CANMORE – The Bow Valley has a new way to save food from the landfill, but don’t confuse the food barn with the food bank.
Launched in December 2017, the Canmore Food Recovery Barn gained official non-profit status with the mission to collect food destined for the landfill from local superstores and redistribute to locals and visitors for a “not required, but extremely appreciated” donation.
“I’ve always watched a lot of documentaries and knew about the food waste that we have in, not only our country, but the world and it was actually through social media I learned about the Banff Food Rescue and thought – I’m going to look that up, why not,” Danielle Leigh, Canmore Food Barn Recovery founder and director said.
Known as one of the top countries for “food waste,” with Canada losing an estimated $31 billion in food waste per year according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Leigh said she was inspired to keep food out of the landfills and started talking to “the right people at the right time.”
“The biggest challenge has been space – where we can do this project and where we can run it,” Leigh explained.
What initially started in a shed behind Paintbox Lodge on 10th Street, nicknamed the “barn,” quickly outgrew the space and moved to the Lutheran Church where organizers now host twice-weekly food recovery redistribution opportunities to the public.
“It’s definitely a learn as you go kind of thing and then really taking bits of that information and balancing in what works in our community,” Leigh explained.
In addition to outgrowing the original space, early challenges with the non-for-profit included ensuring the public understood the mission of the project.
“We want to be clear that we are about environmentalism as opposed to food security,” Leigh said.
“Food security is a happy by-product,” Pam Hvizdos, Canmore Food Barn Recovery management team member added. “[But] it’s been a challenge to keep that mission clear to the community that it is an ecological project, so everyone is welcome, we are not needs-tested.”
Working against the stigma that only those concerned about food security should be accessing the Food Recovery Barn, organizers explained to those utilizing the program that as long as the food is not going to the landfill, you are invited to take it.
“If you can use it and eat it, you’re more than welcome,” Hvizdos said.
Although that is not to say the project doesn’t add extra food security to the Bow Valley, as Leigh remembers an impactful interaction during the early days.
“One of the comments I remember is from a mom who said she finally felt like she was able to feed her children healthy food – that one stuck with me,” Leigh said.
Another anecdote from the founder came from a group of out-of-town workers staying in Canmore who accessed the project.
“In the very beginning, it was in the summer and we had a lot of contractors coming into town and they had maybe just found a place to stay and hadn’t received a paycheque yet and they said they were living off our recovery,” Leigh said with a humble smile.
537 AVOCADOS SAVED
Diverting more than 20,000 kg of food from the landfill since last March, the Canmore Food Barn Recovery project has saved 537 avocados, redistributed 717 loaves of bread and given back 1,008 cups of coffee.
“We try to adhere to the food pyramid where you feed people first, then animals, and if none of those are possible then you compost,” Leigh explained.
So what is this food that would otherwise end up in a landfill?
“A lot of produce is near the end of it’s usable life, or just doesn’t look as good anymore and won’t sell,” Hvizdos explained.
“Or they have [perishable food] they need to get rid of before a new shipment ... the best before date might be [awhile] away from when it would actually expire.”
The organizers acknowledge there can be misinformation about redistributing “expired” recovered food, but want the public to understand that store policies have different guidelines than the Canmore Food Recovery Barn’s food permit.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, best-before dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date.
“You can buy and eat food after the best-before date has passed. However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, its texture may have changed,” the government website states.
A future goal for project organizers is to create more awareness and education to “inspire creativity and head back to preservation.”
“Learning and teaching more about dehydrating and canning and preserving, stocking up – learning ways to deal with it in your own home,” Leigh said.
But for now the top priority is keeping the project steady with the doors open consistently.
“Steady is a relative term. We never know what we are going to get. It’s always a crackerjack surprise, we never have any idea,” Hvizdos said with a laugh.
“If stores are busy, we might not have much of anything – depending on traffic in town, traffic through the stores, it’s very random.”
Partnered with local grocery stores, Safeway and Save-On-Foods, the project successfully redistributes on average 2,000 kg of food a month back into people’s homes.
And organizers are always open to more partnerships, the only requirement is the recovered food needs to come from a food handling facility.
“We’ve had people who’ve run events and they’ve over purchased produce and they don’t want it to go to the garbage,” Leigh explained.
Those interested in checking out the semi-weekly spread of produce with vegetables, fruits and baked items are encouraged to go early, as it is a first-come-first-served basis and stock is usually gone within an hour.
“It’s super busy. It took on a life of it’s own,” Hvizdos said with a laugh.
“People have been very generous. We have fabulous volunteers and generous donations – that is how we can do it.”
The Canmore Food Barn Recovery is open Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m., at the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, located at 1205 First Ave.
To keep updated with what’s going on with the “barn” or to contact organizers, go to the official Facebook page found under Canmore Food Recovery Barn.