Ontario farmers annually produce more than 25 million pounds of food that is either thrown out or ploughed back into their fields – not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because the items aren’t chosen for sale due to aesthetic reasons such as size, shape or colour.
Factor in waste at the processing, retail and home – adding up to $27 billion across the country – and a huge amount of good food goes into the trash bin even as hundreds of millions go malnourished around the globe.That situation is what prompted a Moorefield organization to try to make a difference one bowl at a time. Area food that might otherwise go wasted ends up feeding thousands.
The Reapers of Hope drying program was launched in April out of a former building-supply yard that was renovated last fall. A branch of the Christian Aid Ministries of Waterloo, the organization’s volunteers and employees take donations of surplus produce from local farmers and turn them into dried vegetable soup mix that is then shipped to impoverished people around the world.
“The original idea came from British Columbia. There’s a place called the [Fraser Valley] Gleaners in Abbotsford where they process a lot of fruits for the same reason. Then there’s a company called the Ontario Christian Gleaners out of Cambridge started five years ago based on the same thing – we get a lot of our information from them,” said Reapers of Hope general manager Irvin Kraemer.
Much of the work is labour-intensive, explained warehouse manager David Martin, who oversees the process. He sees hundreds of pounds of vegetables and potatoes stored in the facility’s two walk-in refrigerators, food that would otherwise be discarded by producers because it is deemed unfit to go to market. Small imperfections like discolouration, bruised spots or small patches of decay mar the products (a recent batch of carrots didn’t make the grade because they were simply too big to be sold in stores). The imperfections can be easily picked off or cut away to reveal still nutritious, edible and healthy foods.
“That’s the whole name of the game. This food will be packaged and then it will be distributed through Christian Aid Ministries to Third World countries like Romania, Haiti. You take a three-pound bag of soup, soak it in 25 litres of water overnight and that’ll make 100 servings. And we will also be packaging in one-pound packages,” Kraemer said.
First, the produce is washed and volunteers gather around two large conveyor belts to cut out blemishes and dark spots. The veggies are then finely chopped by a machine and placed on a conveyor belt that feeds into a dryer. About 200 three-pound bags of dried soup mix are made in a day, providing approximately 6,000 meals shipped to people around the world, said Kraemer. To date, the organization has dried and packaged 15 sorts of vegetables, including green beans, broccoli, carrots, eggplants and peas, as well as potatoes and yams. Each bag, roughly the dimensions of an 8.5×11 sheet of paper, can make about 100 servings of soup.
“It’s our heart’s desire that some poor people will find relief and fulfillment,” Martin said.
The program is funded entirely by charitable donations made to Christian Aid Ministries. Every nutritious bit of product is used.
“What we are doing now is still last year’s potatoes – they were in cold storage – but we are pretty well getting to the end of last year’s crop and some of this year’s crop is coming in,” Kraemer said this week.
Most of the donated potatoes come from Downey Farms in Shelbourne, he added.
In the short time since the program’s launch, organizers have seen a large response from the Waterloo Region, mostly from church communities, but also from other willing volunteers. There have even been some come from as far as Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Food is cleaned, chopped and dried three times a week, with about 40 volunteers doing much of the work each time.
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