This Metro Vancouver business is diverting 70,000 kg of food from the trash. Here's how
Peko produce offers ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables at a fraction of the retail price
Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of Our Changing Planet, a CBC News initiative to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.
A couple of enterprising young business students in Metro Vancouver are reducing carbon emissions by saving ugly and aging produce from being thrown away.
Sang Le and Arielle Lok buy misshapen and surplus fruits and vegetables from farmers and wholesalers, then redistribute them to consumers through their company, Peko Produce.
Food waste accounts for up to eight per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to non-profit Project Drawdown, which aims to reduce carbon emissions. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation estimates Canadians waste about 13 million tonnes of food each year, which makes us one of the top per capita food wasters in the world.
That's where companies like Peko Produce comes in.
Le, 22, and Lok, 20, launched the company in May 2021. They started by visiting farmers markets to meet the people growing the food to find out if they had extra fruit and vegetables after they harvested, and sure enough, most said yes.
The pair got to work packing boxes through the summer.
So far, they've diverted about 70,000 kilograms of food from the landfill, and estimate they've saved their 8,000 customers up to 40 per cent on their produce purchases over the past year.
They've been able to rent space, about 500 square metres, for packing from one of their suppliers. Le and Lok have also hired an operations manager, five part-time staff, and work with other employment companies to hire couriers and packers one day a week.
"When we first started out it was Ariel and I working every weekend," Le said.
"I didn't have any connection in the produce industry, and traditionally, this industry is very archaic — it's kind of run by families, by generations, or usually like older men. We're two young Asian girls."
Their peculiar produce boxes can be purchased as a subscription that comes weekly on Sundays, or boxes can be bought individually. Each $25 box contains about five kilograms of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
There's no way to know what will be in the boxes, it all depends on what Lok and Le were able to source that particular week.
"A lot of our customers actually enjoyed the surprise element of the box," Le said. "And a lot of a customers also got exposed to new produce that they might not have had before."
Le believes her generation will embrace projects like Peko Produce out of concern for the environment. She urges people to look beyond the surface when it comes to buying produce.
"The younger generation is the one that is going to live with the climate crisis 50 years from now," she said.
"We have the positivity and the hope, but also the grit and the intelligence to tackle this in the right way."
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. In B.C. we've witnessed its impacts with deadly heat waves, destructive floods and rampant wildfires. But there are people who are committed to taking meaningful strides, both big and small, towards building a better future for our planet. Those people are featured in CBC's series The Climate Changers, produced by CBC science reporter and meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe and associate producer Rohit Joseph, which airs Wednesdays on All Points West, On The Coast and Radio West on CBC Radio One and on CBC Vancouver News with features on cbc.ca/bc.
With files from Johanna Wagstaffe