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Celebrating Women: Entrepreneur Dyana Biagi

Building a business from the ground up is no laughing matter, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it while smiling all your way to the top. Founder and CEO of Aji Gourmet Products Dyana Biagi is one of the friendliest and most charismatic people out there, and she really defines what it means to build a business with an affirmative attitude.

Biagi sells a Colombian hot sauce commonly known as Aji and it is positively sizzling with popularity along the west coast. She began the business when her family migrated to Canada in October 1999. “I wanted to keep a little piece of Colombia. When we had our own little place, I made Aji. It is a typical condiment in all of Latin America and I thought this would be my little bit of Colombia at meals,” Biagi says. “When parent get-togethers started happening, someone said you bring the guacamole. I told them ‘I’m not Mexican, but okay!’ and I decided to put the Aji in it. The people at the party were blown away. They thought it was delicious.”

From there, Biagi began selling the product at farmer’s markets in British Columbia around the Lower Mainland and quickly noticed that Aji was a hit. Her husband joined in to help sell the product at markets, and after her son, Nicholas Gonzalez, graduated, he joined in as well. Now a family business, Aji has expanded exponentially and is in over 100 stores, including Whole Foods in B.C. and Save on Foods. The next step is to launch into the United States.

Biagi believes family is imperative to the success of her business. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my family,” she says. “Starting a business on your own is really tough. If you start a business, I think that it would have a greater chance of succeeding with family support.”

The social climate of the farmer’s markets are also like a big family, according to Biagi. Instead of the typical competitive cut-throat attitude that exists in many business markets, the grassroots approach in the farmer market community in Vancouver is very inclusive and accepting. “At the farmer’s market, we are a family. We see each other every Saturday and Sunday, and there is always a little bit of time to talk to each other,” Biagi says. “We are all there rain or shine and I’m open to helping anybody who needs. I don’t doubt in helping them find jars, labels, information, or grant money.”

Despite the obstacles of building up an organics product in a competitive market, Biagi is a mentor to other women on how to never give up on your dream. “Persistence is definitely important. You need to keep going and not give up after the first mishap,” Biagi says. “I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs, but I believe in my business. I want Aji to become a staple in North America and I believe in it.”

Aji regularly gives silent auction items to several charities, including the Parkinson Society B.C. Ronald McDonald House Spinal Cord Injury B.C. CBSA UBC Land and Food Systems Society, Crossroads Hospice Society, and JDRF Rocking for Research Gala for diabetes. Biagi and her family also foster exotic birds from a rescue called Grey Haven in the Lower Mainland area. They have had one of their Macaw parrots, Hobbes for seven years, something that reminds Biagi of being back home in Colombia.

In her spare time, Biagi loves to horseback ride and has a degree in Equine Studies. She is also an avid photographer and loves to cycle. Biagi is an example of a female entrepreneur that has embraced her culture and passions and fused them into making an amazing product that is becoming successful. She also reminds us of the power of family and persisting through obstacles with a winning smile. Aji truly is an inspiration for all product entrepreneurs working hard at farmer’s markets across Canada. Follow your dreams, you never know what can happen next.

“The day I walked out of that store with my supplies when I first decided to make Aji, I never thought I’d get to where I am, but yet here we are.”

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Cooling down this summer with homemade popsicles

A hot summer day with kids is excruciating, especially when everyone is hot and crabby. But there is a solution for moms and dads everywhere — homemade popsicles!

I ventured to the store with my daughter and grabbed a popsicle mould. We made it back home despite the intense heat wave and started making our delicious cool treat. Mix all the ingredients together with a blender by adding an avocado, a can of coconut milk, half a cup of coconut flakes, and 3-6 tbsp sugar depending on your preference for sweetness. Once the ingredients are smooth, pour them into the popsicle mould and freeze until solid. Affordable popsicle moulds can be purchased at the dollar store. These popsicles are full of fibre, protein and iron, and are delicious!

[Other options for homemade popsicles include] AWK TRANSITION. REMEMBER ARTICLES AREN’T LISTS.

