Creating more capacity for local food

During the next several months, stories highlighting the significant economic impacts, innovative projects, and leadership of Greenbelt Fund grantees will be appearing in some of the province’s most read agriculture publications, including The Grower, Ontario Farmer, Better Farming, and Country Guide East. We’ll be celebrating the success stories by publishing them here as well.

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Paul Sawtell (back) and Grace Mandarano (front) unloading a refrigerator truck filled with local produce.

As 100km Foods grows, so does the food being purchased from Ontario farms

In 2008, 100km Foods was established to fill a basic need: farmers wanted access to city markets and chefs wanted food directly from Ontario and Greenbelt farms. Neither had the capability to do the driving in between.

Now, 100km Foods is one of the the leading small distribution companies dealing exclusively with local products. It operates 12-months-a-year providing timely deliveries and supplying restaurants and large hotels across southern Ontario. This enterprise helps farmers to supply the increasing demand for local food in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and beyond.

With a desire for change, Grace Mandarano and Paul Sawtell left their jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Through the launch of 100km Foods, Sawtell and Mandarano are championing the connection between where food comes from and how it is grown to create a strong, viable and fair local food economy that benefits consumers and farmers.

"I would never call eating local a trend," says Mandarano. "It’s common sense. We hold power in knowing where our food comes from."

The key to accessing local markets
100km Foods began delivering to restaurants in the GTA, exclusively in the downtown core. In 2013, the Greenbelt Fund invested with the goal of linking 100km Foods to a larger geographical area and more sources of local products.

"Our work is all about making sure Ontario and Greenbelt farmers and processors can access new and different markets," says Kathy Macpherson, Vice President of the Greenbelt Fund.

As part of 100km Foods’ new infrastructure, they were able put four new refrigerator trucks on the road.

"When we put a new truck on the road, we’re often collecting food that wasn’t previously being sold off of farms," says Mandarano. "Since the project began, we’ve doubled our capacity and increased the capacity on a number of different farms."

According to Mandarano, 100km Foods has grown 20 to 40 per cent year over year.

"The Greenbelt Fund has been instrumental in funding projects that are aimed at building infrastructure to bring in local food," says Mandarano.

Farmer recruitment
Over the course of the project, 100km Foods has gained more than 66 new customers and brought more than 26 new Ontario and Greenbelt producers on board.

"We never used to be able to pick up from Grey County, but now we have a dedicated truck to do a farm route through that area and we’ve been able to access more than 20 farmers along the way."

With more than 40 per cent of the Greenbelt’s nearly two million acres of protected land being productive farmland, the Greenbelt is a catalyst for strengthening the viability of farming–giving farmers the certainty to invest in their operations for the long-term.

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A true partnership 
"Our farmers set their own prices," explains Mandarano. "When we first started researching local food in Ontario we quickly realized that there were farmers in our own backyard who weren’t being paid fair wages for the hard work that they do."

100km Foods has created a dedicated channel for farmers to access the market, not only in Toronto but across southern Ontario. Many restaurants can access local food that is grown in their region, but lack connections in other areas.

"The Greenbelt Fund is an organization that is dedicated to increasing the sale of local food and boosting economic growth in the province’s rural communities," explains Mandarano. "The infrastructure they’ve funded has been the key. They’re funding action."