Fresh City Farms
Ongoing since 2010/05
Fresh City Farms is a for-profit social enterprise that operates market gardens in Toronto, providing pathways to farming for young people.
Founder Ran Goel was originally a New York-based lawyer, but always knew that he ‘wanted to do something more human rights related, or from a general public interest perspective’. He incorporated Fresh City Farms in 2010, and the first growing season was 2011. It operates on a six-acre site that was a former military aircraft military base, and is now a public park, property of the Canadian Federal Government. Two acres are decent soil under nearly full cultivation, and the remaining four consist of poor soil that will take some time to improve.
We teach, we challenge, we encourage.
We believe in the intimate connection between people, land and food.
We value artisanal skills and quality production.
We believe our purchases should reflect our values.
We conduct ourselves with integrity and embrace diversity.
We are innovative and entrepreneurial.
We believe that change is possible. Seriously.
We also operate a more traditional internship program, under which people commit to come out here and volunteer one day a week for four weeks. Most of them continue beyond that period. We’ve had dozens of those interns over the years, there’s a strong interest here in urban farming."
Fresh City Farms generates its own revenue through sales, which take the form of directly marketed vegetable boxes to local customers.
The average order is $28 for a regular veggie bag, and $37 for a large bag, plus $3 - $4 for delivery. The business does an average of 850 deliveries per week, around $30,000 in weekly sales, with a dip in the summer because of the farmers markets and because customers go on vacation. In winter, when the weather turns cold, people like home deliveries.
Even though the business is reaching a certain scale in terms of sales, Ran feels they have some distance to travel:
We crossed $1 mn in sales last year, 2013. That seemed like a big milestone. But it’s not where we need to be. We need to be in the $5 mn - $10 mn bracket, because there’s a baseline overhead that you need to cover. Even though we have access to land at below commercial rates, we’re selling to the warehouse at wholesale prices. From the customer’s perspective, we’re no different to any other organic delivery service. Our prices have to be competitive; otherwise our customers will just go elsewhere.
Fresh City Farms has demonstrated that it is possible to operate an intensive market garden in a peri-urban context, achieve a certain level of scale, train several cohorts of young farmers and sustain the business over a number of years. A key achievement has been to provide a space where dozens of young people from Toronto and surrounding areas can access land and gain experience in the growing and marketing of vegetables. Fresh City Farms has received considerable media attention, thus supporting the broader movement for urban agriculture in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada.
A key constraint is the viability of urban farming, due to international competitive pressures, says Ran:
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