The Big Carrot is a worker owned organic co-op which provides one-stop shopping for organic food needs of Toronto-area residents. In the last six years there has been a huge increase in demand from customers for locally-grown food products. The co-op has grown from dealing with only individual farmers to dealing with wholesalers to meet the demands. They also work with artisanal food processors to sell their products. Processors selling to the co-op have sourced local flour in order to bake products. It is in a constant race with their customers. The Big Carrot features products from over 50 certified organic Ontario farms.
Patrick Conner started as a part-time cashier at The Big Carrot, got onto an ownership track, and now is a member-owner. The co-op has 65 owners at present. Mr. Conner discusses the co-op’s operation below.
Their customers range from back-to-the landers, old school hippies, to new Canadians searching for hard-to-find foods. It is very important to their customers that foods are sourced locally. While the Big Carrot has increased in size they are still “bursting at the seams.” There is a huge demand among their clientele for the carrot to replicate themselves. The co-op was Canada’s first retailer to be certified with Canada’s national organic standard which includes their produce, bulk dept., juice bar, kitchen, deli, and bakery.
The co-op examines each new innovation they make carefully to determine potential benefits and risks in their adoption including hot water heating from Bullfrog power to a waste audit they recently had performed. The Big Carrot has a standards committee which looks at the listing of new products and address any issues that arise if it has an ingredient that forces them to study it more closely, for example, any product that has potentially been genetically modified.
Mr. Conner believes that the integrity of the organic movement is its greatest asset. In supporting local agriculture, Mr. Conner cites the Organic Council of Ontario, which is attempting to reverse trend of raw product being shipped to U.S., processed, and then shipped back to Canada with the U.S. company charging a premium for this. Some products can be 100% Canadian, but consumers have to be comfortable with the fact that some products have to be sourced from outside the country. Listen to the rest of my interview with Patrick Conner of the Big Carrot in my next post.