Tuesday, 30 September 2014

2014-09-30 Confessions

Confession time, starting up a Farmers Market having a food truck, trying to also keep some corporate dollars flowing in is exhausting.

Really exhausting, I have neglected my own families meals, had no time to clean the house walk the dog or take time to visit friends and family for what seems like a very long time.  I miss my hairdresser and live in pony tails.

Working with my uber boyfriend,  I spend too much time sweating the  stuff that I should let roll off my back, and not enough time enjoying the fact that for the last year we have been busy trying to build a company, and have been able to spend loads of time together, and that my honey is very supportive and cute and I am lucky.

Confession - Blends - a divorced mother of two dating a divorced father of two, we have not been able to find a successful blend pattern that works for both unique families, so we don't.  Does that make me a bad step mom, yes probably, do I stress about that? yes a little - can I change it - no - so I can live with that.   Accept the things you cannot change, and allow the parents to parent without interference.   Kids will be grown soon enough.

On the topic of blends, coffee - I admit it I do not often buy organic coffee and sometimes I feel shame for that.  

So after months of food trucks, farmers markets and small town politics.  I sit on a plane en route to a corporate event, trying hard to get my head around the person that I was when I had my head stuffed in a flat screen every day, actually looking forward to putting on my black suit and sensible shoes and reconnecting with the Borg.

What I thought I was leaving when we started this adventure, the politics of corporate life, time constraints, personalities, I have found exist in everything just in different forms.  I thought being my own boss would somehow liberate me from the chains of middle management and corporate stress.  Instead I found that small town Politics are way more exhausting, and the demands of a small business exceed those of corporate life, and in the beginning with little payback, outside of the satisfaction of doing yourself, making your own decisions, and being responsible for your own success or failure.  Which I love.

So for the next week I am back at corporate and Honey is in charge of the food truck and Farmers Market, and for that I am thankful.

I am also thankful that the conference this week is in Miami beach. and this plane is near empty and I have three seats to myself.  

Sunday, 21 September 2014

2014-09-21 Re-opening of the Wilson Street Farmers Market

Sept 21 - our first weekend back at it as a vendor at the Wilson Street Farmers Market.

Despite a slow start to the re-opening of the Wilson Street Farmers Market, lying in bed the morning after the day after, pondering with a cup of coffee We think ojo's had one of its best days ever.

A food truck founding a Farmers Market has sure raised a lot of eyebrows in the town of Ancaster, why would anyone want to start up a market in a small town that already has a successful market.  

Well that's an easy question, we strongly believe that markets should be everywhere , small business should be supported and local growers should have better access to retail markets.  Shoppers shop on convenience and there  should be a market available every day of the week not just Wednesday afternoons in the center of our small town.  

We are big supporters of all markets.  We don't see other markets as competition we see the big grocery chains as the biggest challenge which funnily enough can exist peacefully across the road from one another without any fuss or politics.  

Aside from the practical necessity of facilitating local commerce.  Ojo's is a food truck that is committed to sourcing it's food locally, from local growers and producers, what better way to source fresh grown than at a farmers market.

At the end of the food truck and farmers market season in 2013, post crunching food costs numbers, and witnessing the sheer volume if food that leaves Outdoor Markets in trucks destined for the compost pile, we started to contemplate food preservation.

When we first began developing our tin can kitchen, in our antique travel trailer, we envisioned cooking, preservation, and more happening inside our 25 ft x 6 ft certified kitchen space, we quickly found out that prepping, serving, cooking, all at once in a tiny space was challenging in the best of times, add in pressure cookers, frozen produce and glass jars, it quickly becomes overwhelming, which is why most food trucks are attached to the hip to a commissary kitchen.

So in Oct 2013 we developed our plan to build a food preservation kitchen, attached to a market, to preserve local fare, that could carry us through the long produce barren Canadian winters.

Fast forward to Sept 2014, almost an entire calendar year later, and with the help and guidance of Plan B Organic Farms, golden handshakes, and government grants Ojo's reached it's first personal milestone, the preservation of Farmers Market produce, on site, with glass of wine in hand and in the spirit of partnership.

Plan B Organic farms runs CSA shares and is an active grower/vendor in a number of markets.  They  process and handle large volumes of local organic produce, the best quality and only year round supplier in our local region.  Alvaro Venturelli, co owner of Plan B and advocate for a healthy planet thru healthy food, has been an inspiration, teacher, and friend.

Our best market day ever started like any other market day, but with our new kitchen on hand. We really needed to run a test day, to examine the process flow and counter space and locations of kitchen appliances to get a feel for how our kitchen will function before we put the final touches in and receive final certifications.  With that goal in mind, over the last two days Plan B and Ojo's processed over 1000 cobs of corn, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, potatoes, garlic.  Enough food to feed our families for quite a while, a quite astronomical amount of valued added food, that would of likely ended up in a compost pile.

