Photo: Emily Peat of Ecoplace Organics with some of her produce.
A lot of entrepreneurs get down and dirty for their work. Blood, sweat and tears form the foundation of most startups.
For Emily Peat, there’s also actual soil and bugs in her digital media startup, and Peat doesn’t like bugs.
Dealing with creepy crawlies is all in a day’s work for the owner of Ecoplace Organics, a weekly produce distribution system that delivers local organic food to people at home or work, sourced from small-scale farms within 100 kilometers of Waterloo Region.
Peat wasn’t looking to get into the farming industry, but three years ago her parents bought part of a farm share outside of London, Ont. She was interested in the program that connected farmers with clients buying into their produce, and decided to learn more.
“I would go to the farm sometimes and pick up the produce for my parents and I just began to fall in love with it, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Peat said. “I began to learn more about organic farming and also about that model which turns out not to be that great.”
When the farm fell into financial troubles and closed down, she saw that the group share method was financially difficult for small farms to sustain. The now fourth-year University of Waterloo Civil Engineering student decided there had to be a better way to help small-scale farmers, who still harvest by hand, to get local organic food into people’s homes.
Peat decided to sign up for an enterprise co-op term and take four months to try to make her idea a reality instead of going to work in the engineering field.
“My idea was to take on distribution, sales and marketing of produce and just commit to trying to order as much as I could from every farm each week,” she said. “I had already started with my own little blog to try to get people to order from these farms. But eventually I thought, I just need to do this myself.”
She landed desk space in the Communitech Hub. In the spring of 2012, Industry Corporation, a startup now located in 305 King St. W., was working near her desk. When Peat, who was struggling to teach herself HTML, web design and business basics, needed help, the team made themselves available to help her build and test her original site.
Today, Peat has a staff of six that run Ecoplace Organics. The weekly boxes deliver eight to 12 seasonal items from a variety of small-scale certified organic farms. Peat also includes recipes and meal plans with each box. She saw orders triple during her second growing season.
Now entering her third growing season, Peat is balancing a full-time job and her full-time studies. She’s partnered with Eat Green Organics this year to let Ecoplace Organics have a wider Friday afternoon delivery radius, which now includes the Communitech Hub.
Peat is not satisfied with starting just one company before she’s graduated from university. On July 24, she’ll be pitching her idea in the Velocity Fund Finals: a program that helps farmers reach their distributors better.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that on the consumer side of things we have really smooth websites that make it easy to order,” Peat said. “And every week I get texts and emails and phone calls from farmers telling me what produce they have to put in the boxes. And it takes hours for me to process all this information.
“And over the last two years I’ve just kept saying, ‘I wish there was a really simple platform that the farmers could just update and put their stuff on that’s for sale.’ I’ve just pitched that to the Velocity Venture Fund. That’s the next project.”
Peat loves that she can use her digital media skills as well as her engineering training to help farmers reach a wider audience that can enjoy the bounty of food grown right in Ontario.
“With engineering it can be a very strenuous program,” she said. “It’s make-work all day long. With [Ecoplace Organics] you are getting something from nothing. You still get to use technical and problem-solving skills. And you see the results right away.”
Speaking about technical skills, I see and hear that… The Waterloo-Wellington Webmakers are meeting tonight starting at 7 p.m. at McCabes Irish Pub & Grill in Kitchener. Swing by to talk all things web… If you’re looking for some musical entertainment this week you should head to Uptown Waterloo after work on July 10. Starting at 5 p.m., musicians will be serenading shoppers and walkers in four different locations around Uptown as part of the Thursday Nights UpTown music series…. Eye-catching classic cars will be parked up and down King Street in downtown Kitchener this Friday, June 11 during the 24th Cruising on King Street. The car parade starts at 7 p.m. in Victoria Park, and the cars will end up on King Street between Francis Street and Madison Avenue… If you’re looking to get your art on, head down to the Button Factory on Regina Street in Waterloo. This Saturday, July 12 they are offering a workshop in making your own garden print on a tote as part of their Art in the Garden series. The workshop starts at 1 p.m. and costs $75 including supplies…