Entrepreneurs, food innovators and local food actionists are invited to Food Forward's new food action centre on Carlton St for a number of upcoming events with our Jobstarter program this December, to grow your capacity to do good food work. Space for each is limited so register today!
See below to learn more and register for:
- Workshop: Learn to fundraise, Dec 10
- Workshop: Marketing your food business, Dec 12
- Food Biz Meetup - Holiday Edition! Dec 16
each starts at 7pm, few blocks from College Station
Learn to Fundraise
Fundraising is a skill that most people need, but aren't the most comfortable at building. Successful fundraisers will share their experienceat this workshop, with lessons from fundraiser and non-profit leader Sabrina Bowman, and crowdfunding advice from Ayah Norris of Indiegogo.
See Facebook for information and registration.
Marketing your food business
What is your brand? What makes it different? How do you engage with your community? What is your target market?
Learn some of the essentials of small business marketing at this workshop with Mitchell Stern, who's helped large and small companies (Toronto Underground Market, Hot Bunzz) figure out these questions and grow their reach. A great opportunity to engage with like-minded food entrepreneurs.
See Facebook for information and registration.
Food Biz Meetup
Join us at the launch event of Food Forward's Toronto Food Biz Meetups.. meet new and old food entrepreneurs and innovator friends... learn about some of the City's best new ventures, and sample or buy some great foods.
Try beer from Black Oak brewery and coffee from KLINK.
Doubling as Food Forward's holiday mixer.. tickets and more info on Uniiverse. We look forward to seeing you!
- Vivian Ngai
The importance of buying local food and the demand for it is growing, yet how financially sustainable is the sector for those who are working so hard to push it forward?
Earlier this summer, Food Forward hosted a Town Hall Local Food Challenge to open the dialogue with a panel of speakers who shared their experiences with running small to medium local food enterprises. Moderated by Vanessa Ling Yu, Founder of FoodSpokes, the panel explored the challenges and barriers that the local food sector faces as well as possible solutions that can help foster growth and financial viability. The panel included: Lesia Kohut, Eco-Pastry Chef/Social Entrepreneur of LPK's Culinary Groove; Don Mills, Family farmer/President of Local Food Plus; Ann Barnes, Co-Founder of Mum’s Original Superfoods; Len Senater, Owner of The Depanneur; and Amy Cheng, Farmer/Owner of Red Pocket Farms.
It didn’t take long into the introductions to see
the panelists’ unwavering dedication of extending their personal values, integrity and principles into their businesses despite the numerous hurdles and challenges that existed. Lesia recounted her experience of the starting, building and the eventual heart-breaking decision to close her storefront just a few months ago.
But was it inevitable? The panelists all spoke of how existing policies have presented challenges in one way or another for them.
Barriers and challenges
Systemic barriers arise from regulations and legislation that are heavily influenced by or designed for large-scale businesses. It gives them an advantage over smaller operations. While Len’s mission is to innovate and re-define the food connection model, he has found that The Depannear is constantly struggling to exist as more of his time is spent dealing with regulatory challenges than being able to work on and grow his business. His goal was to create a space to bring grassroots projects out from under the radar, but the irony is that various licensing regulations are punishing his efforts to “legitimize” these projects in a commercial kitchen space.
Ann commented that the system pushes against those who do good food work down because it is financially prohibitive. Up-front costs are a big challenge on small budgets, making it difficult to attract farmers and suppliers to enter and stay in the good food sector. From the city, Amy mentioned that the regulations surrounding urban agriculture are often hard to navigate.
Alternatively, Don spoke about commodity agricultural policies where the government subsidizes specific crops. Because this is where the money is, the majority of farmers are here, too. This results in a perpetuation of an over-abundance of cheap monocrop grains and a lack of healthy produce. Price largely determines being able to make good food happen, but in competition with large businesses, it is hard to compete. It is also hard to compete with the “big guys” because of a broader lack of information amongst consumers in the mainstream caused by barriers in education and information.
Ann spoke about the frustrations with the inevitable comparisons made by consumers of competitors that may take advantage of the lack of cohesion/regulation in relation to health and environmental labels and claims. Even the term “local food” has no hard, universally-accepted definition. It varies according to who you ask. This broad misinformation stems from corporate advertising; food literacy left out of school curriculums; small businesses not having the financial resources to put our strong media and advertising campaigns; and a lack of media and information materials aimed towards other cultures or language groups.
Existing policies seem to present numerous barriers for financially sustainable small food enterprises, but the panel also discussed possible solutions to this. Collaboration at all levels and groups of stakeholders, as well as building wider consumer awareness was the theme. Len felt there needs to be an alternative to the current top-down model. Smaller businesses/enterprises should have less regulation, while bigger ones should have more. He felt that if the government eased up on regulations and allowed grassroots organizations to grow, good food would thrive. For example, making it easier to navigate urban agriculture regulations, or creating incentives to do local food. He believes large and small enterprises should not be treated the same with regulations, because they are not, with different scales facing different issues and consequences with different resources. We need a level playing field. In order to make these changes, it would be imperative for more conversation to happen between policymakers and good food producers.
