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Waste Not, Want Not preventing food waste in Cumberland County

Volunteers harvest fresh produce from Good Thyme Farm as part of the Waste Not, Want Not FOUND Community Hub program.
Volunteers harvest fresh produce from Good Thyme Farm as part of the Waste Not, Want Not FOUND Community Hub program. - Contributed

Farmers, community organizations providing fresh produce to food bank

AMHERST, N.S. —

Each year tons of fresh vegetables are wasted on farmers’ fields across Nova Scotia, either left to rot following the harvest or ploughed under.

The Ecology Action Centre has joined forces with Cumberland County farmers and other stakeholders to provide fresh produce for the Amherst food bank and other programs that provide food to people in need.

From baby steps, the Waste Not, Want Not FOUND Community Hub program is gaining momentum with more farmers providing a growing amount of fresh vegetables that are ending up on kitchen tables in the Amherst area.

“We rescue food that would normally left in farmers’ fields, things that are normally left to rot or turned over, or even food that is forgotten,” Rebecca Jones of the Ecology Action Centre said. “For example, people have apple trees that don’t get harvested. The idea behind the program is that we have volunteers go out and harvest food that would otherwise not be harvested and we bring it to folks in need.”

The program is based on what has become a successful FOUND Forgotten Food program in the Annapolis Valley. FOUND works in collaboration with food producers, community groups, food banks and volunteers to reduce food waste.

The non-profit organization that’s run by volunteers works to reduce waste by harvesting, gathering and distributing food that would otherwise go to waste.

Jones said farmers will reach out to the organization when they have fresh produce to contribute and sometimes volunteers will contact the farmers.

Alison Lair of the Cumberland YMCA and Empowering Beyond Barriers said the program has already seen lots of produce donated including 530 pounds of new potatoes from Alder Meadow Farm, 45 pounds of zucchini and 25 pounds of green and yellow beans from Good Thyme Farm while Broadfork Farm in River Hebert has provided another 100 pounds of squash and cucumbers as well as zucchini while Elita Rahn dropped off 30 pounds of tomatoes.

Wysmykal Farm of Chapman Settlement provided three large totes with radishes, carrots, lettuce, kale green onions, cilantro, dill and more.

Another supporter is Good Thyme Farm.

Project supporters are also willing to take excess vegetables from home gardens as well.

Jones said in some cases volunteers, who can keep some of the food they harvest, go out to the farms and do the harvesting while in other cases it’s material that didn’t sell at market. The organization is also collecting a list of volunteers who can be called to go to farms and collect produce.

Jones said most of what is collected is going to the Amherst food bank, but some of it’s going to the community kitchen at the YMCA and Maggie’s Place.

“We hope to spread to other locations across the county,” Jones said.

Lair said inspiration for the program came last year during the annual Pumpkins for Poverty fundraiser for the food bank when they went to collect pumpkins from Janet Rose from Alder Meadow Farm.

“We were surprised with how much excess food there was in the field and when we were talking to Janet, she said to take what we wanted. We asked what happens to the food that isn’t taken, and she said most of it’s ploughed under,” Lair said. “We realized that happens at a lot of farms, so we sat down and put our heads together how we could put this together.”

With the help of a public health grant and the support of Jones and the Ecology Action Centre the program took root.

The program, that was first launched last fall, promotes healthy eating, but it also has an environmental impact in the food collected from the fields lessens the farmers’ carbon footprint by reduced use of machinery to plough under the fields.

It also provides food security.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the program because the link has been established between food insecurity and health. This is a strong collaborative program across the county and provides an opportunity to increase access to healthy local food to those in need in our community,” Janine DeWitt of public health said.

Lair said the program is being well received in the community. She said people come into the community kitchen at the YMCA and see the fresh produce.

“They see things like spaceship squash and ask what they can do with it?” she said. “One person came in a couple of weeks after getting some beans and told us what she had made with them. The food is so fresh, and the recipients really appreciate it.”

Colleen Dowe from Empowering Beyond Barriers said the organization has been trying for years to prevent food waste and has been working with grocery stores for years to get produce for those who need it most.

“We’ve talked about this for years,” Dowe said. “How do we stop waste? It was 10 years ago we started trying to get food from stores and other sources. When we first put it out to the partners who would be receiving it there was a little bit of skepticism. As they’re receiving it and because it’s so fresh they’re finding how popular it is. When you see fresh local produce going into someone’s cart, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it, it has to make you happy.”

One of the project’s goals is to find storage space that’s refrigerated to meet the demand with the amount of food coming from farmers’ fields. If someone has space available, they can reach Jones at rebecca.jones@ecologyaction.ca or Lair at alison.lair@cumberland.ymca.ca .

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