Sci-Fi prognosticators in the ’60s foresaw computers magically manifesting a milkshake for an ensign with a sweet tooth. Others figured we’d be popping nutrient tablets by now and foregoing the earthly pleasures of food altogether. Well, Instapots and air fryers are getting us closer to treating ourselves Star Trek style, but the future of food is firmly planted in the past.
Dan Berezan is the owner of CultivatR, an an online farmers’ market delivering natural, antibiotic & hormone-free, cost-efficient, and locally-sourced food products straight to your home. If the technology is new, the philosophy is ancient: eat what’s growing near you, now.
“We’re basically using technology to go back to the future,” says Berezan. “We can basically solve so many of the food system’s problems with the work we’re doing.”
The problems he’s talking about first became apparent with Berezan and his wife, Joanne, moved from Calgary to Pincher Creek to be closer to the fly fishing and found themselves in conversations with their farmer neighbours.”
“We kept hearing how hard it is for them to make a living as farmers,” he says. “With groceries being so expensive, it just didn’t add up for us.” So, he started to look into the math. What he found was that two major problems are plaguing the food industry in Canada: waste and middle men.
According to a 2019 study by Second Harvest, a food rescue organization based in Toronto, nearly 60 per cent of food produced in Canada – amounting to 35.5 million metric tonnes – is lost and wasted annually. Of that, 32 pe rcent – equaling 11.2 million metric tonnes of lost food – is avoidable and is edible. Berezan likes to put it terms of dollars.
“Basically, Canadians spend $101 billion on groceries every year,” he explains. “Of that, $48 billion is wasted. We’re spending $1,100 a year after taxes for the right to throw out food.” Why are we wasting so much food? A lot of it happens at the industrial processing level, something CultivatR aims to mitigate with its model, and somewhere around $35 billion is what consumers throw out because it went bad before they got to it or they didn’t eat their leftovers.
Then there are the middlemen. Berezan says one of the things that shocked him the most was how much our food is marked up between the farmer and our plates.
“From the time an animal is born or a seed is planted, our food goes through six to eight levels of markup by the time it gets to us,” he says. “In our grandparents’ day, they went to a store that dealt directly with the farmer. That’s sort of who we are now, one level that provides the service of getting food from farm to table.”
So, back to the future. CultivatR aims to mitigate waste by ensuring the freshest produce gets to your crisper one day after it’s picked – so it spends its freshest time with you, rather than on a truck from California. It also vacuum-packs flash-frozen meat so that if life takes you away from your meal plan, you don’t have to throw away what you took out for dinner. Set delivery dates cut down on transportation waste and CultivatR only ships once and entire animal has been sold.
“We have an Artificial Intelligence platform that allows us to not carry inventory and have to store product,” explains Berezan. “So we’re not having to pass that cost onto the consumer. Also, the more business we do, the more the system learns and allows us to continue finding the most efficient way to do things.”
Berezan’s vision is that farmers are paid fairly for their products, that consumers know exactly where their fresh food is coming from without breaking the bank, and that his business model has a positive impact on the environment and the local economy – especially these days.
“Most of the food we buy doesn’t come from here,” he says. “But it can, and we can actually help the environment while we’re at it.”
CultivatR deals with upwards of ten farms with new ones being added all the time. They focus on sustainable land management, zero waste, no pesticides, no hormones beef, lamb, pork, poultry, produce and artisan foods. Delivery to Calgary is free for orders over $35 and happen about every two weeks. Check back often for new products.