When you’re shopping for produce, whether in a physical store or online, it’s easy to forget the chain of events and people that culminated in the abundance of fruits and veggies before you. But every apple or potato or chanterelle you buy has been carefully selected by someone. And if you shop with SPUD.ca, that someone is our director of produce, Micky Tkac.
Born in Slovakia, Micky emigrated to Canada with his family as a child. After growing up in Toronto, Micky eventually settled in North Vancouver, where he currently lives with his wife, three kids, and a sizable veggie garden.
How did you first get interested in produce?
Growing up in Slovakia, we were really involved with growing our own food, so I’d say I’ve always been into produce. My family always had a huge garden and fruit trees, we’d grow apples, plums, raspberries, grapes. I remember my Grandfather taking me mushroom picking from when I was really young and teaching me how to tell the difference between poisonous and edible mushrooms. Mushroom picking is something I still really love today, and I take my kids and teach them the same things my Grandfather taught me. There are many exquisite edible varieties that grow right in our city’s backyard, the woods of the North Shore.
What is your favourite produce item, and how would you prepare it?
If I had to choose just one item, I’d have to go with cherries. I really think that the Okanagan valley produces the tastiest crunchiest cherries in the world, and of course I love to eat them fresh on beautiful summer days.
My favourite produce item to grow is definitely tomatoes. They are just so vigorous and produce so much bounty, with many heirloom varieties having a fascinating history behind them. My largest plant this year has vines that are close to 20 feet long and still producing wonderful tomatoes.
How did you translate your love of produce into a career?
I first started working in the produce department in a huge chain grocery store in Toronto as an after school job, and it just kind of grew from there. When I moved to BC I got a job on Granville Island, working for an Okanagan fruit stand, which really gave me an appreciation for the quality of produce coming out of this province. When I started at SPUD as a produce buyer in 2014, the emphasis on local produce was one the things I was most excited about, because I knew how good it was.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Definitely tasting all the different fruits and vegetables! I also really love getting to go out to the farms to meet and build relationships with farmers and vendors. That’s one of the things that makes working at SPUD special. The connections that the company has with it’s suppliers are like nothing else I’ve seen in the industry. We have farmers that grow stuff specifically because our customers fell in love with a particular variety and we just can’t wait to get it in every year.
How does the fact that SPUD is online impact what you do?
There are obvious challenges with convincing people who are used to picking out their own produce at the store and think they need to physically touch a tomato to know it’s good. But once they give us a try, they see the quality is there. Actually, the online model makes it easier to ensure quality in some ways. Since we don’t have displays, we can keep produce at the optimal temperature until it reaches the customer. And you know that the produce you get hasn’t been touched and squeezed by a bunch of random people. Ultimately though, it’s all about gaining people’s trust. We pick out the produce that we would want for ourselves, and we also have a 100% satisfaction guarantee as a backup, so if a customer does get something that’s not what they would have picked, they don’t pay for it.
Fall is coming up – what should we be excited about produce-wise?
Apples (and pears) — I know I said this about cherries but Okanagan apples are also the crunchiest most flavourful apples in the world. When I first tasted an Ambrosia I was blown away, I have never tasted an apple with that kind of sweetness and crunch before.
Winter Squash — They are so versatile, and there are so many different types. I love them just roasted with some salt and butter, or in a simple soup so the unique flavour can really shine.
Wild Mushrooms — Local wild foraged chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and hedgehog mushrooms are all amazing
Kales — Get even sweeter as the weather gets cooler
Potatoes — Love them all, especially new potatoes in the early fall.
Tomatoes — Even though the field grown tomatoes are finishing up, we’re lucky to have greenhouses that can continue to provide flavourful tomatoes until well into the fall.
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