Submitted by Christine Whelan
Aug 5th, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 25
Small Scale Farms has swept the social media platform and is the talk among several communities in the Niagara Region. This local food hub marketplace, located at 13145 Lundy’s Lane, Allanburg is introducing a new concept to bringing food into the home.
For Fort Erie residents, this includes the option of curbside drop-off to your home as they deliver throughout the Niagara Region, up to Hamilton.
Renee Delaney, a self-proclaimed self-educated in this industry, driven by her passion, woman on a mission started our conversation. “It’s unique. I don’t think very many people spend much time developing food systems vs. developing their own business or developing their own non-profit. Whereas I’m trying to create a system.”
With a background as a Practitioner of Natural Medicine who believes food is medicine, educated in human behaviour and human health, Renee wonders, “It’s not very normal to create a collaborative infrastructure. And that’s something that, as I studied the food system, became imperative. How do we not create an infrastructure?
Adding, “We are trying to do all these little bits, individually vs as a collective.”
When asked what motivated Renee to start this journey towards this incredible undertaking, Delaney simply answered, “Poverty.”
She explained, “A single mom is forced to deal with very particular obstacles. Stay home and raise your children or put them in daycare and work.” Renee chose to stay at home.
“I kind of made my peace with functioning with very little, and I put that emotion aside,” describing how she decided not to feel like a victim and blame others for whatever she lacked. “I put a lot of that aside and began to ask myself questions about my options. What were my options? How could I get out of poverty? Was there another way? Because it just felt so limited.”
With a deep breath, “There really wasn’t another way. The answer was to take away some of my bills.” Her next thought was pivotal. “If I could grow my own food, I would need less money for food. It became clearly obvious, that was #1.”
When asked about the space used for her first garden, “I had moved out to the country. I wrote a letter to a gentleman I found out owned an empty house. He lived elsewhere in a much bigger house, so I figured this empty house was not all that important to him. In the letter, I explained I would fix up the house in exchange for low rent. And he went for it. I had no idea how to fix up the house. But in doing so, I began to learn more self-reliant skills. Maybe I could pick up a drill or a hammer and improve my own living quarters, for example, so that I felt better about my own space. I was learning about life skills I hadn’t necessarily developed before I needed to.”
Once the garden was growing and producing, “That moved into, ok, now I have all this food. What if I were to sell it? How would I sell it? What are my options for selling it? It wasn’t a really busy road but it was a road I could put a fruit stand out.
“I then started to learn about how to sell food. I had to start by giving it away first because I didn’t have a market. I didn’t have a website. I didn’t know how many zucchini, for example, I would need to even sell at the market. I’d never farmed before. So, it took me a couple of years just to get to the point where I could be at a farmers market because I knew what I was even talking about.
“So then I journeyed into the non-profit world. I thought that that’s what I wanted to do until I realized how much politics I was up against. So, I ran screaming from that industry and changed to a for-profit as soon as I learned what the term social enterprise meant.”
Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better. Like traditional businesses, they aim to make a profit but it’s what they do with their profits that sets them apart — reinvesting or donating them to create positive social change.
Renee commented, “I full-heartedly believe people need a hand up, not a handout. And that is a part of the thinking of social enterprise.”
Her answer “poverty” was her personal experience answer to what motivated Delaney, but her philosophy stems from the belief that preventative medicine is the only medicine. This philosophy, combined with the dynamics of social enterprise, became the foundation to Small Scale Farms.
“Economics 101, everybody eats.”
“I can create my own income, but with my profit, I’m going to give back to my community. That is how a food system could look. So, if 100,000 people bought a box of food, then 100,000 people would be given a free bag of food. And with that thinking, you would have a community profiting because all of the farmers would be needed to supply that much demand for local food. So the free is actually not free, it’s supporting the farmer. Whereas in the regular, corporate structure, the profit leaves the community.”
