied a global perspective of food issues. Because I took a few years off to travel with my degree, I was pretty old when I graduated compared to most undergraduates. I was ready to create something. At the time, I was working as an intern at Imagine1Day which is a charity founded by the founder of Lululemon, Chip Wilson. He founded a charity whose goal is to eradicate all foreign aid in Ethiopia by 2030. They’re doing that through education by building schools and training teachers. They want every kid to have access to school by that year.
While doing this I was also looking at ways to bring what I was passionate about to my immediate community. I had always been thinking of ways to bring people together and I’m a connector by nature, so I wanted to have a really unpretentious setting where they could connect, collaborate, and network in a very natural way. We founded Farmacie and I was working at Lululemon at the time so a lot of the girls who were working on the same team as me got really excited about the idea and we planned our first event which was at the UBC farm. The intention was to raise money for Imagine1Day but also bring more awareness to the farm and the importance of eating close to where your food is grown. After the dinner, we didn’t have plans to do another one again. It was supposed to be a one-time fundraiser but people had so much fun. Every person at the dinner posted at least one photo on Instagram so word caught on pretty fast - this huge rush that people saw that said “something happened and you missed out”. Everyone had FOMO and the Georgia Straight wanted to write an article on us and we just started to think “why would we do this if we don’t have anything planned for the future?”. It snowballed into the next event from there. Essentially, Farmacie events are curated mostly by me and a team of 7-10 that come together to ensure production is smooth and everyone has things taken care of partnerships and sourcing. By the third dinner we realized that we couldn’t keep funneling this charity money through our own bank accounts so we became a nonprofit officially this year. We’ve just done our fifth big dinner, we hosted a workshop, and we’re looking to do more workshops around a healthy home: we want to foster health in every part of your life which ranges from what you wear on your skin to what you wear on your body for clothing, etc. The possibilities are endless in terms of where we want to take it. I’ve been super engaged with our community and interested in what people around me are doing, so we always engage different businesses and incorporate them into our events to bring more awareness to what they’re doing. We’re constantly co-creating with these 20-40 partners. Every event has a huge mix of vendors and businesses, whether it’s farms, restaurants, chefs, and beyond. It’s a completely co-created event and we’re like the puppeteers.
"There's a luxury in the simplicity of eating a nice meal with good people and that's so important to us. It translated at our first event, too: it wasn't pretentious, it wasn't exclusive, it was first-come first serve. It was 'bring your mom'"
What is it about food that is such a conduit for creating community? Obviously it’s something that people were hungry for (terrible pun, sorry).
I think there’s a few things. With every event, we’re very careful to create a really nice aesthetic around it - making it special in a way where it’s visually pleasing. My professor once said to me that “food is the grand connector of all things” and it’s so true: business, nutrition, life, family! It’s at the center and core of so much of what we do. In North America, there are so many cultures and we don’t necessarily have one culture that everyone agrees on. We don’t have a social space that unites one culture with one food like you might in Europe. I think Vancouver is such a melting pot for food and food varieties that we wanted to bring more of a connection between all the people who, at the heart of it love food and are creating businesses around it. It’s just a really easy thing to keep at the center of an event and a community. There’s a luxury in the simplicity of eating a nice meal with good people and that’s so important to us. It translated at our first event, too: it wasn’t pretentious, it wasn’t exclusive, it was first come first serve. It was ‘bring your mom’. It transcended every generation and every culture and wasn’t exclusive. I just said so many things there but people always ask ‘what’s the demographic of your event”. I say ‘well obviously most of the people who look at our site are women aged 20-40 but the dinners don’t reflect that. That demographic is so influential in their family that maybe they’re the ones purchasing the tickets but their husbands are coming and their parents are coming’. It literally ranges from 19 year olds to 80 year olds at our dinners. Of course sometimes we have bloggers and influencers at the table but for the most part, they buy their own ticket.
Tell me more about your role in the Vancouver community of entrepreneurs and creators.
Vancouver is in a really interesting crux I think. There are so many people chasing their passions and doing exactly what they want to do. There’s no gender inequality in that scene. In fact, I feel like there are more women around me creating businesses, not to say the guys aren’t! Vancouver has a platform that is so open minded and understanding and accepting for new growth in business. In the last ten years, it’s just exploded. I love meeting people and connecting people, suggesting, and promoting other people. Where I see myself fitting in is as a connector and a promoter without trying to be and without getting paid for it. I’m always at events and now that I’m a photographer full time, I’m shooting a lot of those events. I’m always out and about, I’m always meeting new people and I thrive off of that. For me, I’m so intertwined in it that I don’t step back to evaluate this creative scene. It’s really buzzing, it’s really exciting, and there are so many new people paving the way and being counter culture and not getting a specific professional job. They’re doing their own thing and I know it’s a little bit like Portland in that sense. Portland has a great space for artists and people to curate things and Vancouver is modeling that. Where I’m really intrigued is projects like what you’re doing and where we want to take Farmacie - actually making that curation stick. We don’t want to see people come and start businesses and then fizzle out. Our bottom line with why we work with so many creatives in our dinners is to leverage our brand to promote what they’re doing. With Woodlot, for example: Sonia donated candles to our third dinner and placed like 500 orders after that just from people that she met at the event. It’s amazing to see how things grow in that way. Vancouver is really big hotspot for new companies and innovation.
