Cowichan Green Community’s Judy Stafford is thrilled with the reFRESH Cowichan Marketplace. (Citizen file)

reFRESH Cowichan has saved, distributed more than 100,000 pounds of food

“Reducing food waste and food insecurity in the Cowichan were the program’s top two priorities.”

They’re at 100,000 pounds and counting.

It’s been a year since Cowichan Green Community initiated a food recovery program pilot that collects thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each week from local grocery stores. Now titled reFRESH Cowichan, the program distributes donated produce to regional partners such as food banks, daycares, soup kitchens, shelters, and schools.

“It really tackles two issues at once,” says program supervisor Nathan Harben. “Reducing food waste and food insecurity in the Cowichan were the program’s top two priorities. It just needed a small team to handle the logistics and relationship-building between stakeholders and service providers.”

CGC’s delivery van travels more than 2,000 kilometres each month to pick up and deliver food regionally from Penelakut Island, to Malahat First Nation, to Lake Cowichan, and everywhere in between.

“We are so grateful to Country Grocer and other stores we collect from, who had already been reducing food waste by collecting their surplus produce and donating to local farmers,” explains Harben.

“We just wanted to take it one step further and feed the still edible food to people first. There is no shortage of hungry people in the Cowichan who really need it.”

All grocery retailers involved agreed, and with agreements put in to place with a total of four stores, the program has recovered and distributed over 100,000 lbs (45 tonnes) of fresh produce since it first began.

reFRESH Cowichan is funded in part through the Job Creation Partnership program with the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, who have supported the program since January 2018. The second round of funding is set to end in October and the team has been working tirelessly to ensure they can still keep picking up and distributing this food.

In order to do this, in December, CGC opened the reFRESH Cowichan Marketplace, a storefront at the front of their building on Duncan Street. This store sells a small percentage of the surplus food from the two Country Grocer stores at a much-reduced rate.

Open to the entire community, the store’s focus is to offer a more affordable option for accessing nutritious food while providing a dignified shopping experience where individuals are able to choose their own food.

CGC’s building, The Station, contains a commercial kitchen, and some of the reFRESH Cowichan team are chefs who help turn some of the excess food into delicious frozen meals, frozen fruit, and dehydrated snacks to help families keep kids happy and healthy.

CGC’s executive director Judy Stafford has seen some very grateful faces since the store opened.

“It’s been a real honour to witness first-hand the astounding impact of this program. In my 12 years of working at CGC, this is the farthest-reaching initiative we’ve been able to offer where the effect is immediate and substantial. We’re very grateful to all our partners who have helped get this off the ground — something we’ve been working at for almost 10 years.”

CGC is reaching out to the community for support to keep the program operating and expanding to reach even more people.

“We have a waiting list of additional service providers who are very interested in receiving free food for their programs,” says Harben. “It allows them to reallocate some of their food budget to cover other necessary costs. We need our community to get behind this impactful program that is so desperately needed and makes so much sense.”

For more information on how to support reFRESH Cowichan, please call Nathan at Cowichan Green Community at 250-748-8506 or nathan@cowichangreencommunity.org

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