John VanderZwaag has experienced the devastation of good food going to waste. As the Operations Manager for produce supplier Groenewegen & Sons Ltd, John understands firsthand the amount of energy, water, land, labour and transport that goes into ensuring his produce makes it to people's tables. The fact that $31 billion worth of food in Canada is wasted each year, according to consulting firm Value Chain Management, is deeply unsettling to both John and his team.
After a large shipment of Groenewegen & Sons potatoes was rejected by a retailer for failing to meet their specifications, John decided it was time to act. He turned to Ian Gibbons, Programs and Partnerships Manager at Second Harvest, a Toronto-based charity that has been rescuing good food and delivering it to people in need for 31 years.
Together, Ian and John examined the potatoes - almost all of which were still perfectly edible. Thousands of fresh potatoes ready to be diced and cooked into hearty stews, mashed and mixed with garlic, and baked to perfection with a dollop of sour cream. Thousands of spuds able to nourish hungry Torontonians struggling to find their next meal.
In that moment, a partnership was born between Groenewegen & Sons and Second Harvest. Since accepting that first donation in March 2015, Second Harvest has received over 800,000 pounds of surplus potatoes directly from the 70 PEI farmers who work with Groenewegen & Sons.
"The farmers we work with spend their entire year growing these crops of food and the last thing they want to see is that good food going to waste," explains John. "If there are people who can benefit from these potatoes, why wouldn't we help?"
In last few years, the government has been echoing John's concern about useful produce going to waste. Since the Ontario Tax Credit for farmers was launched in 2014, the agricultural community now has an opportunity to start building relationships with charities. With this incentive, food organizations like Second Harvest have started to receive more large-scale donations of fresh, nutrient-dense foods.
What can't be used by Second Harvest's own agency network is shared with a growing network of like-minded food organizations from Halton, Durham, Peel, and Waterloo, all the way to Hamilton and Montreal.
Dispersing these surplus potatoes to organizations and people in need has created stronger reciprocal and peripheral partnerships. Second Harvest has received an influx of other food donations, as a result. Moisson Montreal, Second Harvest's Quebec brokerage partner exchanges a surplus of meat and healthy protein for a portion of donated Groenewegen potatoes.
"Our goal is to have our producer and grower partners supply organizations like Second Harvest with food when it's needed, rather than when it's rejected by a retail store," John comments. "Right now there is an overabundance of potatoes in North America and good produce is going to waste. That's a tragic thought when there are hungry people out there. We all have to play our part in finding a solution."
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