Montreal

Volunteers bring together people and produce to feed Park-Ex and reduce food waste

Sometimes vegetables grow in small batches, giving less incentive to the farmer to bring them to market, or put in the work to harvest them. And other times, the produce is just too ugly to sell — even if it is perfectly edible.

Project started four years ago with some oversized zucchinis

Eva Franc is a community development agent in food solidarity for La Place Commune. (Submitted by Eva Franc)

To Eva Franc, no person should be left behind.

Nor should good produce, for that matter.

Franc is a community development agent at La Place Commune, a food security co-operative in Montreal's Parc-Extension neighbourhood. This summer, she is taking volunteers to nearby farms to pick produce. Their goal is to prevent farm food waste, and to re-distribute it to people in the densely populated area with limited access to fresh food.

When CBC News spoke with Franc earlier this month, five volunteers had just returned from La Ferme aux Petits Oignons, located in Mont-Tremblant, Que. They hauled zucchinis, onions, coriander, lettuce, radish and carrots. Then, once back in the city, they put the fresh veggies in a community fridge for people to take for free.

Franc says the fridge empties fast, pointing to a high demand for free, healthy food in the area.

The vegetables are also used in recipes in a low-price vegetarian restaurant, located in La Place Commune.

The team visits at least one farm per week, bringing four to 12 volunteers per trip, depending on the size of the haul. They'll harvest the unwanted produce themselves, saving the farmer time and money on labour.

Franc says that the volunteers enjoy the experience, and encourages more people to get involved.

"If you want to get out of the city, if you want to be part of the solution, if you want to meet people, it's the perfect activity," said Franc in an interview with Sabrina Marandola on CBC Montreal's Let's Go.

This produce picking project started four years ago, when Franc picked up some overgrown zucchinis at a farm for herself. The farmer said they were too big to sell.

"I thought it would be a shame not to use them," said Franc.

Nour-El-Houda (left), Adèle Tourte, Cécile Martin and Anna Baqué Subiros are volunteers at La Place Commune. (Submitted by Eva Franc)

So the seed was planted. From that experience, Franc grew the food program and had 300 producers involved last year. At first, she reached out to farmers herself. But eventually, farmers started reaching out to her when they had surplus.

Franc explained that there are many reasons a farm might have extra produce. Vegetables might have grown too fast, meaning they have to be harvested early and can't be sold in bulk.

Sometimes vegetables grow in small batches, giving less incentive to the farmer to bring them to market, or put in the work to harvest them. And other times, the produce is just too ugly to sell — even if it is perfectly edible.

In 2019, about 13 per cent of fruits and vegetables in Canada went to waste, according to a report by the Government of Canada. In Quebec, Franc says waste can be as high as 20 per cent.

She hopes that programs like hers can set an example for other organizations.

"It's more than work, it's a way of thinking," she said. "We want to spread this energy and way of thinking to other parts of the community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Dicaire

CBC editorial assistant

Eric Dicaire is a CBC Montreal editorial assistant working from home during the pandemic.

With files from CBC Montreal's Let's Go

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