The business works with the true cost of the food — what the farmer deems the food is worth — as opposed to the law of supply and demand. “So, the price of fruit won’t go up in September just because little Johnny and all the other kids will be taking them in their lunches to school.”
Delaney explained, she is trying to educate the community that if the farmers are not supported by their community, the community will lose its farmers. “And that will be detrimental to the community.”
A small-scale farm is a system of growing fruits and vegetables that is usually organic in nature, meaning it has a lot more natural practices because it’s smaller. It doesn’t need massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizer. It is anything that is not mass production. An example is a homestead with a farm that feeds its family. A small-scale farm can provide for that family, the neighbours, and the community.
“I am the hub that allows the other small-scale farmers to enter the market. It’s the space where they sell their food because they can’t set up a store. They are the farmer. They’re not a marketer. They’re not a bookkeeper.
“I build the customer base, I’m the marketer, I’m the sales channel, I’m also delivery and administration. The farmer grows the food, brings it to the food hub, I buy it at wholesale cost. The food hub has to sell that produce.”
Renee continued to paint the picture, “I then say to the customers in the Niagara Region, ‘Ok, here’s a $40-box of vegetables. It could have Bob’s carrots, Bill’s zucchini, Joe’s apples.’ I say to the customers, ‘You get what we give you based on availability, based on price.
“I’m in the process of educating the public. I tell them, this is a box of vegetables that is helping the farmers move a ton of produce.” And its delivered to their door.
Renee works with regular vendors to keep the hub in revenue.
“On Saturdays, we do a drive-through and anyone can come. This produce comes in a bag, a one-time purchase. That day, we say to people, ‘If you can’t afford the $40, pay us what you can.”
New Additions and Other Streams of Revenue
“Chickens are in high demand right now. We have alpaca on-site now, just for fun. And we’re getting a little into tourism. People can also stay on farms. You can camp on the grounds.
“It’s turning into a farm school. I worked with Niagara College for the last seven years, creating a curriculum. We’re pretty much ready. We’re expecting a fairly decent launch fairly soon. We want to teach everyone how to farm and we can help start other small-scale farmers.
“The biggest obstacle is, there is not enough food. There are hardly any small-scale farmers at all. We have to invest in growing the farmer, not just growing the food.”
She is now looking at marketing strategies to get bigger investors engaged.
“We’re doing an Everybody Eats campaign to raise money for a walk-in fridge and a walk-in freezer. We are also looking for a refrigerated van so we can distribute further than Niagara, such as Toronto.”
As far as getting the fridge up and running, “We are halfway there. We have a fridge. We just have to install it and we have to change the compressor.”
Renee added that they are looking for any building supplies. “We’re always fencing. We’re always building more chicken coops. Wood is very expensive. We are looking for recycled wood, like old decks, leftovers from home renovations.”
Delaney explained their current campaign for raising money for the community. “Instead of selling chocolate bars, each participating school gets a webpage. That school becomes a team. Whenever anybody from that team buys a produce box, we can return a bag of food to that school. And no one has to do anything because it’s all just delivery. So, every time a mom whose children go to that school buys a box, that school gets a bag of food or five dollars, whatever the school decides.
“We’re doing this with churches, corporations, and non-profits. Everyone will start a team. It’s called Give To Grow.” Anyone can choose whatever team to support. Check out more of the details on the website.
And how can this all take place, you might ask. It’s one powerful, fabulous word. Volunteers.
“We have approximately 50 volunteers,” she stated, however, they still need volunteers. The hub for Niagara’s small-scale farms, the very existence of its operation, could not begin without Renee’s volunteers.
To become a part of this experience and explore your volunteering options with Small Scale Farms, you can email Renee: firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’ve given away over 50,000 bags of vegetables since we’ve started, and I’m still here.” But the business needs the community to choose produce from small-scale farms over corporate food stores to keep the system going.
Delaney is asking the community now, “Do we want this?”
There is so much to learn about Small Scale Farms, from membership details to beekeeping needs, on the website: mylocalconnection.com
Photos provided by Renee Delaney