The co-owner of a Darlington organic farm that manufacturers kombucha is breathing a sigh of relief.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotion this weekend,’’ Amy Smith told The Guardian Monday after Finance Minister Heath MacDonald lifted a liquor inspector’s warning slapped against Charlottetown restaurant My Plum, My Duck because the establishment was selling kombucha, a fermented tea, that contains a minimal amount of alcohol.
It all means kombucha can start flowing out of the taps again, immediately, at My Plum, My Duck.
“We’re really thrilled that the minister of finance recognizes that it’s a healthy product, that it’s a good product and that he wants to help our business continue to grow, which is the direction that we were moving in,’’ Smith added.
MacDonald told The Guardian that kombucha is in a “grey area’’ in the P.E.I. Liquor Control Act and that government is working on overhauling what he calls outdated rules.
“We’ll work closely with her on labelling, on trying to ensure that (Smith) maintains that level of alcohol and keep it as low as possible,’’ MacDonald said. “We’re doing everything possible just to mitigate any issues that they may have; reduce some red tape for them, hopefully, allow them to move forward and then we’ll make changes to the regulations.’’
Smith and Verena Vargo own and operate Heart Beet Organics in Darlington. Last week, they won the Gilbert R. Clements Award from the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture for excellence in environmental farm planning.
Heart Beet Organics kombucha contains 0.5 per cent alcohol content and was, initially, treated the same way as vodka by P.E.I.’s liquor laws.
While changes to the regulations will be ongoing, the legislature has to sit in order to make changes to the act itself.
While MacDonald said the liquor inspector was doing his or her job properly, the lines of communication could have been better.
“I think communication was the key. Was the inspector doing his or her job? Yes, but I still think there could have been more leverage there to open up a discussion.’’
Smith said they went from the high on Thursday of finding out about the Clements award to a low shortly after. In fact, after accepting their award they drove a few blocks over to the restaurant and removed the kombucha dispenser
“Literally two hours later the liquor inspector showed up at our house,’’ Smith said. “We didn’t have a lot of time to ride that high of getting the award for farming.’’
Smith said they were overwhelmed with the outpouring of support they received Saturday at the Charlottetown Farmers Market where they sell products.
“People who had not thought of kombucha before just came by to say ‘this is really ridiculous’ and ‘I’m sorry that you’re being negatively impacted in this way’. I was exhausted but (Verena and I) were riding that high of at least having our customers behind us.’’