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Spotlight: Kitchner, Ontario Podcast Transcript

There's a lot going on in Kitchener, Ontario in the way of eating local. Learn more from Nick Benninger, Thompson Tran and Court Desautels.

 

 

Avery Parkinson

Welcome to in the Weeds, a podcast dedicated to discussing everything to do with food, sustainability and urban agriculture, indoor growing food insecurity, resource consumption, and anything else we think is exciting or important. I'm your host, Avery Parkinson.

For a relatively small city in Southern Ontario, Kitchener and Waterloo has got a lot going for it in the way of locally produced food. Today, we're going to be speaking with three chefs and food producers about the importance and the beauty of how they eat local. We first spoke with Thompson Tran, who is the owner of The Wooden Boat Food Company. 

Thompson Tran

My name is Chef Thompson Tran, the owner of The Wooden Boat Food Company, which is a small, eclectic take out restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese inspired cuisine. We are incredibly sustainable. We're focused on sustainability first and foremost. And secondly is making delicious food. We are saran wrap free, tinfoil free and parchment free restaurant that essentially - we guide our day to day business through the lens of sustainability. So if it's not sustainable, if it's something that is very much against our missions and our values, we don't do it or we find better alternatives to find that okay. Yeah. We're based in Kitchner, Ontario. We've been open now for about four years. And through the pandemic as well, we've pivoted quite a bit. We've switched from a 14-16 seat restaurant to now doing 100% take out only. 

Avery Parkinson

What inspired you to start the Wooden Boat Food Company, and how has your experience with it been so far? 

Thompson Tran

So The Wooden Boat Food Company was incorporated in 2015. It actually started out as a sauce business. So we have two retail sauces that we sell at over 300 retailers across Canada. And we started out in British Columbia, in Port Moody, and we moved here almost five years ago. And the restaurant was actually a source of income. It was a source of regular cash flow for us so that we could maintain working capital. And it turned out that the food we're making was very popular. And from a humble shop that's in an industrial hidden gem warehouse, essentially, we've really kind of increased our offerings to the authentic Vietnamese dishes as well as Vietnamese inspired. And we also do wood fired pizza. Some of the best you're going to find outside of Toronto. Yeah. And I've always loved Vietnamese food. I mean, it's in my blood. I grew up with it. It was a means of connection with friends, connection with family and even connections with strangers. It's something that everybody can relate to. And so I was very fortunate in the last four years to continue to grow even through the pandemic. We pivoted, as I mentioned, from 14 seat dining to a 100% take out restaurant. And it being said, 100% take out. But we also are preorder only. So we essentially sell out every weekend. So if you want to get food from a restaurant you do have to pre order to make sure that you deserve a spot for take out. 

And I guess the other part is that I kept seeing the restaurants that I worked at doing things wrong. And when I say wrong, I'm talking about unsustainable things. And that includes unsustainable treatment of employees. The culture in the kitchen has always been very aggressive, and I guess you could call it a masculine energy. And I wanted to open a place that I could represent both the masculine as well as the feminine qualities. So nurturing, empathy, sympathy, support, collaboration over competition. And so I really wanted to make sure that I could do that. And the best way to do it is to be the boss. Can you talk a little bit about your philosophy when it comes to cooking and preparing food? Yeah, it's a work in progress, just like any other small business. So starting out, the best that I could do was throw away surround wrap. I don't use surround wrap, I don't use tinfoil, I don't use parchment, because all of that goes to the waste. Sorry. It goes to garbage. Regardless, if you clean it, wash it, sterilize it, you just go in the garbage. That's bottom line, because they are all single use. So that in itself is a big impact, because your average restaurant will probably use about 10 pounds of saran wrap, tin foil and parchment a night. One night. Yeah. I mean, it could be give or take less, but the bigger the restaurant or the bigger the facility, the exponential growth in terms of how much waste there is. So the Rogers Stadium or BC place in Vancouver , it doesn't matter. Staples center in Los Angeles, the bigger it is, the more waste it's going to be. So just by saying no and eliminating plastic, tin foil and parchment, that makes a huge difference. 

