Karen Anderson grew up appreciating great food. Not fancy, over the top, stuffy food, but good, satisfying food.
“I grew up in a tiny town in the Maritimes in a very food-centric family. It wasn’t an obsession or trendy like it is for a lot of people now. I grew up with three generations of great cooks,” she says.
A background in healthcare
Though Anderson grew up with food as an important part of her life, she didn’t always envision her career in the food industry. A 21-year career as a nurse separated Anderson’s upbringing and her venture into food tourism.
Rather than being a deviation, however, her work as a nurse naturally funneled her curiosity back into food. Anderson started as a nurse, then became a nurse practitioner before coming back to Alberta to set up one of the first nurse practitioner programs at Athabasca University.
Noticing a need for knowledge
While teaching the nurse practitioner program, Anderson had the opportunity to speak to students in remote locations like Newfoundland and Fort St. John, B.C.
“I couldn’t help but notice that most people were presenting with diseases caused by lack of proper food skills. It’s more than nutrition,” she says.
“I think that underlying the lack of nutrition was the lack of the life skill of cooking and knowing anything about where good food comes from or how to grow it.”
Becoming part of the solution
Frustrated by only dealing with the end case of such misinformation about food, Anderson decided to become part of the proactive solution by engaging with Slow Food International, an organization that promotes local food and traditional cooking. She spent six years on the board running roughly 10 events a year.
“In 2006, I started these food tours to connect people with food. I started writing for CBC Radio. Once a month, I’d have a column, Then I started writing for City Palate Magazine, Avenue Magazine, and the Calgary Herald. I would just write about food issues and hoped to educate people,” Anderson says.
“I also used to do farm tours, taking city folk to farms, and they were transformational. People would have breakdowns and breakthroughs. Storytelling became so powerful for me and I wanted to do more of it.”
Starting with Calgary Food Tours in 2006 Anderson gradually grew her company and in 2016 expanded to Edmonton and Canmore and to Banff in 2018.
Learning on the job
Now Alberta Food Tours, Anderson grew her business into a fun and educational experience that brings people closer to food production in Alberta, with the aim of supporting restaurateurs and farmers and in turn promoting healthy soil, food, and people. Anderson acknowledges that she had some gaps when it came to starting and running a business.
“The biggest obstacle for me was my lack of knowledge of business operations,” she says.
Nevertheless, by hiring talented and trustworthy people, Anderson has created the foundation necessary to help her endeavor thrive.
“I learned that my accountant is also really good at HR and I've found a fabulous bookkeeper finally. And when I needed it, I hired somebody as a sales consultant for a little bit. So I'm learning, I don't need to know it all. I'm doing my MBA on the street.”
Pivoting through a pandemic
Despite her self-proclaimed lack of business operations knowledge, Anderson and Alberta Food Tours have adapted to the challenges that theCOVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the food and restaurant industry by branching out into developing an app for self-guided food tours.
“It’s called the Alberta Food Finder and we launched it in the Kensington neighborhood of Calgary,” she says.
Hoping to expand to the rest of Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, and Canmore, Anderson is determined to keep her mission of food education alive. So, when tougher health regulations restricted even self-guided tours, Anderson innovated yet again and now has a thriving gift line of business called Alberta Cares Packages. "When you keep your 'why' in mind, you can always come up with new ways to achieve your mission!"