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I think it’s fair to say that the current food system needs to change. For those not convinced by the environmental, ethical, and economic reasons for building better pathways to how meals arrive at our table, then let us appeal to a common denominator: taste.  

Whatever your views are, I’m sure there’s a part of you that wants to eat fresher, tastier food and that often goes hand-in-hand with being sourced more ethically. I mean we all have taste buds and can tell the difference between a fresh, local tomato and one that’s been sitting in a shipping container for weeks. And most would agree that we can utilize local farmers and their produce more than we do.

So what’s stopping us? Well Celeste Lopreiato, the owner of Grey Highlands’ new food delivery service, The Conscious Kitchen, thinks it’s largely convenience. “Sometimes it’s hard to find time to go to farmers’ markets, to farms, or even to do the research,” she says from her acreage in Grey Highlands, a newly acquired farm where she runs her business.

It is from here that she and her partner, Simone, distribute their meals to clients across Grey Highlands and along Georgian Bay. Collingwood is one of her biggest markets and already sees more clients from there than she did in Kitchener Waterloo region. It’s a sign that people like what she’s doing up here, and that maybe the food system in this area can get a little more local and a little more ethical; a little more tasty and little less wasty.

And how does Lopreiato tackle the convenience factor? She provides a weekly menu of prepared meals on her website that people can choose from and have delivered to their front door. It removes the research and stress of creating healthy, locally sourced meals, utilizes local farms directly, and focuses on plant-based meals in a way that doesn’t add more time to people’s day.

“Most of our clients are young families,” she says recognizing that many have toddlers or very young kids with both parents working full time. “They’re basically using us to supplement their meal planning.”

Lopreiato and her team work predominantly with Cedar Down Farm out of Neustadt during the growing season and then another supplier for organic produce during the off season. They also source mushrooms, beans and micro-greens locally as well as tofu and tempeh.

Customers have a choice of items that changes weekly, and many have put their trust in Celeste to make the choices for them.  “Our clients are really easy-going – they’re really open to trying anything,” she says. “We have some clients who have a subscription and get just one thing each week and don’t even choose.” And even if her clients aren’t vegan, they’re open to trying a plant-based meal here and there.

Inspiration for meals comes from her long history in culinary arts, but Lopreiato tries out one new recipe each week to increase choices for her customers. Her single employee Emily works alongside her in the kitchen and her partner Simone takes care of most deliveries as well as some marketing and bookkeeping. It’s a true small business where team members must wear different hats to make it work.

And it is working. It’s been received very well by this community, which has been good for business but also their social lives. Being new to the area, they wanted to find community here.

“It has been a great way to meet people,” Lopreiato says. She and Simone had met many people in Guelph when they were operating there, and they’re now doing the same here. They meet lots of farmers obviously, but also other young professionals with a similar mindset, especially in places like Collingwood where the entrepreneurial spirit is thriving. “A lot of our customers are also self-employed.”

There are certainly a lot of people who are happy to see a new business operating with a zero-waste, ethical mindset. It’s important for Celeste to do business in a way that connects with her values, so the reusable container and membership model was a way to avoid single-use packaging that is an environmental nightmare utilized by most food companies. Reusable containers rely on a local approach because there’s a short distance to have the packaging returned. This approach is also being used by other food organizations in the area such as Eat Local Grey Bruce who distribute in re-usable cooler bags.

So, in the end it depends on what you want to be eating. If you want fresh, local, organic food. There is really no obstacle. Even if your budget is tight, you can try just one meal a month. The service is set up to make things simple. “We prioritize the delivery aspect of the business,” Lopreiato says. “They can choose us – we’re local, organic zero waste, or they can go with [corporate delivery systems] where it’s coming from who-knows-where with a ton of packaging.”

And as for convenience being the biggest barrier to eating fresh, local produce, well it’s becoming less of a barrier thanks to businesses like Conscious Kitchen. “You can actually source these products in a convenient way, whether it’s from us or other farms who are doing home delivery,” she says.

“It is definitely becoming more convenient. And I think that’s the key piece – making it simple and providing an easy alternative for people.”

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Photos by Alyssa Joline & Stef Richardson