Closing the Loop: Sask. farmers and grocers collaborating to reduce food waste

Closing the Loop: Sask. farmers and grocers collaborating to reduce food waste

Every week, Chelsea Stellek helps save a ton of food from the Regina landfill — well, more like a half-ton.

Every Monday, the Vibank-area farmer makes a trip to Save On Foods in east Regina, where she picks up Rubbermaid totes full of food otherwise destined for the Loraas bin.

“It fills your whole box of your truck. I think we had 25 totes or something on our last pickup. So it would be equivalent (to) I’m going to say 1,200 pounds,” said Stellek.

And that’s just at a single store, in a single day.

“It’s incredible to think,” said Stellek. “I don’t know if anybody really understands the waste we have with food.”

Stellek is one of 235 Saskatchewan agricultural partners participating in the Loop Resource program, which runs at all of the province’s six Save On Foods locations.

B.C-based Loop connects grocery stores with local farmers, who can use the product that would otherwise be thrown away.

Apples that are too bruised to sell, or lettuce that’s too wilted, or yogurt that’s past its best-before date, or bread that’s gone stale: People might avoid eating these things, but Stellek’s cows and pigs sure appreciate them.

“The goats love dairy. We have sometimes orphan lambs, goat kids, calves, so we can utilize that,” said Stellek.

Meat that’s unsalable, her dogs and cats will eat.

The vast majority of Stellek’s weekly pickup falls into this category — food for her livestock and animals. She estimates about 20 or 25 per cent is still fit for human consumption; for those products, she has connected with local families in need, saving them a trip to the Regina Food Bank.

“Food doesn’t belong in the garbage,” said Jaime White, Loop Resource’s founder. “We just do it because we don’t have any other options. So we wanted to create the potential for that option.”

Loop began 2 ½ years ago in White’s home community of Dawson Creek, B.C., a “coalition of concerned citizens and farms that were looking to do better.”

The life cycle of landfills is a worry for many municipalities — including in Regina, where “the dump” is only slated to survive another 28 years.

The city will pilot a curbside organic waste pickup program beginning next year, which it estimates will extend the lifespan by diverting 18,000 tonnes of waste per year.

“Food waste is a very hot topic right now,” Naomi Mihilewicz, from the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, agreed.

“Plenty of good food doesn’t wind up being sold and all of that food embodies a lot of fossil fuel resources to create it, store it, transport it,” said Mihilewicz.

“And if it’s just simply chucked out, people are starting to get the picture that we’re warming up our climate to grow food that we’re not even eating.”

Food rotting in a landfill creates methane, added Mihilewicz, “one of the most potent climate change gases that there is.”

The goal of reducing waste has meant another happy byproduct: Livestock health is improving with more nutritious diets, and in turn, the food they produce is more nutritious for people to eat.

“It’s been neat to see the effects on our community,” said White. “I can now buy pasture-raised, ethically raised chicken eggs from six or seven locations in my hometown. Where, before, you would be hard-pressed to find one actually that doesn’t feed just layer ration and dry crumble.

“We shouldn’t only eat bread and cereal, those are dry goods, but we feed a lot of our livestock this way.”

In the past year, Loop’s business has grown exponentially — from three neighbouring communities, to 22 in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“We impact 1,100 farms weekly with product in some capacity, and hundreds of charities,” said White.

He believes that will grow — and fast, as Loop is in conversation with several other grocery chains.

With “about 10 times as many stores” expected to come on board this year, White said Loop is looking for more farmers and charity partners.

Stellek said it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Every Monday afternoon, she picks up her haul from Save On Foods, then takes it home and sorts it.

At Save On Foods, store manager Rob Foster and his staff work with a different farmer each day of the week, helping them load that day’s stock of unsalable food.

For Foster, too, the work is worth it.

“It’s a great program, honestly. It really does help us divert food waste. That’s a great thing,” said Foster.

Cutting the waste requires no infrastructure changes, either, White added.

“You don’t have to invest $100-million in a compost facility; you don’t have to invest billions of dollars in a biodigester. We can do this, and we can do this next week. We’ve started stores with as little notice as that,” he said.

“We can do it for at or below the existing cost, even by the time we pay for our $10-million liability policies and our scheduling software and the things that we need from a technology standpoint to make this work.”

[Source: LeaderPost.com]