Dave Kranenburg of Kendal Hills Farm seized an opportunity created by the pandemic to help improve the local food system — by creating a virtual farmers’ market.
Kendal Hills is a 70-acre farm outside of Orono, Ontario, about one hour east of Toronto. With his wife Emily, Dave raises pigs in their forest and pastured poultry — chicken, turkey, partridge, pigeon, duck and goose. They also cultivate a dozen different types of mushroom and forage such food as fiddleheads, wild ramps and blackberries in the woods.
For Dave, the pandemic has brought on a whirlwind of emotions. “It went from the very early days of restaurants canceling our orders, and the farmers’ markets we were expecting all having to shut down, to us panicking around what’s the future going to be like, to there actually being an explosion of interest in local food and people wanting to reconnect with their food supply,” Dave tells PIVOT.
In response, Dave and his wife turned their online store into a virtual farmers’ market that sells produce from their farm and neighbouring farms. The response has surpassed expectations. Kendal Hills Farm now employs 11 people — all of them hired during the pandemic — on living wages. Through the virtual market, the farm has been able to support over 40 other small food businesses.
“Before we knew it, we were feeding about 1200 homes and counting, all across the GTA,” Dave shares. “Our farm had become essentially a food hub, which is a facility that can collect food from a number of producers, sort it, package it and get it out to the people who would like to eat it.”
It was exciting, confusing and scary all at once, Dave confesses. But they were able to move so quickly in part because it is an idea that has always existed.
According to Dave, farmers have long faced a gap between large-scale, wholesale distribution and farmers’ markets. While Kendal Hills grows enough food to sell at many more farmers’ markets than it normally does, Dave and Emily lack the time to go to all of them.
“There’s a different way to get food to people that allows farmers to spend less time on the road, in their trucks delivering the food, and more time in the field growing it. And that’s what has me really excited… We’re just scratching the surface of what this means for the future of food,” he claims.
Indeed, having spent over 20 years working on food issues in Canada, Dave is no stranger to the complexity of the food system here, and he has found himself frustrated by its shortcomings.
“It’s been something that myself and a lot of other people have been trying to figure out. What does a food system that respects our bodies, our communities and our environment actually look like? A lot of that comes down to different ways of growing as well as distributing that food.”
Though the virtual market is still in its early days, Dave is optimistic that this new system will be around for the long run.
“The local food from small farms is incredibly diverse and abundant and flavourful. It’s things that you wouldn’t normally find in a grocery store when it comes to varieties,” he explains. “[Our clients] are getting food which is quite literally being harvested or made after they’ve ordered it… So, it’s coming in incredibly fresh. I think that combination of things has impressed people — small local farms and producers are capable of feeding large populations.”
“If we can figure out how we can collaborate and work together, small [farms] coming together is extremely powerful,” he asserts.