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Kitchen that turns rejected produce into meals gets $350,000

Produce that's difficult to sell is donated by grocery stores
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Colleen Popyk, warehouse manager at the Food Security Distribution Centre, shows off some fresh vegetables. The facility will have new food processing equipment thanks to a $350,000 boost from the province. TIMES COLONIST

A Victoria initiative that turns fresh produce bound for the compost heap into meals has scored a $350,000 boost from the province.

The Victoria Community Food Hub Society and the Mustard Seed Food Bank received the grant for their Food Connections project, which links locally produced and recovered food to the Food Security Distribution Centre’s certified kitchen on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, where meals and food items are developed for community programs, markets and schools.

Treska Watson, director of Food Security for the Mustard Seed, said 8,000 to 12,000 pounds of food are rescued per day in the facility, which helps to feed roughly 45,000 people each month.

“All of this food was destined for the landfill,” she said, pointing to a cardboard box full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“And instead we’re able to direct it to the community and folks in need.”

Watson said the organization salvaged and redistributed 2.1 million pounds of food in 2021. Waste products are picked up from grocery-store partners daily, processed and distributed to about 65 agencies, including Indigenous communities, school food programs, lunch programs, seniors programs and more.

Food considered not viable for distribution is turned into fruit leather, smoothies, soups and stews.

“That’s the thing — it’s not even waste,” Watson said.

“What is rescued food? It’s super-viable, beautiful food but consumers won’t buy that food with a little blemish on it. And we’re lucky enough to receive it.”

The new provincial funding, administered through the Victoria Foundation’s Food Security Provincial Initiatives Fund, will help to provide specialized, large-batch food-processing equipment.

“[The food hub] is such an incredible community asset,” said Linda Geggie, executive director of the Victoria Community Food Hub Society, at the funding announcement Thursday. “Working not only to feed vulnerable people but also to be an anchor for building a regional food economy.”

During the pandemic, the amount of food rescued by the Victoria Community Food Hub Society nearly doubled. But COVID-19 also presented another opportunity.

“[Farmers] were worried about selling their food and we saw the charitable sector having a huge pressure on their services,” said Geggie. “So we married the two and we launched the South Island Farm Hub.”

The farm hub buys products from about 30 growers and re-distributes them to local charities, schools, wholesalers and the community at large.

“It’s all part of the business model to grow an incubator for small-scale growers that can then scale up,” Geggie said.

The funding announcement comes after the province provided $1.9 million to the Mustard Seed Food Bank to purchase the Food Security Distribution Centre at 808 Viewfield Rd.

ngrossman@timescolonist.com