Another thing, we really take care to sweep often and mop fewer. So mops, because there's always chemicals that go in our waterways and our waterways, of course, affect the neutrality and the health of our oceans and our Rivers and our streams and our Lakes. We eat everything that's in our waterways. So by doing less of that, we're using one 7th of what the average restaurant might be using. Yeah. We source regenerative beef. If we can't find regeneratively raised beef, then we don't use it at all. Lamb is really intense in terms of its carbon emissions as well, so we don't serve any lamb. The smaller the animal, like poultry, the less carbon emissions it produces. So with beef, regeneratively raised beef actually pulls more carbon out of the air and puts it back where it belongs, which is in the ground. So it's actually carbon positive. Yeah. So that's we source it and we source it locally, it costs us a lot more, but we give a little bit less portions so that we can make sure that we're still making a living. We're still paying our bills. We're in business to make money. Otherwise, it's a hobby.

 And then staffing. At the moment, I actually don't have any staff. I just released give or take. Some people have left and come and stayed and left, but I was paying them $20 an hour or more because how do you sustain life if you're getting paid 15, $14 an hour? It's very much that. And we also give a lot of money as well. And we do a lot of fundraising to the food bank, mental health resources as well, with the Horizon community services, also nutrition for learning. And then there's also another program called Growing Chefs Ontario, which is based on the London that we support. We fundraise and we collaborate as well. So it is not just about sustainability in our environment, but it's also sustainability in our community. Food education, food literacy and food accessibility is another area that we're really passionate about. Quality over quantity, flavor over presentation. Food should be provocative. It should provoke emotion. Food is a powerful, pleasurable thing. And I think if people see it that way and really kind of put the right values on food, then we'll be in a better place. And ultimately Kitchen or Waterloo here has a lot to grow has a far away to go. But in the last five years have seen a big shift in change already. And our restaurant, we've only served one 10th of 1% of the population here. So we've only managed to serve that few people in this area. Our message still has a long way to go. So I think we all have to continue to work hard and people should be chefs are an incredible part of the conversation. And if you're a chef, you need to lead and advocate for the future of food. 

Avery Parkinson

In what ways are you committed to environmental and social sustainability, and how is this reflected in the work that you do? 

Thompson Tran

It starts with the government, yes. The consumer has a really big role to play, I would say 50%, right. And everybody else is the other 50%. So the issue, of course, is that the government funds the areas in which they shouldn't be funding, which is oil and gas. Yes. The world cannot survive without oil and gas right now, but they continue to subsidize to the tune of like $17 billion a year in Canada. So take some of that, put it towards where it really matters, which is food accessibility, food security, food education, because food is a physiological need, just like air and water. And if we can secure housing as well, which is another basic form of physiological need, then we can start to really address the larger social issues like mental health and everything else that comes with it, job security. And so I think in terms of food, we need the very most basic accessibility to food. So everybody should have access to nutritious food. Three meals, square meals a day. How that looks, I don't know. But what I do know is that the food banks are only crucial as a response to food insecurity. They're not preventative. They're not here to prevent what's going on. So they're only a bandaid service, and that's the problem. We're not addressing the real issues. We're not trying to prevent it. We're just responding and reacting. Food has an enormous ability to bring everybody up at the same level. And as Covid has proven, we're all incredibly tied to one another. And so if over in the east coast, something's happening there’s food that's going to be now affecting the West Coast. So we're seeing the floods of BC, we're seeing a lot of issues with transport and all that. So the closer food is to home, the better it is off for everyone. Not to say that having access to oranges and bananas and pineapples is not important. I think it is, but very fundamental, basic needs. We should be able to grow in a sustainable way.  So, for example, like ocean wise, they make sure that we have sustainable sources to seafood that are land based farms. The quality is high, the sustainability is up where it's 90% to 95% efficient. So that's what we need to start looking at.

Avery Parkinson

What do you hope to see in the future, food? 

