Ottawa-based grocery store chain Farm Boy is big on buying local.

So much so that it held a one-day food fair at its Ottawa Train Yards store to find and promote unique new products from local suppliers.

Customers could sample the wares of over 20 local entrepreneurs who sell their niche products to Farm Boy’s 15 stores.  Samples on offer ranged from blackstrap molasses nutrition bars to quinoa crackers.

At the same time, new local suppliers were invited to pitch their products.

Linda Turner of Alexandria’s Zengarry Vegetarian Cuisine brought her line of nut-based vegetarian cheeses for Farm Boy buyers to sample. She’s hoping to turn her cottage industry into a career. “I would like to be able to do this full-time,” says Turner. “I can express myself with my product.”

Lori Limarilli did just that after deciding to leave an office job she held for over 20 years. An avid baker, she decided to make macarons – a delicate French cookie. She pitched her product to Farm Boy last year and now stocks them in 7 stores. “It’s so different from the life that I had before,” she says.

It’s a daunting task to take a kitchen hobby or cottage industry and ramp it up into a career. Concerns range from production to packaging to health and safety standards. If a local producer’s pitch is successful, Farm Boy will offer guidance. “We’ll work with small local producers and help them understand what’s required of them to be able to scale their business so that we can carry their products in all 15 of our stores,” says Farm Boy spokesperson, Carolyn Trudel.

And that could just the be the beginning for a budding local supplier. Trudel says Farm Boy has plans to double its business in the next five years.

That’s a lot of vegetarian cheese.