It’s time to move fast and make things
As the reality of our pandemic predicament settles in, I’m calling on my fellow entrepreneurs and innovators to get creative.
The local food system that supports small farms has been stuck in a rigidity trap, where all of our habits and ways of operating have become inflexible and even bureaucratic. Take for instance a farmers market, which requires an extraordinary amount of effort to coordinate and then 20-50 farmers and producers to serve as food producers, distributers & cashiers. And all that effort is then dependent on the weather and the schedules of the community members. Yet we’ve accepted this as normal and built elaborate bureaucracies around them. If I had to design the most inefficient way to get food to people, I bet it would look a lot like a farmers market. Though to be fair, if I had to design the best way to get people connected around local food, it would also look a lot like a farmers market.
So, while you can’t replace the camaraderie and conversations of a market, there has to be another way for small farms to sell their food and for people to enjoy that food. At least there has to be another way if we want to see the number of small farms increase and we want more people to enjoy this food because at the end of the day, small farms will survive and thrive if they can feed more people. These thoughts aren’t new, and I’m not the only one to have had them, but the power of the rigidity trap is that even if you’re aware of it…you can’t escape it. Until now.
It’s in my blood to plan for the worst and hope for the best. And so, I have spent the last week imagining a year without farmers markets and no restaurants. It’s kept me up. It’s brought me to tears more than once. And it’s inspired me.
As the Powers That Be think about supports for small farms and businesses, I am shouting into the internet ether that NOW is the time to put money into the hands of entrepreneurs so that they can test and build 50+ ways of getting food from small farms to households. Please, don’t put all the money into a single program designed by committee.
Imagine if some of it went to expanding REKO, a Scandinavian model that was brought to Cobourg, Ontario last year by a local farmer. Or supporting Enright Cattle Co. and Wheelbarrow Farms as they expand their box programs to include other farmer’s products.
I’m proud to say that out of my modest operation, I managed zero-contact home delivery to homes across Toronto’s west-end by creating the Virtual Farmers Market, where farmers and producers can list their food so that it can be purchased for home delivery. We're hoping it can address the limitation of a traditional market and still capture the magic. To expand it requires infrastructure (cold & dry storage, delivery vehicles, and technology to manage orders & deliveries) and staff.
What if it could be expanded to make use of the restaurant space sitting empty and their staff who are at home?
What if there were a dozen other ideas that addressed the reality that we have restaurants sitting empty, a massive amount of people in need of work and a lot of food that needs to find bellies. There are creative solutions just waiting to be developed that will address these three things AND flatten the curve.
NOW is the time to move fast make things.
Who’s with me?