The start to the Berezan family’s journey into entrepreneurial world began like many Calgary stories in recent years.
Both Daniel and his wife Joanne left Calgary’s oil and gas industry four years ago looking for a change. That, and they wanted to flyfish more often.
“We ended up a getting a chance to really know and learn about agriculture and learn about food and where it came from,” said Daniel Berezan, co-founder of the online farmers’ market Cultivatr.
The reality is, most city folks don’t know where their food comes from – except from the grocery store, Berezan said. As busy professionals, they didn’t have much time to hit Calgary farmers’ markets. So, they too didn’t understand the cycle until they experienced it firsthand.
“When we got out into the country, we kept hearing stories about how producers weren’t making any money and that started us down this path,” he said.
That’s where they got the idea for Cultivatr. It’s an online farmers market where people can shop online for certain locally-grown or produced foods.
You pick the foods, then the delivery date
Berezan, who commutes from Pincher Creek to operate their Calgary warehouse, said users can simply visit the online portal, choose the foods they want and then a delivery date.
They only list products grown or produced within 220 kilometres of Calgary. Berezan said they estimate for every dollar spent with Cultivatr, it generates $18 back into the local economy with jobs related to producers.
“Those guys ended up having to hire new people; those guys who now have jobs are now buying new cars and buying new things,” Berezan said.
Even their own business has had to spend as they’ve expanded. They had to add five delivery vans just to keep up with demand. COVID-19 catapulted them ahead; business exploded and they grew by 7,000 per cent in 2020.
They grew out of the location they started in. There, they had to rent refrigerated semi-units to store all the orders as they pushed them out to customers. They’ve since moved to a larger location
“What was really cool as we look at everything, what we’ve created in this industry and we’ve been able to keep most of those customers, plus our producers are growing, so everyone’s doing well and that’s the ultimate goal,” Berezan said.
Alberta Yield maybe a year late?
Berezan said they could have benefitted from enrolling in the Platform Calgary Alberta Yield program a year ago.
Especially because they didn’t anticipate the massive growth. Still, being a part of the program is helping them fill in as they continue to build.
“In a perfect world, we wanted a hockey stick curve, not the rocket ship,” Berezan said.
“It always puts us behind the eight ball. Had we had the Alberta Yield, we probably would have thought of things a little bit better.”
He said they’ve been working with different presenters who have practical experience. They’re addressing blind spots as they scale up.
Ultimately, that’s what they’re after. Berezan said this is a model that can be implemented in any geographic area.
There’s one hurdle: Because of the model, they can be capped by how much they’re able to get from local producers. But, a lot of attention is still being paid to oil and gas in Alberta, instead of an economic driver like food and agri-tech, Berezan said.
“The one thing we do have in Alberta is we have an abundance of agricultural land and we have an abundance of agricultural producers,” he said.
“Agriculture can be the thing that actually saves our economy if we actually look at creating a local approach versus this multinational sort-of approach.”