These totes are the ones used to transport the food. There’s an average of 20 totes of food that Andy Cornell transports every single day. (Travis Winterwed photo)

North Island ‘zero food waste program’ saves over 29,000 pounds of food

“When people are not hungry they’re able to divert their energies into other directions”

Save-On Foods and Harvest Food Bank have been making a profound difference with a new zero food waste program. Since Dec. 12, over 29,000 pounds of food has been saved from hitting the landfill.

“As a grocery store in Canada, we feel it’s our corporate responsibility to cut down on waste wherever we can, be it recycling, packaging or, most importantly, food waste,” says Save-On Foods Manager Jake Martin.

“We’ve got department managers in every one of our perishable departments who work through their backroom every day and they watch the dates on everything. When it can still be frozen and salvaged and is still perfectly fine, we scan it out and package it up.”

Then everything goes to Harvest for the next step. “We pick up the food 7 days a week and glean them 7 days a week,” says Andy Cornell, volunteer manager for Harvest Food Bank “We’re following proper Food Safe food-handling processes. Everyone knows what their role is so we don’t have any breaks in food handling safety.”

Nothing gets wasted. Cornell says they “send to humans what’s human edible and send to animals what’s animal edible and send to compost what’s compostable, in that order of priority.”

Harvest’s weekly grocery program has already benefited. “Now when people are getting their food boxes, they’re getting a whole bunch of fresh produce,” says Cornell. “People are going away staggering under the weight of their food box.”

“Of course the grocery program is just one of the programs that we run here,” Cornell points out. “I would say there’s been a much larger effect on some of our other programs.”

For instance, Harvest supplies food to local schools for their school meal programs. “The schools get food from us on a weekly basis and now there’s a lot more things like cheese and fruit for the kids to eat.”

The food bank also partners with local agencies to supply food to those who need it most. “We work with all sorts of other agencies like the Salvation Army and their soup kitchen and their shelter and the Mental Health office has several programs where they teach cooking and provide breakfast,” says Cornell.

The Salvation Army provides multiple meals each day through its various programs and the zero waste initiative has had a transformative effect on what they can serve. “We can make it a hearty meal where you’ve got a lot of volume – meat, vegetables and beans – foods that are really filling and sustaining for the rest of the day,” says Michael Winter, Community Ministries Supervisor.

Winter has an eye on the holistic influence these meals can have. “You know what it’s like when you’re hungry. Your mood changes, your outlook on things changes, so if you’re well-fed, odds are you’re in a better place to make some healthy changes in your life.”

Viki Korhonen, Outreach Rehab Worker at the Mental Health office, agrees. “When people are not hungry they’re able to divert their energies into other directions.”

While their breakfast program has greatly benefited from the recent change so has as another program that sees staff visiting people in need on the weekends. “Prior to the zero waste program, there was nothing to hand out. Initially people were going through the weekend hungry but now we’re able to offer so much more. They’re basically saying they’re not hungry,” says Korhonen.

The food bank has never been busier but Cornell is happy to have it that way. “We distribute food 7 days a week. There’s at least somebody coming here getting food every day. It’s a lot of work but it is worth every bit of it.”

However, the extra work doesn’t get done by itself and Cornell is on the lookout for volunteers. “If you’re interested in making a positive impact in your community, this is absolutely one way you can do it.”

If anybody would like to contribute their time to help out with the zero food waste initiative that is going on, please call Andy Cornell at 250-902-0332 or email him at

– Travis Winterwed article

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