It’s Monday, 5 p.m. and, like clockwork, Jim and Debbie Miyashita are at the back of Save-On-Foods to pick up a load of expired food that won’t be going to the landfill.
Save-On-Foods supervisor Rick Dion confirms the Miyashitas are there for their “Loop” pickup, and wheels out a load of boxes and bags stuffed with expired produce, deli meats and dairy. After Jim gets the first load packed into the back of the truck bed, Dion says there’s more. He steps back inside the store and wheels out another load of food, all of which is bound for the Miyashita’s Fernrigg Farm on Lyman Hill in Canoe.
Loop is a nationwide program that partners farmers with grocers, providing a framework through which unsaleable food unsuitable for food banks goes to farms for use as feed for animals.
“Instead of going to the landfill, we pick it up as a farm,” explained Debbie.
Near expired food and other unsaleable food items still fit for human consumption at Save-On-Foods goes to local food banks.
Dion jokes about the animals knowing when it’s food pick-up day. The Miyashitas laugh and confirm this is true.
Once they have the food loaded up, the Miyashitas take it back to their farm, where they sort through it for use as needed. Some goes to their pigs, some to their chickens. Some goes to their dogs. Some is shared with their neighbours. Nothing goes to waste.
“There are sometimes items that are still usable by people, in which case we take them to Second Harvest, and they’re allowed to go through that system,” said Debbie. “It’s a really good system. It’s a good system for our animals…
“All the stuff gets used. My chickens love yogurt, my pigs love yogurt. There isn’t anything that goes to waste. All the containers get washed and recycled.”
Debbie said there are seven local farms currently involved in Loop, with about the same number waiting to join.
“We’re sharing our pickup with some other farms who don’t get anything right now who could be on the list,” said Debbie, hopeful other local grocers will get in the Loop.
“In Salmon Arm we have capacity for more stores and we have a lot of interested farms,” said Dawson Creek farmer, Loop co-founder and director Jaime White. “That’s not the case in every region of the country. There are some areas where we have more stores interested than we can find the farms to serve…
“If there are grocery stores or corner stores that would like to find a solution, we can usually help you build one that will work for you.”
White explained the Loop program was set up to “do good things with the food we don’t sell.”
“We bring food into our communities, it’s hard to grow, it’s hard to transport, and then in a lot of our communities it goes in the garbage, and that really kind of caught us by surprise,” said White.”So we went to the grocery stores and said, ‘hey, we’d love to feed our animals with this if you can’t sell it.’”
White said grocers were initially supportive of the concept but had concerns around liability and reliability, needing assurances that once the program was in place it would continue to work daily.
“So we work with them to build a framework where we buy the insurance they want, and we build the training around their normal operational practices,” said White. “They said yes, we’ll try it one time. And that one time worked, and it turned into about 275 locations in Canada that work with Loop now. We divert 100 per cent of the food they can’t sell at the store that is not suitable for charity.”
White stressed that stores are encouraged to give to charities first.
“Please feed people in your community if you can,” said White.
Like Debbie, White considers Loop a win-win for everyone involved. Stores involved don’t have to pay the cost of disposal and get to see food they can’t sell go to good use. Farmers have access to a diversity of food that would otherwise be very costly to acquire. And communities have less waste going to their landfills.
“That’s our role as farms: take it, use it local, don’t truck it out of your community, don’t build a big compost pile,” said White. “Feed animals. Make eggs locally. Make milk locally. There are some things that are too far gone for us to feed to our animals so we’ll compost those, but across the whole program our compost rates are usually around two per cent, and two per cent is a pretty good number. That’s a little bit of dirt for everybody but also an awful lot of animal feed.”
For more information about the Loop program, including how local farms and grocers can get involved, visit loopresource.ca.
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