I recently accompanied Russ Nicholls, of Aunties and Uncles (the best brunch spot), on a buying expedition to The Ontario Food Terminal. A giant U-shaped building right off the Queensway in West Toronto, the OFT has always intrigued me. From the highway you can see trucks loading and unloading produce that, in due course, ends up on our supper tables. The place remained a mystery as it is closed to the general public (wholesalers only), and I missed the last open house event, Taste of the Food Terminal (ticket sales support Food Share). With Russ' pass I made it in and was soon immersed in the frenetic action of the place. Jose DaSilva, vice president of Ippolito Produce, saw me taking photos in among the produce and called me up to his office. He was very generous with his time, considering the bustling activity around him, and answered some of my questions about his business and the OFT.
Ippolito Group is a family run business with 4 generations contributing to the growth and development of the company. They have been at the Food Terminal since 1998 and were formerly located at the St. Lawrence Market. Ippolito is a full service produce company supplying North America with fruits and vegetables from the US (California, Colorado, Arizona, New Jersey, Mexico, Texas, and Florida) and locally grown produce from Ontario and Quebec. The company has expanded with a new packaging plant in Burlington and their own shipping company, Ippolito Transportation Inc., to move produce across the continent. DaSilva believes in developing an awareness of where produce comes from and advocates for the current location of the terminal. He stresses that close proximity to Toronto is what keeps companies like Ippolito connected to the city, allowing for greater accessibility to local produce grown by Ontario farmers.
The OFT began construction in 1952 and was completed and opened in 1954. It is the 3rd largest market in North America (LosAngeles is 1st and New York City is 2nd) where imported and local produce is sold by both wholesalers and Ontario farmers. It employs over 100 000 people and provides for both small Toronto businesses like Aunties and Uncles and big business like chain supermarkets. It is a place of hard schlepping, chaotic order, no-nonsense attitudes, and masculine energy. The OFT supports top quality, competitive pricing (the "stock exchange" for vegetables and fruits), and relationship building between buyers and sellers.
If you are interested in buying from the OFT, and have a business number, you can purchase a $200 membership for 2 years worth of access (1 vehicle only). The terminal is owned and operated by the Ontairo Food Board. You can find lots of information on their website to get you started.