Thompson Tran

Well, I mean, the Wooden Bowl Food Company will continue to do what we do, which is we support local farmers, we support local ingredients, we try to showcase them in the proper way. We try to educate and build a relationship with the community and let people know what we're doing so that we can help spread the word. It's a race to the bottom. When you're looking at big quantities at low prices, nobody wins that way. So I think for the Wooden Boat Food Company, we'll continue to do that. We'll continue to educate, we'll try to continue to support our local farmers. My sauce business is a real big conundrum because we're sustainable, but with producing sauce, we're looking at shipping, we're looking at freight, we're looking at the carbon emissions that we produce. So it's a really tough issue for us, but we're continually looking to better ourselves and then in terms of our fees. On a personal note, I am very passionate about, again, as we mentioned, food accessibility, food education and food security. So I'm hoping to start and to implement and strategize and develop the program called the Growing Chefs Ontario program that is based out in London, Ontario. We're open to getting it here, and it basically changes the relationship between how people view nutrition and food in their community. So I think that's one way that I personally want to see sustainability more entrenched in the community. 

Avery Parkinson

That was Chef Thompson Tran, who's the owner of the Wooden Boat Food Company. For more information about him and his work, visit wbfood.ca. We also spoke with Nick Benninger, who is the chef and co-founder of the Fat Sparrow Group. 

Nick Benninger

My name is Nick Beninger. I am the chef and co founder of the Fat Sparrow Group. We are a restaurant company that started in 2008. At that time, it was my wife and I who started the company with just one little restaurant where we made everything from scratch and changed our menu every day. And sort of that European lifestyle of eating where you eat seasonally and eat what's available locally and maybe grocery shop several times a week rather than big, massive trips to Costco was a huge part of our ethos and our concept. Since then, we've grown into a group that has several restaurants, Butcher shop, bakery, commercial sales division, all kinds of stuff. Part of the reason that we've grown in such a way where we're not just restaurants is because we wanted to be able to continue to make all of our own foods from scratch the same way we did in that original small restaurant. So acquiring a bakery and a Butcher shop and these things makes that possible because we're able to source and age our own meats, produce our own baked goods, all that kind of stuff. We have an online marketplace that sells all those things through the Internet and through a delivery platform, obviously just locally. And yeah, we continue to grow as a company. And still my wife and I, of course, there's a much bigger team now as well. But one thing that we're really proud of and try and stay really cognizant of is that what got us started, which was just being that mom and pop shop that had that old school approach to dining and eating and procuring food and working with people that we know as in the producers and the farmers and not letting go of that. Here we are today, 14 years later, and we're still doing that. And we've grown from a dozen employees to a couple of hundred with multiple locations. So that's sort of our stick. I'm a chef from the time I was your age, I just found kitchens and wasn't really good at a lot of other things, or at least school. So I found a good home in the kitchen and just been lucky that I made the right choice and have been able to sort of apply myself to that and build up a good amount of experience. 

Avery Parkinson

What's behind the name of the Fat Sparrow Group? 

Nick Benninger

Yeah. So Fat Sparrow is named sort of tongue in cheek after local cookbook author and author in general, Edna Stabler. Edna Stabler was a travel writer who was challenged to come to Waterloo Region and learn and write about Mennonite culture and the heritage and the cuisine. And so she came and she did a sort of like almost like undercover reporting. This was many years ago, and she basically was adopted by a Mennonite family. I mean, she was an adult, but not really an adult adoptee. But she was welcomed into their home and she basically stayed with them and started writing these books. And her most famous book is called Food That Really Schmecks. And it's an exploration of Pennsylvania Dutchman. And I cook in Waterloo region, and she cooks in a way that I cook. You go to your fridge and you see what's left. One of her recipes, actually the amount of liverwurst you're supposed to use, refers to how much was left over after mom ate what she wanted to eat. So I just love her whimsical approach to cooking. She cooks what's seasonal and what's available. She doesn't fuss about fancy imports. She just wants to cook what's sort of important to our location and our taste of place. So I've always loved Edna's writing. She's hilarious. I've loved her recipes. She's an exceptional storyteller through food. And she has a recipe for drop Donuts that's called Fetch Spatsley. And it's like a little dumpling donut that you drop into the deep fryer. And the English translation is Fat Sparrows, because that's what they look like when they hit the oil. So we thought that was just a clever name. And for anyone who's nerdy enough about food and food writing might connect those dots and say, hey, I know what that name is about. And for those who don't, it's just a good name. That sounds fun. And perhaps it's about hosting and being hospitable. And that's what we were aiming for. 

