A new organization aims to cut down on food waste in Nova Scotia by organizing volunteers to salvage fruits and vegetables that would otherwise rot in farmers' fields or urban gardens.

Through a business called Found, Lindsay Clowes and Laurel Schut plan to travel from their home base in Halifax to farms in the surrounding area, and harvest leftover produce that would typically be plowed under.

Such unwanted vegetables may not have the shape or look consumers are used to, are nutritious but no longer fresh enough, or are simply being pushed aside to make way for a crop more in demand.

The pair also hope to gather unsold produce from farmers' markets before it is composted, and get permission to gather fruits and berries from private backyards and public parks in Halifax.

The plan is to sell some of the food to local cafés and restaurants — either fresh or preserved — and donate part of each harvest to local food banks and shelters.

Food waste on farms

Clowes told CBC's Information Morning that she and her business partner decided to start the group after she completed her master's degree at Dalhousie University in agricultural land-use planning. For her thesis, Clowes studied how to use legislation to better protect farm land.

But then she realized, that was beside the point.

"We already have so much food being wasted on the farm," Clowes said. "If we can't even get all the food that we're growing now, why are we looking to protect more agricultural land, where there may potentially be even more food waste?"

Farmer David Greenberg

Farmer David Greenberg estimated 10 to 20 per cent of his crops go to waste each season. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Produce for food bank

Last week Clowes and Schut brought a couple of volunteers up to Abundant Acres farm in Centre Burlington, near Windsor, to harvest beets, lettuce, kale and green onions. At the end of the day, they brought the produce to the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax.

Farmer David Greenberg was at the farm to greet them. He estimated 10 to 20 per cent of his crops go to waste each season and said the number would likely be much higher if his farm was larger. 

Greenberg remembered working on an 800-hectare farm in Oregon where it was growing carrots to be sold in plastic bags "and they grew a quarter inch too long."

"They were perfect carrots. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carrots and they couldn't harvest them. They had no market for them," he said. "They were plowed under."

Reality of farming

Food waste is an unfortunate reality of farming, Greenberg said, because you can only offer the "the youngest, most tender, freshest, newest stuff" to the consumer.

"The other week we brought some beets to market, half of them were from the new planting, half of them were from the older planting, and the new beets sold in a flash and the older beets sat at the table," Greenberg said.

Meanwhile, he said his competitor across the aisle was selling bunches of fresh beets, one after the other.

Kale leaf

Volunteers visited Abundant Acres farm in Centre Burlington, N.S., to harvest beets, lettuce, green onions and kale. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Possible solution

"I can't afford to harvest something I can't sell," he said. "I'm paying people by the hour to pull it out of the ground, wash it, and bring it to market, put it on the table, put it back in a bin, bring it home and compost it. So, that's not a viable way to run a business."

Greenberg said organizations like Found are a great solution to the problem of wasted food. "People driving all the way out here and spending their time off to do this is really encouraging and I'm really glad to be taking part in it."

With files from Information Morning