Just a few years ago, the idea of a non-profit organization, not a business, becoming one of Toronto's most important local food distribution hubs was bizarre. Enter Zahra Parvinian, the Director of Social Enterprise with FoodShare.
FoodShare’s Good Food Box Program is designed to provide access to good healthy food to city dwellers, particularly to school children. Prior to 2008, they purchased just $681 worth of local food. In 2009, that number increased significantly to almost $50,000. In 2010, it was $100,000 worth of fresh Ontario food.
These numbers are astounding. What is Zahra’s secret? Lots of hard work, of course! She started out, not by looking at suppliers (farmers) and clients (schools) separately, but by looking for commonalities. This was achieved by visiting hundreds of farms in Ontario, learning how farmers do business and listening to perceived issues of dealing directly with FoodShare as opposed to going through the Ontario Food Terminal. She looked for mutual opportunities between client and supplier, coming up with some pretty unique solutions.
For example, the Norfolk Fruit Growers’ Association, a century-old farmers’ cooperative comprised of eight to ten fruit orchards, was having trouble selling their undersized apples. With her approach of commonality, FoodShare quickly recognized that these smaller apples would be perfect for school-aged children. The benefit for the client is a less expensive, fresh and healthy product, with less waste.
Zahra has also been prioritizing local food through various promotional campaigns. These include creating a recipe book highlighting local produce and their producers, which were distributed to all of their customers. The “Harvest of the Week” promotion combines education and incentive. Every week, a new fruit or vegetable is offered at a discount. Materials about the featured item are included with every order, as is a sample pack of the produce.
Zahra and FoodShare anticipate selling even more Ontario-fresh food in the future, as local agriculture continues to boom (especially with the Ontario Government’s new School and Beverage Policy which means schools have to serve less processed, and more healthier, fresher food.) With Zahra’s unique and effective approach to supporting supplier (farmers seeking markets) and client (schools seeking inexpensive, healthy food for students), there’s no where to go but up.
Photos courtesy of GreenFuse Photos
- Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation