Too often, fruits and veggies end up in the garbage simply because they aren’t the prettiest pick of the peck. The Community Farm Store in Duncan has come up with a solution that offers low-cost produce to consumers while reducing waste.
The inglorious produce bin is a centrepiece of the Community Farm Store’s produce section. Lumpy potatoes, slightly bruised fruits or smaller than usual beans sit in barrels, awaiting customers with an eye for a great deal. For just a dollar per pound customers can get perfectly usable, fresh, local produce from the bin while benefiting local farmers and promoting sustainability.
“In our bin, there’s very random things all the time,” says produce manager Stacey Hilstad. “So it’s a really nice opportunity to try out something that you’ve never had before. Without paying full price for it, you can really get an idea of if you like it.”
The program’s name borrows from an award-winning marketing campaign by French supermarket chain Intermarché, celebrating the glory of ugly produce and calling attention to the problem of food waste. According to a 2019 report by Second Harvest, nearly 60 per cent of food produced in Canada is wasted, and much of the waste is avoidable.
Hilstad says the bin contributes to the Community Farm Store’s “full-circle approach,” which aims to produce zero waste. Once produce is too inglorious for the bin, it goes back to farmers as feed for animals and compost.
The bin also helps provide nutritious food to those who might not otherwise afford it, Hilstad says.
“If you’re in between paydays, as many of us kind of live paycheck to paycheck, it’s a really nice opportunity to have fresh produce in your fridge when maybe otherwise you couldn’t afford it,” she says. “We try to always offer a variety of things as much as we can to just try to have a well rounded meal for anybody who is maybe down and out, or just simply can’t afford veggies that week.”
The revenue from the bin, to the store and farmers, isn’t all that significant, Hilstad says. But the benefit to customers is large.
Wendy Montana of Westwind Farm, which has supplied produce to the Community Farm Store for 15 years, echoed the sentiment. “I love it for the customers. I think it’s great. I love it as a food diversion measure or waste diversion measure.”
Montana praised the Community Farm Story for its commitment to supporting local farmers. “I like the collaborative approach that they have with their farmers. It is something that the store really believes in and I think it sets them apart,” she says.
It really helps that the store coordinates on crop pre-planning in the winter months while farmers are organizing what they’re going to grow, she says. The store asks the farmers what they’re growing, and the farmers can ask what the store needs. And the store agrees to buy certain things ahead of time.
“If I tell them I’m doing cherry tomatoes, and they [agree to buy] over 1,000 units of my tomato pints — Well, if I’m going to grow them for them, I’m really glad that they are not going to turn around and start buying from another farmer at 50 cents cheaper,” Montana says. “So we set a price in advance and we stick with the price all season.”
The store also supports local produce suppliers who want help navigating the system to become certified organic, Hilstad says. It’s all part of the “full circle” approach — farmers, stores and customers working together towards a healthier local food system.
This Food For Thought article is made possible in part with funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Journalists for Human Rights/RBC. Their support does not imply endorsement of or influence over the content produced.