Food waste is a topic on fire these days. But how often do you meet people actually doing something about it?
The United Nations Food Agriculture Organization estimates that we throw away about 30% of our food in developed countries. For fruits and vegetables, statistics are even more shocking: some estimates show that we throw away around half (or more!!) of the fruits and vegetables that we grow. This includes produce thrown away on farms and elsewhere along the food chain (grocery stores, retail, restaurants and at home).
When I heard about the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners — a charitable organization located in Leamington, Ontario — I got really excited. It was my Leamington Grandma who first told me about them. For those who don’t know, Leamington is a greenhouse hotspot in Canada and North America. Apparently it has the most greenhouses per capita in all of North America. A LOT of Canada’s greenhouse (or “hothouse”) vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) are from the Leamington area. It’s greenhouse central.
But that also means there is a lot of excess produce that either doesn’t get sold or is deemed “number twos”. A group of people with big hearts who listened to relatives tell stories of war-caused hardships and not having enough to eat decided to do something about this surplus food problem in a world where people are still hungry.
“Why is that some people are born into hardship and others aren’t?” says Southwestern Ontario Gleaners board chair Vern Toews. “We feel we have to do something to help those who need it.”
“Gleaners” is a biblical term where farmers were asked to leave areas of their fields unharvested so that the poor could gather it to feed themselves. The Leamington-located Gleaners is one of a handful across North America. Given all the greenhouses and availability of produce, the Leamington location seems to be in the prefect spot.
What this Gleaners does is takes produce (vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, , carrots, squash, brussel sprouts, etc) that would otherwise be thrown away or left to rot and turns it into dehydrated soup mixes that are then sent around the world (currently to two countries; Toews says they are looking for other charities to distribute through — for more information, contact me). Each 3 pound bad has about 100 servings of soup and beans are added for protein. They also make dehydrated apples and other snacks, which are distributed to Ontario schools.
When I walked into the processing room, I was met by smiling volunteers chopping potatoes on a line. Oh yes, did I mention the entire organization is almost entirely volunteer run? Volunteers work shifts in the morning only (about three hours) and do most of the produce washing and chopping. Two staff do work there – an office manager and the processing plant manager (who oversees operating the massive dehydrator), but other than that the chopping and bagging is done entirely by volunteers. The board of directors is also made up of people who are volunteering their time.
This Gleaners just started to rev up production late last year when they received their donated giant dehydrator (the core machine of all their work). They plan on producing some three million (three million!!) soup servings this year.
Wow. An amazing solution to our world’s imbalance of food waste and hunger. A mission that’s almost 100% supported and staffed by volunteers. Amazing, isn’t it?