Farm to Plate Marketplace – Rethinking Our Food Systems

Written by Christina Papadatos-Dupont (Farm-to-Plate Marketing Manager)

In Canada, $8.11 billion worth of food is wasted every year at the distribution and retail stages of our food supply chain (source: The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report). This does not include unavoidable, byproduct waste (such as animal bones); this speaks strictly of avoidable wasted food.

When apples are bruised in transit to a retail site causing consumers not to purchase them, not only has this source of nourishment been spoiled, but all the energy gone into producing and transporting that food is lost too. Buying directly from farmers using a simple inventory management platform like Farm-to-Plate Marketplace reduces this preventable waste to zero. 

Farm-to-Plate Marketplace was created to address these inefficiencies and inequalities in urban food systems. Our goal is to connect small-scale food producers with urban consumers to make fresh, locally-grown food available to everyone. 

This initiative is the brainchild of Anthony Csikos, who in 2019 decided to attend  SPEC’s Food Team meeting to learn more about their work and share his passion and ideas for his pilot project. He received a lot of input, resources and support from Community members from the team  including sourcing  volunteers. Many had relationships with the farming community and Little Mountain Neighbourhood House (LMNH). 

The work of Farm-to-Plate Marketplace is built on the following four pillars: Transparency, Traceability, Accessibility and Independence. 

Transparency – By facilitating a direct relationship between consumers and food producers, true food transparency is achieved. No need to guess what is in the food you are eating or how it was grown. 

Traceability – We operate as an open system, meaning there are no barriers to information sharing. We explain what we use our budget for, so you can understand exactly where your money goes: 100% to food producers. Ongoing open dialogue between communities, food producers, and food distributors on how to best serve each other is encouraged. 

Accessibility – The right to food is a fundamental human right. In order to achieve accessibility, food must be:

  • Available: meaning sufficient food is on the market to address its needs;
  • Physically and economically accessible: vulnerable populations (the elderly, physically disabled, children) have access, and food is affordable (does not compromise other basic needs such as education, medical care, or housing)
  • Adequate: accessibility to food that meets dietary needs, is safe for consumption, and is culturally acceptable.

(source: The Right to Food in Canada)

Independence – We provide the network for food producers and communities, but ultimately each distribution location is able to run independently to suit their needs. Running out of community houses or through a cluster of neighbours banding together, Farm-to-Plate Marketplace cuts out the “middleman” typically involved in buying food today.

Our long term vision is to end food insecurity in Canada. 

In the winter of 2021 a Farm-to-Plate Marketplace participant Yee Chan brought forward a grant proposal from the Government of Canada: Canada Healthy Communities Initiative. 

SPEC assisted with applying for this grant that would help develop and grow the Farm-to-Plate Marketplace Project at LMNH and beyond.  We  successfully received $43,000 in funding which helped us hire staff for the following positions to better support our work: a Marketplace Coordinator and a Marketing Manager 

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is the inability to access an adequate quality diet or sufficient quantity of food in a socially acceptable way. Not only does this affect those living under the poverty line, but 60% of those who are food insecure in Canada rely on wages and salaries as their main source of income. In 2017-2018, 1 in 8 Canadian households were food insecure, amounting to 4.4 million people (source: Household Food Insecurity in Canada – PROOF What is food insecurity?). 

Farm-to-Plate Marketplace uses a pay-what-you-can model to make high quality, locally-grown food more accessible. At checkout, shoppers can pay the full price, add a donation, or use a subsidy. This gives the same dignified shopping experience to all users. 

We seek the support of small scale farmers. They can either sell their produce to consumers through retail channels or directly through farmers’ markets. The retail option is profit-draining for farmers, and is best suited for large industrial farms rather than small-scale ones. Alternatively, farmers’ markets might not be the most  viable solution for a farmer to spend 8 hours of their work week selling food, in addition to travel costs, and they are not even guaranteed to make worthwhile sales. 

Our program is designed to provide local small-scale farms with an unobstructed and efficient link to consumers. Using a virtual marketplace, individuals browse farm inventories and place orders weekly by an outlined cutoff date. Individual orders are compiled into a single communal order sent to local farms. Farmers have already specified minimum order quantities to make transportation of produce worthwhile, allowing them to simply drop off the weekly order at one of our distribution locations. 

How do we rethink our Food Systems – Imperfectly!

Buying directly from food producers requires us to rethink how we shop for food. Grocery stores today have the convenience of being a “one stop shop” for busy lifestyles and shopping for fresh, local foods requires more forethought and can feel logistically straining at times. Farm-to-Plate Marketplace is not a perfect solution for the plethora of concerns with food systems today. However, it is one socially responsible step in the right direction. Picking up fresh greens, seasonal berries, and organic bread from your neighbourhood distribution location once a week not only provides your household with superior quality and nutritious food at fair prices, but it helps to dismantle environmental, economic, and social problems associated with food systems today. For inquiries about making a donation or volunteering, please Contact us by phone (778) 896-6754 or email anthony@farmtoplatemarketplace.com