Submitted by Stephanie Stevens

If you had to guess how much food waste there is in Canada, would your guess fall short? For many, the reality comes as a bit of a shock.

The number is a hefty 50 million tons. What makes that number more eye opening is 60 per cent of that waste is completely avoidable.

With food costs rising dramatically and nearly four million Canadians (including 1.2 million children) living with food insecurity, groups of like-minded people are coming together all over the country to find ways to reduce the waste and put food on plates in their local communities.

Columbia Valley Food and Farm (CVFF) is one such group.

Established in 2018 and currently headed by chair Sylvia Page, the aim of the non-profit group is to support local food producers and vendors and connect them to consumers. The group produces an annual local food guide and works with complementary organizations to bolster local food initiatives. More recently, CVFF created an offshoot committee called Nourish, the aim of which is to bring awareness to food waste here in the Columbia Valley and find ways to mitigate it.

“For me, the ‘aha!’ moment came at the Food and Buyers Expo held in Invermere two years ago,” said Page. “I attended a workshop put on by Shannon Duncan of Kimberley Food Recovery and was shocked and inspired by the progress Kimberley had accomplished in a few short years.”

Page added that Duncan explained that they had secured a grant that gave the group three years to get this program up and running, and the proof is quite literally in the pudding. To date, Kimberley has recovered over 450,000 pounds of food which has been sent out to several charities and non-profits as well as to the public in their region.

“It is past time that the Columbia Valley steps up and sees this important initiative through to fruition,” Page said.

Nourish committee member Dr. Jane Fleet said the group has allowed her to add her energy and interests in food recovery to a group of people with equal passion for the issue.

“To me the fact that food recovery programs are needed speaks to Canadians’ disconnect with their food and their environment,” said Fleet. “When I learned the statistics of how much food is wasted in this country and what that means in terms of energy and water waste I was appalled. Food recovery programs are the least we can do to make up for our spoiled, privileged behaviour. I look forward to ours becoming fully functional.”

The hurdle for Nourish has been finding a space for the food recovery program, which would include picking up and receiving, sorting and ultimately preparing food into meals that can be frozen and distributed; something which would require a commercial kitchen.

Enter the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC) and Adrian Johnson.

A proposal put before the District of Invermere (DOI) earlier this year by Peter Bourke of the CVCC and Johnson proposed the Columbia Valley Centre kitchen be upgraded and be made available on a rental basis to other entrepreneurs looking to produce food items for their business. The concept would include upgrades that would benefit the DOI as well as local food producers.

“This idea seemed to garner support but they were informed that a non-profit was needed to partner and be the interface with the DOI,” said Page. “We are the non-profit chosen to be that link.”

Teaming up with the CVCC and creating a commissary kitchen potentially creates a scenario that can help not only increase local food production and support local business, but help to fund the Nourish program and allow for food waste to go down and meals to end up on plates that are too often empty.

Page and Johnson went back to the DOI at a committee of the whole meeting and were met with support for the idea and encouragement to keep moving forward, as well as a letter of support to use for grant writing purposes.

There are still details to work out and funds to be garnered, but there is a forward momentum that has bolstered the Nourish committee. 

Councillor Theresa Wood voiced her support, saying there would be mutual benefits for all three parties, recovering food, helping businesses, and improving the kitchen.

“I think we should try it,” she said. “The benefits outweigh the cons.”