Cast a Vote for an Organic Revolution: Newfoundlander a Finalist for the $100,000 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award

Melissa Butler's Real Food Market is up for $100,000 that could help solve a local food security issue ... but she'll need your votes to get it.

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The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) announced today that local businesswoman Melissa Butler will represent Newfoundland and Labrador for the finals of the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award.

“Real Food Market’s mission,” says Melisa Butler, “is to provide access to organic and locally produced foods, that support a healthy lifestyle, support the community, and respect the resources of our planet.” Her passion for organic farming and fresh, local food started while she was completing her MBA in France.

Located on Torbay Road, Real Food Market is an organic health food store and delivery service, offering a range of organic and natural health foods, from free-range, organic, and grass-fed meats, to wild fish, to vegan and vegetarian foods. A self-proclaimed “veggie-loving environmentalist,” Butler says she saw a massive gap in the food market in St. John’s, and in 2012, she set out to bridge it.

This month, they’re also launching Real Food To Go – an in-store juice and smoothie bar with healthy snacks using only certified, organically grown fruits and veggies.

But there’s an even bigger, community-minded plan afoot at RFM, to address a serious food security issue on the island. That of relying too heavily on outside sources for fresh produce.

“The current ‘buy local’ trend is supported by local consumers who perceive a better quality and higher overall value from local produce,” says Butler, adding that Atlantic Canadians are “more likely to buy local than the national average.”

Aside from the potential food-shortage hazard of relying on the mainland for food imports, Butler cites the health ramifications. “This province has the highest prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes in Canada. Looking at our cultural history as an island based in seasonal fishery, coupled with uncertain weather for ferries, and a challenging growing season for farmers, it is no surprise that the typical NL diet does not rely heavily on fresh foods.”

To remedy the matter, RFM want to “create a complete food system, and improve the health of Newfoundlanders and food security on the island.” Their goal is to invest in year-round organic vegetable growing.

“With her plan for a sustainable food system in Newfoundland and Labrador, Melissa is demonstrating how a local business can play a pivotal role in its community, in this case, by addressing a major health issue that affects her whole province.” -BDC

“We have plans to embark on a local food initiative with a long-standing family farming business in Portugal Cove, as a partnership for year-round organic greenhouse vegetable production.” And they’ve already conducted “test grows” this winter. The test grows were deemed successful, “and the farm is on track to provide RFM with fresh organic produce year-round beginning this fall.”

If successful, they will indeed achieve their goal of “a local year-round, sustainable ‘farm-to-table’ healthy food system.” A true solution to the island’s age-old problem of food security. “In essence, we are pioneering a fresh food and healthy lifestyle movement in NL.”

Melissa’s plan is to embark on a three-step effort. First, invest in local greenhouse operations to ensure a year-around supply of organic produce. Second, create a food-prep-and-preservation operation. Third, engage in a marketing campaign to educate consumers. Not only would her strategy provide more residents with the tools for better nutrition, but it could also reduce Newfoundland’s reliance on grocery shipments from the mainland.

“Each of this year’s finalists has provided a compelling story about how their business stands at that crucial crossroads where the right mix of vision and action can secure future growth and success,” says Michel Bergeron, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs at BDC. “With her plan for a sustainable food system in Newfoundland and Labrador, Melissa is demonstrating how a local business can play a pivotal role in its community, in this case, by addressing a major health issue that affects her whole province.”

To claim the BDC Young Entrepreneur Award $100,000 grand prize and fund this project, Melissa needs votes from Canadians from coast-to-coast. Voting for the 2015 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award contest runs from June 3 to June 17. Follow the contest through updates on Facebook and Twitter. The BDC Young Entrepreneur Award winner and runner-up will be announced on June 22. The runner-up will receive $25,000 in consulting services.

To support Melissa, or your favourite project, log onto the contest microsite and vote once a day.

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