If you are looking for something a little less traditional, try this gourmet twist on a strawberry popsicle by adding basil, or oranges for a citrus treat. If you are craving a pina colada on the beach, pineapple chunks blended with coconut milk and flakes makes a delicious popsicle. Most fruits and vegetables will taste delectable if blended with coconut milk and sugar once blended, though it is generally recommended to stay away from peaches because they don’t freeze well.

Acai berry coconut popsicle by Santopop. Photo provided by Nathalie Hernandez.
Acai berry coconut popsicle by Santopop. Photo provided by Nathalie Hernandez.

Nathalie Hernandez, owner of an artisan vegan ice pop company called Santopop, has a few tips. “Use fresh ingredients, the best raw materials means best pops. Also, get local fruits and respect the seasonality, it always tastes better,” Hernandez says. She also supports local farmers, and also handpick the ripest fruits, which helps you to use less sugar when blending the ingredients together.

Mango yangmei berry popsicle by Santopop. Photo provided by Nathalie Hernandez.
Mango yangmei berry popsicle by Santopop. Photo provided by Nathalie Hernandez.

I plan on making homemade popsicles weekly throughout the summer will be trying different handpicked fruits and vegetables from the farmers market. This will help my daughter get excited about picking out healthy foods, and she can help me blend all the ingredients together. By having healthy popsicles in the freezer, my daughter can avoid sugary ice pops and get a nutrition kick from a refreshing treat instead.

Give it a try and let Women’s Post know in the comments below know which fruits and vegetables are your favourite for homemade popsicles!

The best farmer’s markets in Toronto

There’s nothing like a good farmers market. The smell of fresh produce, the friendliness of all the vendors, and the general atmosphere a farmers market creates is just something that can’t be replaced by a grocery store. Farmers markets are also important in fostering a sense of community through the buying and selling of local products.

If you are looking for a market to visit in Toronto, here are our picks:

The Junction Market (2960 Dundas St. W) is a farmer’s market on the Junction Train Platform that is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday. It opens on May 28 and closes on Nov. 5. This market showcases some delicious produce, but it also has extra perks that make it worth a visit. There is a kids area at the market with ukulele lessons and face painting. There are also local musicians. The Junction Night Market is held on July 16 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with beer, wine, and cider for five dollars.

John market
Photo by Micki M.

If you want a weekday market for some fresh food after work, the John Street Market (197 John St.) is right downtown. This market is held on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 7pm, starting on June 5 and running until Oct. 30. It is located at St. George-the-Matyr Anglican Church, which is between Queen and Dundas St. close to the AGO at Grange Park. This market facilitates the delicious Big Wheel Coffee, which is yummy to sip on while shopping for local downtown products.

 

Sorauren Farmer’s Market (50 Wasbash Ave.) at the Sorauren Park Fieldhouse and is located near Roncesvalles. It is run by the West-end Food Co-op, which is a community-run grocery store in Parkdale that only sells local products and produce. I personally shop at West-end Food Co-op and am a huge fan of the farmer’s market as well. The market is run year-round and alternates products weekly on Mondays. Last week, the vendors included Earth & City, a vegan dessert company and De la Terre, which makes amazing sour dough bread.

Trinity Bellwoods becomes a happening place in the summertime with families and friends dotting the inner-city park. Trinity Bellwoods Farmer’s Market (790 Queen St. W) is a large outdoor market that is very popular with hot downtown vendors. The market runs on Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m, from May 3 to Nov. 1. The farmer’s market becomes a place for celebration with music and kids as well as delicious local food.

1280px-St_Lawrence_Market_Toronto_2010If ever there was a king of markets, St. Lawrence Market North (92 Front St. E) would have the reigning title. It opened in 1803 and is widely considered the best in the city. This market is permanent and is open every day of the week except Sunday. The best day to go is on a Saturday morning and it is open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. St. Lawrence has several artisans, great local produce, and amazing bagels (with vegan cream cheese). The North Market Redevelopment, the original location of the market, is in its second phase of construction and still has several steps until its completion. But never fear, they opened up a replacement dome to keep everyone in business.

What is your favourite farmer’s market in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below.