Touch points need to be created to foster communication and understanding. Ann comments that in North America, we’re comfortable with the government taking the reins setting regulatory parameters, but that there is a need to move much of the power away from the government and back into the hands of the community. This is a call to create more organizations that can help foster this initiative (like Sustain Ontario or Local Food Plus). There is also a need for collaboration at the community and individual levels.
A scale-up model would create opportunities to pool resources and knowledge together. Creating a strong network amongst local good food enterprises allow for sharing or dialogue of, for example, better small business management strategies specific to this sector. Pooled resources can also help to build education and awareness with customers more widely on issues relating to the importance of local and sustainable foods. The hope is that this will help alleviate some of the barriers that the panelists experience by creating more demand for good food.
The next steps lie at the top and at the bottom – food policies and regulations that put small food businesses at a disadvantage with large businesses need to be changed, and existing small enterprises and organizations need to start working together to support and build up awareness and education around the good food movement that is easy for consumers to understand.
It’s a shame to see stores like LPK and many others, closing whose final downfall was perhaps the very thing that kept Lesia going – a very strong commitment to doing right. It would be more than a shame to continue to let it happen to others by not moving forward with instigating change in the local food system, to make it a viable choice in every way for entrepreneurs and eaters.
Thank you to the Metcalf Foundation for their support in hosting this important dialogue, and to sponsors Local Food Plus, Sustain Ontario, and FoodSpokes.
Note: Food Forward will continue to work with our partners and member to advocate change, and is using these themes to continue our work training and bringing together entrepreneurs under Jobstarter and caterToronto (see Project tab above), in advocating for changing street food laws, and working to make the Local Food Act and other provincial regulations work for small food businesses.
A Town Hall presented by Food Forward with support from the Metcalf Foundation
The local food sector is pushing forward with increased sales, innovation, and jobs. But along the way, significant challenges face businesses that are expanding with local and sustainable food.
Food Forward is hosting an important dialogue on the barriers, challenges, and strategies for the viability of the sector and its small and medium enterprises, while we explore opportunities to learn and grow. We will hear from speakers with great experience in making good food work, and want to hear from attendees with ideas, concerns, and strategies for action.
- Lesia Kohut, Eco-Pastry Chef & Social Entrepreneur, LPK's Culinary Groove
- Don Mills, Family farmer and President of Local Food Plus
- Ann Barnes, Co-Founder of Mum’s Original Superfoods
- Len Senater, Owner of The Depanneur
- Amy Cheng, Farmer and Owner of Red Pocket Farms
Moderated by Vanessa Ling Yu, Founder of FoodSpokes
You’ll enjoy this panel if you’re:
- A food entrepreneur or business person looking to learn + share
- Work for government, non-profit, foundation, or association interested in supporting the sector
- A member of the public or local food advocate looking to support change and take action
What: Panel discussion with time to connect
When: 7:00PM-8:30PM, Thursday, June 13
Where: Room 310, Metro Hall, 55 John Street, Toronto
Please: RSVP a quick note to firstname.lastname@example.org
Will accept a pay what you can contribution towards our Jobstarter Food Entrepreneur Training Program
Refreshments provided. Wheelchair accessible. Please contact Food Forward regarding other accommodations. Door prize from Bumpercrop!
Let folks know you're coming: Facebook event + Tweet with #foodTO
Thank you to our sponsors:
This year, Food Forward is expanding our Food Entrepreneur Training Program to offer a series of workshops to provide budding entrepreneurs with practical training, lessons, and education in different aspects of starting and running a good food business. Future workshops will focus on different aspects of planning, including financing, marketing, product development, and regulations.
Our first workshop of the year in partnership with the Sustainability Network and sponsored by The Big Carrot, will offer an introduction to developing a business plan by David Alexander from the Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre who facilitates award-winning business training. This will be followed by facilitated discussions and problem solving with other start-up food businesses, with time for meeting and connecting.
If you're thinking of starting a small business, or you're off the ground running and want to do some planning & get some ideas, this workshop is for you. It's especially suitable for food business ideas that focus on healthy, culturally diverse, local sustainable food, or social development.
You will leave with:
- an understanding of the aspects needed to develop a business plan
- resources and readings on starting your business
- connections to opportuntities for business planning, and food business experience of several kinds
- networking opportunities to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and foster potential business relationships
- Food Forward membership for information on future events, promotion and collaboration opportunities
Time: 6:30-9:00PM, Monday, March 4
Location: Whole Connector Room (first floor), CSI Spadina, 215 Spadina Avenue
Registration: Cost is $25.
$5 for Supporting Members/monthly contributors
Snack to be provided.