Sean Gallagher on buying local food

When people think of buying locally, most will start with what they eat. Sean Gallagher was way ahead of the wave with his Local Source Market and Terroir.

Like many people from Ontario who visit Halifax for school, Sean Gallagher got hooked into Halifax pretty quickly, and decided to stay. "I was in university doing commerce co-op and a lot of entrepreneurial work terms," says the Ottawa native, who enrolled at Dalhousie seven years ago. "I figured that I should just start something here. The feedback I was getting in the course was, 'Sean, you gotta do something with food, and something with an environmental bent.'"

He came up with the name Terroir for his catering business, which is a play on French wine-speak, meaning "taste of the soil." It was a springboard from a lunch counter called Fresh on the Dal campus, offering local food to students.

"Luckily I had the tagline 'Local Source Catering' underneath it," says Gallagher. "The majority of my clients were environmental activists or real foodies. Surprisingly, those two demographics overlap in Halifax. There are a lot of graduate students who like to eat well."

When the idea of a market and deli came up, it was because the neighbourhood—the north end of Halifax—demanded it, says Gallagher, who hadn't initially planned to go that way with his business. "Catering is beautiful because you can be booked solid for a month and then take a month off, while with retail, you've got to be open every day and have fresh food available."

There's no ignoring the success of both businesses, and its model is being studied. To date there have been four university projects based on Local Source (by two nutrition undergrads, an MBA at Saint Mary's University and a student at the University of London, pursuing a masters of environmental economics).

Those who've grown accustomed to Local Source Market on Charles over the past year since it opened have learned that the food available is seasonal, depending on what Nova Scotia farmers are harvesting, and each basket of produce has a sign on it that says where it was grown. The kitchen is now also a bakery, offering its own breads for the deli sandwiches, using organic flour from Speerville Mills in New Brunswick.

"The bakery is still finding its niche," says Gallagher. "The bread is super-healthy and is as local as we could get."

He doesn't need to do much education for customers anymore—in the past year a lightbulb has been lit about the benefits of buying locally sourced food.

"This town has woken up to the fact that local food is a great way to vote with your dollars and actively make a difference in your own life, health and supporting your own economy. Especially with the meltdown, that coincided well with the fact that global warming is a big issue, and still is. And that we have the third best growing region in the whole country, the Annapolis Valley."

Many more corporate clients are interested in buying Local Source food these days, even though it costs more than other places, and once they've bought it, they come back. And with interest from the local Slow Food people, the environmental NGOs and even the province getting on board with Buy Local initiatives, business is good.

"The market is a daily drop-in spot," says Gallagher. "It's nice to see that old-school resurgence of daily shopping. People notice the difference and they're hooked. And also, getting to know that things are in a state of flux. We survived the first winter and next winter we have great plans."

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