This post is part of The Edmonton Do Gooder Project, a series of profiles on Edmonton folks doing good in creative ways.
1. What is the good result you are hoping to create?
I’m hoping to create more equitable communities – I want people to have more opportunities. We do have a large population with opportunities, but there’s a growing group that doesn’t. I’m talking about opportunities to determine one’s own life outcomes, to have life choices, to thrive. In my community, I see a lot of people working minimum wage jobs. Many of them have children. They are often stuck in their circumstances, without the opportunity to change things for the better. This is wrong.
2. What is your approach for making this happen?
We started Original Fare about 8 years ago to support and grow local restaurants. Live Local grew out of Original Fare as a way to expand the conversation about the role of local business.
I believe that local business is a tool for change. It’s not just about my business, it’s about every local independent. It’s about understanding the impact and leverage of local business. Social enterprise is good, but it’s not for profit; it’s not the whole answer. Shopping local has a positive impact whether the shopper realizes it or not. We don’t understand that, en masse. Local business allows for change. In local business, you’re connected to the people who make the decisions. Local business, per dollar, delivers 3 times the economic benefit as other shopping.
When you buy at the Italian Centre, for example, the community benefits economically. It generates and retains for wealth for the community. That’s a way to fight poverty. The majority of social issues are the result of poverty. Government policies, procurement practices, and community building work should all support community wealth generation to eliminate poverty. It’s easier and more effective than other methods being used to fight poverty now.
Diversity of business builds infrastructure that allows businesses to grow. Both big corporate business and local independent business are needed – but it’s important to have a level playing field for competition. Right now, we don’t. We need a truly free market.
I grew up on a farm before going to work in the food industry. I’ve lived the food system. For 12 years, I worked at the corporate level in multinational chain restaurants, then became an entrepreneur with my own restaurant. I’ve lived the reality of business from both sides. I’ve also lived in the Norwood community for 17 years, which is very diverse, including low income people.
At first, I didn’t believe how much of a difference there was, how much impact local vs. corporate made. When I did, it was one of the most disappointing moments of my life; realizing that the unintended consequence of globalization is poverty. I realized that if I didn’t get that, having lived it and worked in it for so long, how could anyone else? People don’t connect lifestyle and consumer habits with the power and effects they have. I mean, who thinks buying their kids’ clothes at Walmart will contribute to poverty?
4. How will you know if you’re making progress?
It’s very hard to know if you’re making progress in this area – concrete demographic information takes decades to generate. For now, we have to rely on anecdotal information. There’s not much history there yet, but it’s promising. 5 years ago, there was almost no awareness of local food. Now, it’s on the radar. I used to feel like the only voice. Now, there are more.
5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?
We started Original Fare about 8 years ago to support and grow the independent restaurant scene. In the last couple of years, about 2 dozen independent restaurants have opened up in our region, and are doing well. It’s a cultural shift – people value independent restaurants now. Also, we have an agriculture and food advisory council. It’s part of the city’s official documents.
I’d still like to see more city planning that makes it easier for local businesses to locate everywhere. I’d also like to see a bigger effort on the part of the city to incorporate local into their procurement practices. One area where I’ve struggled is in working with government, developing the right relationships. I have a hard time with how hard it is to get them to do the right thing. There is progress, but it’s slower than I’d hope. At the same time, I recognize that they have to be careful and discriminating, that they can’t always chase the latest shiny thing. That’s for the best.
Something I’m always trying to better is: it can be hard to make the message mainstream; to not come across as fringe or extreme and alienate people.
One mistake that I’m learning from is the attempt to do a big initiative without the buy in of key partners: the Good Food Box. We didn’t involve the producers in the right way. As a result, although they do see the value of what we tried to do, they never really committed to it. It was a classic case of “do with, not for”. We tried to “do for” and it didn’t work out.