Avery Parkinson

Can you talk a little bit about your journey into the food industry, as well as some of your philosophies when it comes to food preparation and cooking?

Nick Benninger

I think one of my first farmers I ever dealt with, it goes back further than that, probably 20 years ago. And I used to ride my bicycle to the restaurant I worked at in St. Jacobs. And I would ride by the farmers market every day that it was open. So three days a week, I would stop in on my bike and grab a few vegetables and get to know the farmers. But it was really just like I was only grabbing enough vegetables to entertain my chef curiosity. It wasn't really like I was supplying the restaurant with very much because I was on a bicycle and whatever. And I developed a relationship with one particular farm, Savannah's Family Farm, whom we still work with today. And I said to them, what do you guys do with all of this stuff that's left over at the end of the day? And generally what they could they would bring back to the farm for resale and what they couldn't, they would either sell very cheap or donate to local churches or what have you. And so it wasn't exactly a winning situation for them. So I suggested that if they wanted to, they could come by my restaurant every day after the market and sell. I would take everything they had left if we could find a price that worked for both of us. And this was sort of one of my first examples of sustainability. And with me, sustainability, it doesn't always refer to the environment and to our planet. It refers to a relationship being sustainable. And we found a place that worked for both of us where they were unloading all of their products. So that made them very happy. And I was getting a better price because we were doing that favor for them. And I had no idea what I'd be getting. They would just bring me products and drop it off, and we would handle it because we were chefs and we had this busy restaurant, and we were able to and that just spiraled into, first of all, a really great relationship with them who we still, like I said, buy product from. We do events together on their farm property. And that's been wonderful. And it really paved the way for me to understand how working with small firms would have to go, because you can't call a small farm up and say, hey, I want £100 of green beans today, and then I'm never going to want them again. You have to be able to work with what they're able to produce. Sometimes you're going to be disappointed because they're going to have weather issues or things that will cause crops to not materialize. And you just have to be able to roll with that and embrace it and make it part of your culinary program. Which was why when we opened up Town 21, our first restaurant, in 2008, we changed the menu every single day so that we were never saddled or burdened with expectations of what was going to come in the door. We just knew we were going to get a beautiful product. And if it was onions or if it was asparagus, we would be able to make a menu out of it. And that's a huge part of finding success in working with small farms or any farms, frankly, in the restaurant industry, because you're not dealing with these big suppliers who have endless amounts of product, many times frozen or tinned or whatever. 

So, yeah. And then there's another quick story. That same restaurant later that year, for our New Year's Eve menu, I wanted to feature beef from a local beef farmer, the Oakwood Acres folks. And then again, another relationship that we still have, and they have Angus cattle. I called them up, said, I want to feature T Bones on my New Year's Eve menu, and I want 150 T Bones or whatever amount it was. And they were very excited to work with me. But the issue was that they only slaughtered so many cows a week, and everybody wants the nice cuts, and nobody wants the off cuts and the things like that. And if they were to give me all of those T bone steaks, then they would be left with five cows worth of all these other cuts. So we had this great conversation where as a young chef, I learned those realities and they got a peek into what chefs are looking for because they weren't really dealing with restaurants yet. And we came up with a program and much like today where I worked with a group that had multiple restaurants. So at that time, the restaurant I ran was part of a group that had two other restaurants. And we came up with a program where we would buy a whole cow every other week. They would bring it in, and I would take the fancy cuts from my restaurant because we ran a fancy restaurant. And then the stewing cuts and the things like that would go up the road to the restaurant that was a little more downstream. And then we had a buffet restaurant as well. And they would take what was remaining because they could use anything and kind of put it onto the buffet. So it was another really great learning moment for me to see how working with a small firm had to be. And you can't just call them up and say, hey, I want 158 ounce tender loins, because it just doesn't work that way. 