I love that term connector. It’s relevant and it’s so necessary. I’ve noticed that so many organic that take place between founders and I think that’s where the key to success lies for sure. Do you have any daily rituals that you try to stick to amongst all of this craziness?
Because every day is so different for me I’ve actually lost a lot of ritual, which is good because it helps my business expand and go with the flow of other people’s schedules but I’m at a point now where I’m reintroducing things and my simple routine right now is wake up and do a bit of yoga in bed, have a still moment, get on my phone (which is like my coffee!). I’ll see that one pressing email which is a jolt for sure, but I’ll try to have a bit of quiet time before I get into that. I always have a morning coffee and make a superfood smoothie. Then I sit down and get to work - I’ll put on some good music or a show in the background, even though I don’t watch it. I don’t know why but it helps me stay focused! That’s my at-home routine. I wish I was doing more exercising in the morning and meditation but I’m kind of like an eeyore in the morning. If I meditated I would probably just fall back asleep! I don’t know how some people are energized by it. I used to do 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon, it was transcendental meditation but it was just kind of a lot...so then I just did nothing. I need to start working it back in. That would be my utopian morning: stillness, meditation, and a little bit of exercise as well.
Pretty much the rest of the day I’m just working on going to shoots and meetings. There’s no consistency in my days, it’s really up in the air. I try, if I can, to keep myself at home until noon. I like to have time to settle into my inbox and start off the day without scrambling to a shoot first thing. I’m definitely a night owl so when it comes to work, I tend to take a break around this time, 3pm or 4pm, to exercise or do my shopping. Then I come back to my work later on in the evening when my boyfriend is home. He’s a graphic designer too so we’re kind of doing similar work which is fun. I also try to see at least one person a day. I wish I could say I ran 10k every morning, but wishful thinking!
"I'm so against boring"
Who inspires you?
Good question! I would say I’m inspired by a lot of people. I’m inspired by people who are not living the status quo. I was a good student and I got really good grades but I never didn’t question my teachers and ever since I was young I would say “There’s a way more efficient way of doing that”. Trying to get some permits from the city the other day, it reminded me how many hoops you have to jump through just to throw a community event. I really am inspired by counter culture. Not like hipster counter culture but entrepreneurs who are truly innovating and saying “we don’t want to do it this way, we want to create something new and different and make people’s lives easier without trying to change the law’. Because changing the law takes ten years. I think what I realized when I was at university was that if I was going to stick on an academic path and work with the UN, things were going to be moving at a snail’s pace and I like to move fast. I get bored really fast so I need to be around people who are constantly creating. They don’t even have to be creative, just some sort of innovation that gets away from the mundane. I’m so against boring but I know that people really like boring and they like comfort and expectations to be the way that they want. I work best under pressure and I’m actually right now very inspired by structured people and people who are organized and prepared because I don’t do that. I deal with things as they come.
What is your mantra?
I have a lot of them! I have a few really nice tattoos that are all mini-mantras. So the first one I got was in Thailand and I was reading a book that meant a lot to me at the time called The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. There’s a moment in that book where he talks about kaizen, which is a term in business that means ‘to not settle and never ending improvement’, it’s Japanese. That’s one of my tattoos: constant and never-ending improvement. I have another tattoo that’s from an ancient Chinese text that means ‘finding heaven on earth’. That, to me, means not waiting for heaven in some far away place but just finding that space of heaven here. And I have another one which means ‘we’re all one, we’re all connected’. I’m a little bit spiritual and my tattoos reflect that but I also have mantras for every negative thought I have. I try to turn anything negative into a positive mantra. I’ve created habits that are more positive than thinking a negative thought. If I have thoughts about money or I think I’m going broke I say “money comes easily and naturally to me”. I don’t let myself get inundated by the fear or the worry, I instead implement a mantra about abundance. I use different words for different situations. Humans are so repetitive in their negativity, apparently we say 80% of the things we said yesterday today and a lot of them are negative. Now, if I’m ever thinking badly about someone or judging them, I train my brain to go straight to the matra instead. It’s taken me a few months to do it but now I’m here and I love it.