“It was a trip that changed the course of her life.”

By James Rose
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chelsea and Vincent Girimonte yearned for an adventure abroad with their son Eliot before his enrolment in kindergarten. Where they would go, however, was constrained by a set of criteria of their own design. Their destination had to be relatively close to their family in Northern California. There also needs to be a reasonable cost of living, low population density, and English as the first spoken language.

Hometown: Born San Diego, California, raised
Portland, Maine
Age: 32
Occupation: Coordinator, Columbia Valley Food and Farm
Hobbies: Being outside, gardening, cooking, family time
Columbia Valley Arrival: August 2021

Among countries, they quickly decided on Canada. As to where in vast, immense Canada, they started with cities. Off the bat, their criteria eliminated Vancouver (too expensive), Toronto (too big), and Montréal (too French). So, they researched Calgary and discovered Alberta’s largest city happens to be less than an hour’s drive to the Rocky Mountains.

Calgary, it was decided, and without knowing much else about the city, became their pre-pandemic adventure destination.

The young Girimonte family was moving from Winters, California, pop. 7,000 – a short drive from Sacramento. Before Winters, they lived in Portland, Oregon. In Portland, Chelsea Rosenthal met and eventually married Vincent while completing her master’s in sustainability from Portland State University. Before Portland, Chelsea lived in Portland, Maine. That’s where she grew up after moving there as a young child from San Diego.

After high school, she majored in English literature, minored in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine. Midway through her undergraduate studies, she took a gap year and went on exchange to Europe with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) – a worldwide movement to link visitors with organic farmers, promote cultural and educational exchanges, and build a global community conscious of sustainable farming.

It was an experience that changed the course of Chelsea’s life.

“Farming wasn’t a passion of mine before I went on the trip,” Girimonte said. “To me, it was more an opportunity to travel abroad.” WWOOF changed that. As a WWOOFer, Chelsea was tasked with working on family-run farms in the rural European countryside.

She lived in France for three months and Italy for another three months. She visited Switzerland, Spain, Ireland. “I fell in love with working outside,” she said. “It was also the first time for me eating real food. The first carrot I had from the ground, I finally understood what a carrot is supposed to taste like!” Chelsea fell in love with the practice of small-scale farming.

In Portland, Oregon, Chelsea pursued initial stabs at a career in small-scale farming. For a school district in the greater Portland area, she ran a one-acre community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farm. “Which led to an opportunity leasing five acres with hogs, broilers, laying hens.” She helped organize a subscription share for thirty families. She sold eggs to an upscale market specializing in gourmet groceries and organic produce.

And through her master’s, she studied it all with academic rigour. “In grad school, I wrote a comprehensive exam on training first generation farmers in Oregon,” she said. “And during that time, I worked field crew on some larger diversified veggie and animal farms.”

In Calgary, Vincent enrolled in an MBA program. Chelsea worked as the learning program coordinator for Eco-Canada – a non-profit online resource for environmental jobs, certification and training. Chelsea, Vincent, and Eliot were six months into their Canadian adventure before the pandemic hit. Before borders closed. Here the young Girimonte family was in Canada without the ability to travel home – a key reason for why they moved north in the first place!

They began exploring outside of Calgary. To the mountains of course, and as a result, a tour through the Kootenays, the Columbia Valley. “We were stunned at how much wildlife we saw in such a condensed period of time,” she said referring to their first visit into Radium. A grizzly bear, mountain goats, bighorn sheep.

Inspired, Chelsea started looking for a job in the Kootenays. Vincent by now was working a remote job giving him location independence. Into her Google search bar Chelsea used “food and farm jobs” as keywords… There! In a town called Invermere, a job opening for Columbia Valley Food and Farm (CVFF). CVFF, a volunteer organization founded in 2018, was looking to hire its first employee with funding from the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC).

She applied.
She was invited to interview.

Alison Bell and Pete Bourke, the directors of CVFF and CVCC respectively, invited her out for a visit. Throughout that visit, Bell and Bourke described the quality of life in the Columbia Valley and how much they enjoyed living here. “It was infectious,” Girimonte said. Not long was it before Chelsea was offered the job. She accepted.

As CVFF’s first ever paid employee, her responsibilities include carrying out various project initiatives, conducting communications and outreach, food ambassadorship, and connecting producers with consumers.

“For example, there’s a new food truck coming to town, and I’m going to be meeting with them in coming weeks. They’re interested in procuring local foods for their menu and I’ll be their connection to work with local farmers.”

Chelsea, Vincent, and Eliot: Welcome to the valley!