Avery Parkinson

You often use the term slow food to talk about how you go about cooking and preparing food. Can you talk a little bit more about what this means? 

Nick Benninger

I suppose in its literal context, it's a cuisine that's not rushed, and that doesn't necessarily mean the time at the table or the time in the kitchen, but everything leading up to it. So doing things where you aren't necessarily straying from your goal of producing food that speaks to you as a person in your area. So that term taste of place comes up a lot where we're trying to identify what cuisine means to Waterloo region. And my connection to Edna Stabler and her teachings or her writing certainly has impacted that for me a lot. But it's not cutting corners. It's not dipping into the freezer. It's not buying things that don't align with your core values, whether they're environmental or not, and just sort of taking the time to do things right and produce food in a way that is closer to the old world ways where you don't service barriers out of season unless you're pickling them and making them into a preserve. You don't fly fish in from Australia just because it's fancy. You deal with local fish. It's going to mean something different to a lot of different people all across the world because we're all gifted with these different areas and what they give us. And here in Waterloo region, which is probably why you see so many more restaurants and people nibbling away at the slow food concept is because we are rich in agriculture around Waterloo region, and we have tons and tons of farmers. And the tradition of that goes long before this kind of cooking was trendy. So I've said this before, but I think Waterloo region was doing local before local was cool. And we didn't really know we were doing it because we just did it. We went to the farmers market. We have tons of farms all around us, and we just have this connection to the concept of farming and what it means and how different it can be in the end results. So for me, the food industry is very difficult. It's not an easy way to make money. So if we're not doing it the way we wanted to, which was to make beautiful food that we would love to serve our families, then there's really no point in doing it. So that's why we continue to try and hold that line and continue to try and do what we call slow food or food that really smacks or food that speaks of a taste of place because it's what fuels the engine, so to speak. It fuels the creative juices. And it keeps us going through an industry that otherwise is quite challenging. I'm not in this business to just be in the commodity of buying frozen items and putting them out on the table. We want to do something that means something to us, too. 

When I entered the food industry in the late early 90s, the coolest thing you could do was bring land from Australia or Washington state or whatever. And I never really understood that even then. And nowadays it's far more just on the really superficial level, but it's far more cool to bring in land from a local farmer or to deal with a local lake fish instead of some fancy ocean fish from the Bahamas or something. That was being called a trend in the early 2000s. And clearly it's not a trend anymore. It's just it hasn't gone away. And that's wonderful. And this is only in North America that we thought this wasn't the way to do things everywhere else in the world cooked seasonally. They use local ingredients. They have traditions and an awareness. Of course, our traditions here in North America were wiped clean off of the slate through colonization. So we've got a lot of work to do to make up for all of that in reestablishing those traditions. But we're certainly getting there. And I think that it's very optimistic to believe that that style of cooking is not going anywhere. And then there are really good, tangible financial reasons to want to do it. Like you develop these relationships with farmers and you end up getting better product, better items for your customers to enjoy, and generally speaking, at prices that work really well for you once you start doing the work and developing the relationships. If you're simply going to want to pick up the phone and try and get into the local food business, then you might end up paying more than you did previously by ordering it off the back of a big truck. But once you develop those relationships, you end up in a place that can work better for you in a lot of ways. So hopefully the success of places like ours and others, we're certainly not the only ones that are championing this concept. Hopefully the success of all those types of places. Just promote more and more of it. And look at you guys have come to talk to folks like me about it. So it's certainly not going anywhere. And I think with you looking at the supply chain right now and the mess that it's causing our industry and all industries, the last thing you want to be doing is counting on food that's coming across on an ocean liner. Because it's just the prices are going through the roof. You might never see it. It's getting crazy that way. Regionalizing, your purchasing, even just as a result of the last couple of years of turmoil that we've all gone through. Is also becoming more and more of a strategic advantage. So, yeah, I think it's not going anywhere. It's only getting better, really, on the surface of it all, we end up with better food and better restaurants and better dining experiences that we traditionally thought we had to travel the world to get. But you can have these incredible experiences. And I think with comments about colonization and our Indigenous connections to the land, that's only going to improve dramatically because we're finally opening our eyes to how special that can be and that resource that's there for us to learn and just embrace. So I hope that we actually see it have an incredible uptake. Because once you combine those concepts of European slow food and what Canada once had as a place before colonization, it's so rich with culture and opportunities. So I think we'll see more and more and more improvements in all of that. 

