In Hamilton, big things sprouting from a little seed

The REAPontario research team has been visiting immigrant entrepreneurs and some of the places where they sell their products to the public. We would like to share what we are learning in a series of articles profiling some of these people and places.


Up first, the Mustard Seed Co-operative, a full service grocery store located close to the heart of downtown Hamilton. (Full disclosure: I am a founding member (owner) of the Mustard Seed!)

About the Mustard Seed

In the short time since the Mustard Seed opened its doors just over two years ago, it has become an integral piece in the revitalization of Hamilton’s downtown as well as an essential shopping destination for many of its owners.

At the Mustard Seed, “anything that can be local, will be local.” The Mustard Seed sprouted from a deep-rooted love for Hamilton. Inspired by those who are working to make this a great place to live, and also by successful food co-ops world wide, the goal is to have a positive impact on our local economy, our community, our health, and our environment.

Today, the Mustard Seed is made up of over 2,200 co-op owners. Some particularly hard working owners have collectively volunteered thousands of hours for The Mustard Seed, especially Board of Directors led by Graham Cubitt. A fantastic staff team, led by General Manager Carol Hartmann, oversees the general day to day running of the store.

TMS SeedlingSale2016-2

Anyone can shop at the Mustard Seed, but membership has its privileges, including a 2% rebate on purchases, voting rights at the AGM, and discounts on workshops on topics such as cheesemaking and making kombucha.


The Mustard Seed supports many new local producers both through the store and through events like the annual seedling sale and other outdoor markets that showcase new producers? The seedling sale on May 7 and 8 featured more than 15 producers, many very new, and drew about 1000 visitors.

Product Selection

The Mustard Seed has more than 200 suppliers (farmers, manufacturers, processors) at any given time. Prior to opening, the Mustard Seed board developed basic criteria for sourcing products.

According to the Mustard Seed website, the criteria were based on feedback from more than 1,000 respondents in an online survey question and an October 2012 Sourcing Team consensus workshop. They are:

  1. Local producers and manufacturers – supporting local producers and businesses, freshness, local ingredients, LocalFoodPlus (LFP) certification, and clear seasonality in offerings.
  2. Affordable Options – excellent prices on essentials and a variety of price options for other products so that the Mustard Seed is affordable for everyone.
  3. Wholesome and non-toxic ingredients – emphasis on wholesome identifiable ingredients, foods that are nourishing, minimally processed or refined foods, minimal artificial additives or preservatives, no GMOs, and organic foods.
  4. Ecologically responsible practices – farms with organic or other environmentally sustainable farming practices, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and other farming philosophies like biodynamics.
  5. Socially-responsible producers – sourcing from other co-ops and non-profits, fair wages for workers, Fair-Trade certification, independent businesses, and strong respect for human rights.
  6. Environmentally responsible packaging – includes minimal or no packaging, an emphasis on bulk, and packaging that is reusable, biodegradable, and recyclable.
  7. Ethical animal practices – the farmers and producers employ good animal husbandry practices including free-range and minimal antibiotic use.
  8. Small-scale and innovative trials – a selection of products not found in mainstream supermarkets, such as heritage varieties and heirloom seeds; empowering local producers by supporting short-run trials of unique or innovative products.
  9. Alternative dietary options – includes sourcing foods appropriate for vegetarians, vegans, people with a specific food intolerance, and certified to religious standards.

With these characteristics in mind, the Sourcing Team developed a prioritization matrix and an extensive database of suppliers who can stock the Mustard Seed.

TMS Word Cloud - priorities

This word cloud is based on the responses to MS question “How would you want Hamilton’s community grocery to be different than the place where you currently purchase your groceries?” The answers were categorized and the weighted responses are shown by frequency.

Congratulations Mustard Seed!

TMS 1Awards - group

In early May, Mustard Seed won a 1Award from FirstOntario Credit Union. Alongside two other Hamilton businesses – Gameopolis and Blackbird Studios – Mustard Seed will be sharing $150,000 in cash and in-kind services. From an initial pool of 41 applications, these winners competed within a group of 10 successful Hamilton small business finalists, each of whom presented to a panel of judges at the end of April and shared ideas about growth and future success in our community.

In 2014, the Mustard Seed was awarded the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, a provincial program that

“supports and recognizes the dedication, hard work and innovation of local agri-food businesses and individuals who are adding value to existing products, helping create jobs and contributing to economic growth.”


To learn more about the Mustard Seed, visit the website, follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook. Better yet, visit the store!

In an upcoming article, we will profile some of the Mustard Seed’s suppliers.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

…………. with thanks to The Mustard Seed website

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