Food entrepreneur bridging gap between sustainability and changing how we eat

For the first decade of the Millennium, Ran Goel enjoyed a successful career as a Wall Street lawyer.

Not exactly in the sustainability space.

Then, he changed gears in 2011 to start Fresh City Farms, an urban agriculture experiment in Toronto.

“We have an 11-acre urban farm in Downsview Park in North York, and have now farmed here for 12 growing seasons,” he says. “It’s a big engagement tool for us. We’ve been using it to bridge the gap between the knowledge of sustainability and changing how people eat.”

Not only is the farm used to educate people, but it also hosts events such as a weekly farmer’s market.

And, of course, the produce grown there – along with other products – is sold to green-minded Torontonians.

“Our primary income channel is online sales – we deliver our products to homes in Toronto,” he says, noting that that side of the business grew during the pandemic. “They include three house brands that consist of produce, baking, and grass-fed meat and poultry. All those products are organic.”

More than anything, Fresh City’s focus is squarely on sustainability.

“We’re very conscious of our environmental and social impact, so everything we sell if fresh, and we do circular packaging that utilizes jars and re-usable containers. While there’s consumer interest in what we offer, there’s no question that we’re playing in the land of the giants,” Goel says. “It’s a tough thing for a small player like us to compete with big companies.”

Nevertheless, that’s what Fresh City is doing – trying to show that it’s possible to make a dent against the Loblaws and Sobeys of the world.

“Honestly, we’re much further ahead than we expected to be 11 years ago, but it’s tough to be competitive,” says Goel. “We don’t price gouge. It just costs more to do things in an organic, sustainable way.”

That said, the struggle has been worth it.

“There’s been a rise in health consciousness – in general, people are becoming more conscious about what they consume and where they get it from. Still, people tend to have short attention span. So as a minor player, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Moving forward, the lessons learned in the past 11 years will be put to good use, he adds.

“While we can’t recreate 1950, we can create a new reality by leveraging what we know. The sweet spot would involve ultimately being able to showcase what we do on a bigger scale.”

For the time being, inroads will have to be made in slow, steady fashion.

“All we can really do is make progress bit by bit. Overall, I’m hopeful. Sure, we’re not a billion-dollar company, but we’re committed to showing it can be done – eating organically and using circular packaging to be more sustainable. It’s not impossible to do, so we’re going to keep on doing it because it makes a difference.”

Ran is a featured keynote speaker at the CULTIVATE Sustainability Conference and Trade Show on September 7, 2022 at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He will speak on his experiences in creating Fresh City and their efforts on ensuring a sustainable and environmentally responsible supply chain. There will be a question and answer for Ran after his presentation.

The CULTIVATE Sustainabililty Conference is where conversations start about what it means for the food industry to be green. The industry is not only one of the largest employers in Manitoba, it is also an industry that makes a significant environmental impact. CULTIVATE brings together leaders and decision-makers from the industry with companies and innovaters in the sustainability and environmental space.