Avery Parkinson

What advice do you have for people who are interested in eating local? 

Nick Benninger

More listeners really should ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask when you're at a restaurant or at a grocery store, at a farmer's market, there's still a lot of greenwashing going on out there. So there's still a lot of places that will call something. Something like a blue menu item or something like that makes you think it's some category that's more holistic, more valued or whatever. So don't be afraid to ask and push people and challenge people on what they're serving and why they're serving it because we should only want to be dining in restaurants that are supporting the community around us. And in almost all of those cases, when you're dealing with someone who's dealing with small firms and local producers, you're probably also achieving that environmental sustainability part. Because those small businesses, just nine times out of ten, are working that way. Because that's why they're still small, because they make choices that limit their abilities to grow. So supporting small isn't always a black and white rule that you're going to get someone who is making really safe and responsible choices as far as the environment goes. But chances are they are doing a lot better than the competitors. So I just encourage people to ask questions. If someone's bringing in beef from the USA, ask them, why are you doing that? And if you've never been to the farmers market, because there's an incredible farmer and there are lots of places doing it and making it work. And I think we need to challenge the status quo when it comes to that kind of stuff. 

Avery Parkinson

That was Nick Beninger of the Fatsparrow Group. For more information about him and his work, visit fatsparrowgroup.com.

Finally, we spoke with Court Desautel, who is the President and CEO of the Neighbourhood Group.

Court Desautel

My name’s Court Desautel. I'm the President and CEO of the Neighborhood Group of Companies, and we run five restaurants in southwestern Ontario and four in Guelf, one in Kitchener, and started off with a Woolly Pub, which is the first restaurant we opened. My father actually opened in 1990, focused all on local beers and local foods before it was kind of the trend it is today. And then in 2008, we opened Borealis and with the premise of just designing a restaurant that wasn't just to redefine what local is. What does local mean? And it went beyond food and drinks, where the building materials came from, where the uniforms were being made, the paper products, every company that we're dealing with were all based in Ontario, where they try to avoid dealing with a lot of multinational corporations, et cetera, et cetera. And then we're quite successful in our first few years there. And we were allowed to open up, which allowed us to open up a second location in Kitchener. So we took an old schoolhouse and converted it into a 300 seat restaurant. And then in 2015, we opened up Miijidaa Cafe. Bistro Miijidaa is a Ojibway which means let's eat. And that concept was talking about what Canadian cuisine is and how did it come to the point where we're at now? So obviously looking at First Nations and then going into early settlers. So even looking from Norsemen to the Portuguese and the French and English and trying to think of what culinary styles or techniques were they bringing to the shores here, and then how are they using them with the ingredients that they would have found? And so it's kind of a playful way of looking at food. 