Despite aching arms, sore backs, and 12 hour days, it was fun.  So much fun we plan to do it again next week, and every week after.  

The impressive display of canned and frozen produce, soups, sauces, and smiles, is our first milestone at ojo's to becoming a little bit more than just a french fry truck in Ancaster's west end.  

Come check us out next Friday from 2 till 7 at the Wilson Street Farmers Market, and if you are up for lending your skills in chopping veggies, send us an email, there is plenty of room for everyone.

Happy Days!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

thinking about food trucks!

Food trucks are an important social phenomenon and are part of a solution to local food independence they provide people with the choice to eat local and most often healthier with fresh local food.

Food truck rally's are widely successful and well received by the Ancaster community, however most have faced issues with the city of Hamilton with regards to zoning.

Currently there is a big grey zone of how and where food trucks rally's can operate in the city of Hamilton, it is getting better however with the city loosening the grip on the Hamilton downtown and city parks, however up in Ancaster we are still in the dark ages with food truck events confined to church parking lots.  

There are two events currently operating in Ancaster, one is the well received Holy Food Trucks at Bethesda Church on Hwy 53 that runs on Tuesday nights and the new this year event Thursday nights located at Ryerson Church in the Village core.

The origins of this Ancaster zoning conundrum is based around a don't ask, don't tell policy.  Holy Food Trucks began in 2013, with an ask for forgiveness not permission policy,  they received no complaints despite huge parking congestion, when Ryerson and the Ancaster Rotary Club decided to host their food truck event at the end of 2013 they asked for permission.  The city gave them a big fat no, based on that they were located within the Ancaster BIA and the BIA has decided that they did not wish to allow food trucks.  After a going back and forth with the city, the city gave Ryerson permission to host given that they are institutional, same as Holy Food Trucks.  To deny one you should deny both.  

The idea that Food Truck rally's are suitable for institutional zoning, but not for industrial, or otherwise is logically baffling.  What does religion have to do with food trucks.

Food truck events should be treated the same as any other special event, and provided you follow the SEAT application guidelines, food trucks should be permitted.  If a non religious group decided to have a barbecue it would be permitted, because these barbecues are mobile on wheels  is not reasonable or logical to prevent their participation.  If they were all in tents it would be ok.  this type of governing over how our our food should be served to us is in no way serving in the best interest or wishes of the community.  

The zoning dept of the city of Hamilton's official stance is that food trucks should operate in a restaurant zone, but the developing food truck bylaw then further state that they cannot operate near a restaurant.  It is also often not the wishes of food truck owners or restaurant owners to be restricted to the same area.  A mobile food truck is designed to be mobile allowing access to areas  unserviceable by restaurants, including parks and other areas where a brick and mortar would be too big a social foot print.  To limit a food truck to a zone is almost to deny its very purpose. 

It is also not logical to apply the same set of standards to food trucks operating in the down town core to those that are operating in Ancaster's rural and industrial areas.  

Restaurant zones in rural areas are few and far between and rural and industrial areas are often the areas that most need access to food service.   There are food trucks currently operating in "non designated" areas within Ancaster but all it takes is one anonymous phone call to the city and the zoning dept. can shut them down.  This does not make for a good long term business plan, knowing that at any time a city official might tell you to move it on over. 

Preparing food in a truck is not in any way more hazardous than a catering truck or farmers market vendor and whether a Farmers Market Vendor is in a tent or a truck providing they meet the health and safety regulations, and abide by the applicable bylaws it should make no difference where they are with regard to zoning.

Food truck's are out there working hard within our communities.  Some bricks and mortar restaurants see food trucks as a threat.  Anyone that thinks food trucks have an economical advantage being mobile, and not having to pay rent or taxes, think again, Food Trucks pay rent at every event they attend in the form of typically 10% to the host, they also likely pay rent to their commissary kitchen, or parking storage.   There is travel time, and fuel costs, and chefs that need to be drivers and social media experts all at the same time.

So as the season winds down for food trucks, be sure to give your favorite trucks a big thumbs up for all the exceptionally long hours and hard earned pay.

Here at ojo's we have been staying local at our home near the Ancaster fairgrounds, we plan to stay open as long as the weather holds out.  Our commissary kitchen will be open within a couple of weeks, and we hope to stay busy with the Wilson Street Farmers Market and food preservation through the fall and winter.

Come and visit the newly renovated ojo warehouse on Saturday Oct 12 th for our thanksgiving concert featuring Hamilton's own Tom Wilson, come by the truck for tickets!