Ontario has long been known for its strong farming community and world-renowned restaurants and businesses, but marrying the two communities together has been a struggle. That’s where 100km Foods Inc. owners Paul Sawtell and Grace Mandarano come in.
The couple began attending Ontario food seminars in 2008 and quickly realized there was a lack in availability of Ontario food options in public institutions. After some investigation, the couple found there was no easy way to get products from the farm to the city, prompting them to create 100km Foods.
After receiving a Greenbelt Fund grant in 2011, 100km increased their number of delivery trucks from two to four, enabling them to reach more suppliers and customers. In the fall of 2013, 100km Foods received another round of Greenbelt funding, allowing them again to double in size.
If four was good, eight was great. “This really let us bring our operation to the next level,” says Sawtell. “Being able to work with a lot more farms was paramount to bringing more produce to market.”
Increasing their fleet meant the company could now pick up and deliver products in the same day, giving customers the added benefit of serving food that had literally been picked at the farm that morning.
Sawtell agrees that making local food available to restaurants and institutions is challenging businesses to think outside the box in terms of what they can do with their menus. While hotels and restaurants have been much quicker to get on board with going local, institutions are typically slower to change. Having a local food champion on the inside is paramount to an institution successfully integrating local food items.
At Ryerson University, that person has been assistant director of Food Services and executive chef Joshna Maharaj. “She’s really taken the vision of food service on campus and flipped it out, revitalizing and revamping their whole program, their whole philosophy,” says Sawtell.
Thanks to the funding, working with an institution the size of Ryerson is now possible. “Prior to Greenbelt funding for example, physically it would have been very difficult,” says Sawtell. “But now we can go to local farms, go looking for a product and work that into our pick up route. We have a lot more flexibility because of the Greenbelt.”
The company is always on the lookout for new ways to connect farmers to institutions. A pilot project with Hawthorne Hospitality Group is helping to fulfil requests from businesses looking for primary processed vegetables, like peeled carrots and onions.
This new project gives farmers an opportunity to sell products that aren’t necessarily first grade, with Hawthorne, a restaurant and culinary training facility, taking on the leg work of peeling and cutting the produce. 100km Foods then distributes the produce to institutions who may not have much kitchen prep space. This new venture is just another way 100km Foods are supporting the Ontario farm industry. “We try to find opportunities where we can make things better,” explains Sawtell.
100km Foods believe they’re just scratching the surface in terms of bridging the gap between farmers and institutions. With the addition of 23 producers and 58 customers since increasing their fleet to eight trucks, 100km are growing quickly and smartly, ensuring new demand can be fulfilled by added farmer partnerships.
“We want to be that go-to distributor that can solve all the food problems our customers have,” says Sawtell. It’s an ambitious company mission, but in only six short years, 100km Foods have shown their up to the task.