Q&A with Fresh City Farms Founder Ran Goel

Jun 14, 2015

Farming right in the city and working with like-minded makers to deliver a food experience that respects our bodies, our planet and our shared tomorrow, Fresh City Farms hopes to rekindle the intimacy between people, land and food.

In this instalment of our Be a Villager Series, we sit down with its founder Rand Goel, who left his Wall Street job to become an urban farming leader.

VJ: How did Fresh City Farms get its start?

RG: I was an investment lawyer living in New York. I didn’t mind the work, but I wanted to do something more; something that moved the needle on key issues of our time. I knew I loved food and grew up going to the markets as a kid. At the time, it didn’t seem like an activism, it was just a good thing to do.

For me getting our food system right was a great issue to tackle. It’s healthy for the planet, our ecology, and our nutrition.

In 2011, I started Fresh City Farms, which in my mind combines three separate things: a farm, a delivery system and a grocery store. Our first week we did six deliveries. Now we do 900.

We have six acres of urban farm land at Downsview Park as well as a greenhouse, which includes an aquaponics system. We grow high-value per-square foot perishable greens, such as salad greens, collard greens, chard, leeks, tomatoes and herbs. Our goal is to make urban farming more viable and we have 20 member farmers who own plots.

VJ: What makes Fresh City Farms unique?

RG: Our vision of empowering everyone to make conscious food choices makes us unique. We’re more than just an organic provider. It’s about education and intention. We’re a platform to create and perfect new ways to connect food makers and eaters.

VJ: What is your biggest challenge?

RG: That everyone sees organic as being expensive. And many people see it as a marketing gimmick, which is unfortunate. Choosing organic products is not just about fruits and vegetables but looking at your way of life and your responsibilities to other people. Yes, you may be paying a small premium, but it goes towards the health of the farmers who made your food and towards the health of our future environment.

VJ: Take us through a typical day

RG: I spend a lot of my time building partnerships and exploring the brand.

I wake up at 6:30 am and I hang out with my two-year-old daughter for a couple of hours. We drive my wife to work and her to the nanny. I’m usually at the warehouse by 9 am and I attend two meetings and do administrative stuff. I always make a point to do front line things every day, such as packing, calling customers or going to the farm.

I head home at about 5:30 pm and make dinner, which usually involves a lot of stews. We get one of our bags, so whatever we receive, we make. At about 8:00 pm, I put my daughter to bed and work for another two to three hours. Then I call it a night.

VJ: What’s the best part of your job?

RG: That it is a constant challenge. There’s no script to follow. It’s very gratifying to have people thank you for what you’re trying to do.

VJ: What’s your favourite place in Toronto?

RG: Our farm. I say that because it’s a place of community, where food grows and it marries ugly and beauty. If you’ve ever been to Downsview Park, you know what I mean. It’s great to show that you can create something wonderful there. It’s truly a beautiful thing.

VJ: Where can we find you when you’re not at work?

RG: I bike around a lot, and I’m busy being a dad, so I can usually be found at Trinity Bellwooods’ playground. But my daughter comes to the warehouse and the farm pretty often.

VJ: Name five things you can’t live without

RG: Coffee, tomatoes, reading the New York Times, travelling and chocolate

VJ: What is your favourite juice?

RG: Be Strong