Two Canadian Startups Who Are Bringing Farm Fresh Produce to the Kitchen

With an increasingly health-conscious population that prefers freshly picked over mass-produced vegetables, it comes as no surprise that a couple of startups from Toronto and Montreal are taking advantage.

Earlier last week Toronto-based startup FoodStory officially launched after having been formed through a program at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ).

An online local food hub, the company works with farmer’s markets throughout Toronto to allow people to order locally grown fresh meat and produce. Users can go the site, select individual markets and learn more about each farmer or vendor including their family story and growing practices, what products they’re selling and even their recipes. Orders are delivered to users’ homes of offices with a story rather than a sticker.

“Now people in Toronto can get awesome fresh food from the farmers market even when they’re not able to go,” said CEO Damian Matheson.

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FoodStory has launched with three partnering farmer’s markets in Toronto, Leslieville farmers’ market, Regent Park farmers’ market and the farmers’ market at Sick Kids. Eventually they want to be delivering farm fresh food from every one of the 33 markets scattered throughout Toronto.

Matheson said initially it was a challenge convincing some farmers that partnering with a startup like FoodStory could be both a sustainable and financially rewarding idea. It makes sense, said the CEO, given that farmer’s markets haven’t changed in many ways over the past 100 years.

“I think some people in agriculture, and this is a stereotype, but they’re not at the forefront of technology, so a lot of them just want to look on in from the outside, see how it goes and join if it looks ok,” the University of Guelph alum told Techvibes.

Partnering with three markets upon launching certainly won’t hurt their chances. Eventually the startup is looking to target their services to restaurants as well so that chefs can consistently rely on freshly picked ingredients.

This is an issue that Montreal-based startup Provender is specifically tackling. The company acts as an online marketplace connecting chefs with sustainable farms, fisherman and foragers.

Provender was formed two years ago after three entrepreneurs came together while each was working at different food startups. Cofounders Caithrin Rintoul, Kyra Kristof and Jeff Aldrich launched the company and were eventually accepted into FounderFuel’s summer 2013 cohort.

Rintoul spoke about how the millennials are the only generation eating out three times a week, spending more money dining out than dining in. Why then, he reasoned, aren’t more restaurants providing their patrons with intrinsically valuable, fresh ingredients instead of price-driven, “anonymous” vegetables?

Specifically the startup wants to solve a few lingering issues in the farming industry while removing risk.

One of those is “pick and pray,” a risky business model according to Rintoul, where farmers pick a number of a kind of vegetable, drive to the market, hope to sell them and compost or eat whatever went unsold. With Provender, Montreal chefs can go online and pick out all the vegetables they desire.

Rintoul likens it to purchasing them right out of the field for delivery. “It’s a profoundly different way of managing inventory, managing it as living capital,” he said. “And that helps to make sure that those farmers are selling everything they put in their truck for delivery before they even cut it from their vine.”

Not only that, but Provender estimates the return of 65 percent of the value of fresh goods by taking out the middleman in the supply chain. “We’re taking that relationship between the farmer and the chef that’s serving the food and making it a direct one,” Rintoul told Techvibes.

Between 1994 and 2012 farmer’s markets in the US increased by over 6100. But for chefs wanting to treat their customers to farm-fresh ingredients, it’s difficult for them to access this produce for a number of reasons.

“So what we really bring to restaurants is that intrinsic value that has a story, a diversity, a flavour and a freshness, and we find a way to bring it to the restaurants’ kitchen door without stripping away all the margins from farmers,” said Rintoul.

Although still in private beta, Provender is planning to launch next week.