Bringing local home

March 27, 2013

21-year-old University of Waterloo undergraduate student and local food enthusiast, Emily Peat (centre) is seen here with OCE President Tom Corr (right) at the OCE Social Enterprise Student Competition. Peat won one of $20,000 prizes to fund her social venture, EcoPlace Organics.

What do fresh, organic, local food and civil engineering have in common? Principles of water quality, soil mechanics, sustainability...and 21-year-old University of Waterloo undergraduate student, Emily Peat.

Thanks in part to her family's share in a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) farm, Peat has become a self-described local food enthusiast. Networking with farmers in the area of her hometown London, Ontario, she developed a knowledge of local agricultural infrastructure and identified a missing link in Ontario’s local food distribution networks, learning that local food is not making it from farm to table as much as it should. 

For every pear that Ontario exports, we import 700. But the supply is here. So Ontario farmers, working 16-hour days in the field, now have to take care of marketing, sales and distribution – and are left with excess product left over.

Ever the engineer, the fourth year Civil Engineering student decided to solve this problem. A budding social entrepreneur, she decided to turn her solution into her own business.

Peat created EcoPlace Organics, a small scale distributor that helps farmers and their communities by purchasing local certified organic foods and distributing them to families and individuals at home and work via home delivery service and soon, a mobile produce market.

Her engineering courses may not have given her the business skills she needed to launch and run the business, but Peat has found many sources of support to nurture these skills: an enterprise co-op placement and the Small Business Centre at the University of Waterloo, the government of Ontario's Summer Company program, numerous pitch competitions and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

It seems she has uncovered a natural aptitude for business, making it to the finals at the University of Waterloo’s VeloCity Demo Day, placing first in the University of Waterloo’s Nicol Entrepreneurial Award Competition and going on to win the national Nicol Award, earning a Nigel Stokes E-Launch Scholarship, and most recently, winning one of four $20,000 prizes in the OCE Social Enterprise Student Competition.

Funded by the Social Innovation Program, the student competition saw Peat and nine other teams of social entrepreneurs in a pitch-off to claim funding for their social ventures. Unlike many of her competitors, Peat wasn't pitching a concept, but an operational business with positive results to report. At the end of last growing season, she had acquired 200 customers and was making one to two dozen deliveries on any given day.

Her next step is to launch London’s first mobile grocery store, stocked with local produce and gluten-free, soy-free, and vegan baked goods. The $20,000 from the Social Enterprise Student Competition will allow her to buy a vehicle.

"I've found an old Mac Tools truck that already has all the shelves in it, with new brakes and no rust - it's perfect," says Peat. "With the truck, I can order three times as much produce from local farmers and take it right to moms with young children who are committed to local and organic, but short on time. This concept is already happening in the United States, and it's my goal to duplicate it in communities all across Ontario - making for healthier families and more profitable farmers."