Jason Pelley: Driving Halifax’s local food movement

Jason Pelley explores the province, sourcing local, no-spray, often organic products and distributing them to some of the most popular restaurants and cafés on the peninsula.

By Emma Jones

Jason Pelley delivers goods to the Dalhousie Student Union Farmer's Market Wednesday morning. (Emma Jones / Peninsula News)
Jason Pelley delivers goods to the Dalhousie Student Union Farmer’s Market Wednesday morning. (Emma Jones / Peninsula News)

Meet Jason Pelley. For two years now, the 35 year-old Haligonian has used his entrepreneurship, his sustainable ethic, and his truck to connect urban consumers to the freshest local farm goods.

Pelley explores the province, sourcing local, no-spray, often organic products and distributing them to some of the most popular restaurants and cafés on the peninsula, including Edible Matters, the Good Food Emporium, Ratinaud French Cuisine and Agricola Street Brasserie.

[pullquote]“It’s just about knowing your neighbourhood. You have to actually go out, drive around the mountains and valleys and get lost to find the best products.”[/pullquote]

Serendipity

Pelley experienced a number of careers before finding the one he loved.

A Dalhousie graduate, Pelley worked for the government in needs assessment, and as a sustainability analyst for a number of years. He thrived at his jobs and had the chance to travel the world, at one point working in Geneva.

But at the end of the day, he wanted something different. “I just needed a change,” he says.

“I worked in international organizations for a while and part of it was looking at really tough stuff in conflict zones. When I moved up, I started writing a lot of high-end reports. When you do that, after a while you start to wonder if anyone’s reading them.”

Pelley moved back to Halifax, joining his friend who had started his own farm. Still working for the government, he began driving products from the country to the city while he commuted.

His work experience had given him an understanding of economic structures, so Pelley knew he had touched upon a need in the farming system. He made connections with an increasing number of farmers, soon quitting his job and distributing product full-time.

“It was a weird, serendipitous thing. I was ready to stop doing what I was doing. I fell into a job, and I felt good about what I was doing. That was the biggest thing.”

A long workday

Pelley says he works between 18-20 hours a day, five days a week.

Most days, he wakes up early, hitting the road (and grabbing a coffee) by 7 a.m.

“My first coffee of the day is always important,” he says with a laugh.

Pelley spends his mornings driving to farms to pick up orders he received overnight and to meet with the farmers. Along the way, he likes to get a little lost, exploring new farms and searching for new products.

After filling his truck with fresh produce from the country, Pelley begins the distribution process, stopping at restaurants in Sackville, Bedford, Hammonds Plains, the South Shore, and finally at his warehouse in Halifax.

One of the perks of working with people in the food business is the great food, Pelley says. “It’s ridiculous how much I eat out, almost every night. Free food from some of the best chefs around!”

After dinner, Pelley works in his warehouse taking orders and packing products. Around 11 p.m., he settles in for a couple hours of paper work.

Making connections

Fresh and local produce.
Wednesday’s DSU Market goods. (Emma Jones / Peninsula News)

Pelley focuses on making meaningful connections with farmers, restaurateurs, chefs, and consumers.

Pelley takes pictures of the dishes created using his farmers’ products and takes the farmers to eat at the restaurants that use their food.

“If you’re a farmer in Middleton and you work up to your elbows in dirt every day, you kind of lose the forest through the trees. So when they come in, I take them to these nice restaurants and show them the stuff that they put in the ground in February.”

For Pelley, the best feeling comes when farmers feel pride in their work.

“Farmers have such a gruelling schedule, so it helps to give them a shot of energy, which makes me feel good about what I do.”

Kamie Branch is one of two co-ordinators at the Dalhousie Student Union Farmer’s Market, a market that receives all of its produce through Pelley. She feels that because of Pelley and his services, students have been able to understand and to place value in local farming systems.

“Jason’s just great. Not only is he our source of food, but he’s helping people’s food awareness. The first priority for students isn’t always the quality and proximity of food, but he’s helping people to make that connection and to care about where our food comes from,” she says.

A kind company

The DSU Market in the Student Union Building. (Emma Jones / Peninsula News)

“Good foods and healthy foods are right for everyone,” says Pelley.

“There’s a family that comes down to my farm table that are new to Canada, and I know that they don’t have a whole lot of cash, but I know what the woman is doing in school,” he explains.

“So for a year I provided this family with a bag of food at the end of each market day. It helped her work less, she ended up getting a bunch of scholarships, and now she’s on her feet. I don’t know, be kind to people, there’s a weird karma.”

Why we love local

The local food trend has skyrocketed in the past decade in Halifax. The reasons, says Pelley, are that young people today are more health conscious, have less money, and are more community oriented than in generations past.

“If you look through history, breaking bread together and having meals, in terms of community and group interactions, is about one of the most intimate and personal things that you can do,” he says. “Now, more than ever, we focus on the building of social capital as opposed to monetary or financial capital.”

Older farmers are often surprised that young men in their 20s are interested in cooking, Pelley says. He always tells them, “Well, we can’t buy a nice Corvette to impress girls! The girls in our neighbourhood aren’t looking for that stuff any more, and it’s a much nicer thing to be able to cook for someone in our generation.”

Sustainability: three big ideas

Thinking sustainably is hugely important for Pelley, both in his business and in his personal life. For him, sustainability comes down to three big ideas.

Be respectful, don’t waste, think about the whole. Those are the three general guidelines. I could break it down to energy flows, conservation, and biodiversity, but it always comes down to those things.

“Sustainability starts with yourself. If you’re going to be a good citizen of the world, treat yourself right. Have respect for yourself first, respecting the fact that you have a whole life ahead of you, and think about your future.”