And then in 2019, just before the pandemic, we opened up Park Eatery, which has been a great concept because it was a fast casual concept, with a lot of grab and go items. And all the concepts focus on local and environmental sustainability. What are some of the biggest challenges in the work that you do? So just start looking around and just looking at the place of origin, grocery stores have gotten better because consumers started asking for it. If consumers didn't ask for it, they would never have put place of origins on the products. And so that's, I think, a really key piece. Start looking around and see what is made locally. Be aware that companies with differences are products of Canada, made in Canada, manufactured in Canada. Start just asking questions. I think the biggest thing that we can all do is ask questions. You'd be surprised to find out where even food in your restaurant is coming from. Surprised to find out that the chicken that you're eating is from Brazil. And if I lived in Brazil, I'd be expecting chicken from Brazil. Right. And if I was in Canada, hopefully chicken from Canada, just because I know I'm supporting my local economy and infrastructure, and I think that makes our economy stronger anyways to be able to help other places. I'm not a nationalist or somebody saying I'm only going to support that's not what I'm getting at. We need to be strong as a community in order to be able to help others. And when we have a better understanding of the impacts that, say, weather or maybe other boycotts that could happen. Look at the beef issue that happened, Alberta. I believe China banned all the beef coming from Canada just when we had the Madcow disease and all those farmers were really hurting. And Canada really made a stand for their farmers. So you didn't see a big push on just buying local beef? I'll flip that around. I used to live in Australia, and banana plantations got destroyed by a typhoon. And North America, we would have said Costa Rica got all their banana plantations destroyed, so we're just going to go over to Guatemala instead, and we're buying all of our bananas there. So who cares about Costa Rica? And I think if we had something like that happen in California, I think we said, okay, we'll just go to another state or another place to get it. In Australia, it was quite fascinating that bananas went up to $12 a kilo. That was the price of bananas. North America said, forget it, I'm not paying that price. Australians were lined up to buy these bananas to farmers because it meant that much to them in isolated places. And so they're able to grow a lot of their food and they rely on their own agricultural infrastructure. But that, to me, was a big shift in mentality here. We have gone, oh, you can't provide it at this price. We're going somewhere else to buy at this price. But that was an example where and I think it happens in most other places in the world is that you just kind of go with the flow. If it's a bad year for everybody and you still support each other, maybe just eat a little bit less of it and you switch over to something else. 

Avery Parkinson

How do you make eating local a priority with the work that you do. And why is it important for you and for the environment in general? 

Court Desautel

I think it's incredibly important to know where your food is coming from. I think that's kind of the driving force of why we wanted to focus on the local area was just getting to really know the people who are growing the food and just building relationships with them. It's nothing new. That's the way everything used to be. And then it's really in the past 50 years where that's completely changed. And so it's just kind of getting back to a better understanding of where our supply chain is and the influence I think that we can have or I wouldn't say maybe influence, but the partnerships that we create and working with people that we get to meet on a regular basis to set us up for growth in the future as well, too. So it's always great to see two businesses growing together as we get busier. And we've been able to go from one restaurant to five to be able to bring some of those small producers with us, too. And I think that just goes hand in hand in terms of the environmental aspect of it, because when we have an understanding of farming practices and techniques that they're using, we get a better understanding of our impact that we have on their operation and be able to relay that information to the guests. And I think that I look at us as a liaison between the farmer and the guests, so we get to tell the stories of the farm that we're getting products from. And it's also great to relay the stories back from the guests to the farmers, the impacts they've had on them just to be able to give people a better understanding. North Americans are incredibly wasteful, and we don't appreciate, for one, what we have in our own backyards. And two, we're not really aware of how a lot of the food has gotten to the places in our grocery stores and why it's so cheap. What's crazy to me is how can I buy tomatoes out of Mexico for a quarter of the price? I can buy them from the farmers market locally. Those are some really big questions to ask ourselves, and I'm guilty of it, too. Right. And we have massive fridges if you travel around Europe or in Asia and everywhere else. We drive big cars, we have big fridges, we have big houses, and we're just incredibly wasteful. And you just look at how much food is being thrown out. And so for me, it's once again creating that connection and understanding. 

Avery Parkinson

That was Court Desautel of the Neighbourhood Group. For more information about him and his work, visit Neighborhood Group.com. We hope you enjoyed this episode of our podcast. If you're interested in learning more about Just Vertical and our work, follow us @justvertical on Twitter, @just.vertical on Instagram or visit our website www.justvertical.com. Stay tuned for next episode where we'll be discussing more about urban agriculture, food, sustainability, or really anything else important or exciting that we feel like talking about.

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