'Justice for blemished fruit': How some B.C. companies are fighting global food waste

Nearly a third of food produced worldwide doesn't make it to the shelves — and the waste is a significant contributor to the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Now some home-grown B.C. companies are providing a solution.

Nearly a third of food produced doesn't make it to the shelves — and the waste pollutes, according to UN

Brody Irvine is one of the brains behind Rebel Food — a program to get ugly organic fruits and veggies into the mouths of consumers to limit the amount of food waste in the region. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

The United Nations has declared food waste to be a global challenge, and some B.C. produce distributors have their own solution — serving up ugly fruits and veggies.

According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, one-third of the food produced for human consumption ends up being wasted throughout the supply chain — and the waste leads to significant greenhouse gas emissions.

So when organic food distributor Brody Irvine found out that a lot of the produce being harvested in the Lower Mainland doesn't even make it to the grocery store due to "imperfections" — superficial bumps, bruises and scrapes — he decided to do something about it.

He began collecting ugly fruits and veggies from farmers that would otherwise go in the compost bin, and packaging them together under the label "Rebel Food."

Justice for blemished fruits and vegetables

"'Rebel Food' was chosen because we didn't want it to have a negative connotation," he said. "We wanted it to be something that's very powerful — empowering for farmers and empowering for people looking for increased access to organic food."

Irvine says these carrots might look a little 'gnarly', but they pack the same flavour and crunch as their perfectly straight counterparts. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

Rebel Food is distributed by produce provider Discovery Organics to nearly 20 independent grocery stores in the region.

Irvine purchases the unsightly produce from farmers who have trouble getting it on grocery shelves due to appearance, often leaving the food to rot.

But Irvine says the quirks have no effect on quality.

"We've got some pretty gnarly looking carrots — twisted and forked that still tastes great and still has nice crunch and flavour to it, but normally wouldn't make it to the grocery shelves," said Irvine.

Blemishes on this grapefruit's skin keep it from hitting the shelves of major grocery stores. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

"We've got bins of apples and bins of carrots [inside our warehouse]. There's a few little bumps and bruises and spots that make them not necessarily premium grade — but perfect for the rebel program," he said.

"Rebel Food" sells for cheaper than regular organic produce, and the stock has been welcomed by some independent grocers hoping to provide customers with a cheap alternative.

Zero waste agriculture

Some farmers in the Lower Mainland are also working hard towards eliminating waste.

Pete Schouten, owner of Heppels Potatoes Corporation, has been farming in the Fraser Valley for decades while the company has been operating since the 1920s.

Recently it recently started converting waste into energy — Schouten and his partners bought Fraser Valley Bio Gas, which is a commercial-scale digester that cooks manure and agricultural food waste to produce a renewable natural gas that powers more than 1,000 homes across the province through Fortis B.C.

Peter Schouten owns and operates Heppell's Potato Corps., and he uses biogas digesters to turn the farm's food waste into renewable energy. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

"It was drilled into us since we were kids — you just don't waste anything," said Schouten. "We try to get highest best use out of all of our products, and this was one of the ways we thought we could get rid of some of our waste."

If the farm's produce doesn't meet certain cosmetic standards demanded by grocery chains, they can simply add it to the digester.

"The bio gas plant helps us to us deal with our waste on all facilities," said Schouten. "And it produces renewable natural gas that we think is sustainable long term."

The system — known as zero-waste agriculture — has gained recognition from the world-renowned Singularity University as a major solution to the global agricultural waste problem.

But for Schouten, the solution never seemed too complicated.

"As farmers, you rely on the land — and if you don't take care of the land, then it wont take care of you."

With files from Jennifer Chen and CBC Radio One's North by Northwest


To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Find out what B.C. companies are doing to eliminate food waste