Nova Scotia

How an N.S. business is reducing food waste by offering over 2,700 kg of potatoes to hospitals

The Station Food Company in West Hants will deliver pallets of mashed potatoes — made from about 2,700 kg of local potatoes that would have been wasted — to Nova Scotia hospitals.

The Station Food Company purchases produce from local farms that otherwise would be wasted

A large bag of potatoes is seen inside The Station Food Company's facility in Newport Station. These potatoes will be turned into mashed potatoes and distributed to Nova Scotia hospitals over the coming weeks. (The Station Food Hub/Facebook)

What do you do with more than 2,700 kilograms of local potatoes that can't be sold commercially?

According to one business in West Hants, you turn them into mashed potatoes — and then redistribute them to hospitals across Nova Scotia.

The Station Food Company, near Windsor, is doing just that and it's all in an effort to strengthen the local food system and reduce farmed food waste.

"It's a huge problem … so we're looking at diverting food waste out of the food chain," Rebecca Tran, one of the owners of The Station Food Company, told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax on Thursday.

Tran said some farms leave up to 40 per cent of their yield in the field because it doesn't meet commercial standards and can't be sold.

That's where The Station Food Company comes in. The company, which is a division of The Station Food Hub, works with farms and distributors to gather the produce that would otherwise be wasted and repurposes it to be sold to provincial institutions.

Tran said the team has been working on this new project for two years, but it was last year when Gordon Food Services, which provides food to health-care facilities across the province, became their partner.

"We had talked to them about what they need in their institutions and what are some of the barriers, and getting a consistent supply year-round of a product is really important to them," she said. 

"So we started to figure that potatoes would be a really great place to start."

The Food Company then found a farm in Nova Scotia that has a year-round supply of potatoes, some of which would normally go to waste because they're too small, misshapen or have bumps and bruises.

"The [potatoes] that we're choosing to use are what they call 'smalls' so they're the ones that would fall through their grading system," Heather Lunan, a co-owner of the Food Company, told Information Morning.

"And they actually give us a better yield after they're peeled so it works on both ends. They get to use something that they would otherwise not [use] and we get to produce a product that will give us more mashed potatoes in the end."

So instead of being wasted, these potatoes get a chance for a better life — as delicious mashed potatoes to be served at health-care facilities.

"What we do is we make a really great homemade-style mashed potato. It runs through the whole process and is flash frozen and then we ship it out to [the institutions] frozen on pallets," Lunan said. 

The first batch of locally farmed potatoes — in mashed form — will be going to Gordon Food Services next week to eventually be distributed to Nova Scotia Health's 43 hospitals.

"We've always been interested in local food and increasing the amount of local Nova Scotia food that we serve to our patients," said Brenda MacDonald, the senior director of nutrition and food services at Nova Scotia Health. 

MacDonald said Nova Scotia Health even has a 20 per cent local food target, which she said has already been hit, but these mashed potatoes will only add to that.

She said this project is also a great way to offer a familiar food to patients, while also reducing local food waste.

"[The Food Company has] some really great opportunities here to use food in a different way so that we do take care of our planet … and we're happy to be part of it," she said.

A large bag of potatoes is wheeled into the Station Food Company's facility near Windsor, N.S. (The Station Food Hub/Facebook)

Tran said the project is also cost-effective for both farmers and the institutions.

"We're able to pay the farmer a fair price for these small potatoes, and in turn, that keeps our costs down, which is one of the barriers to health authorities purchasing local food," she said.

Tran said this is just the start of their food waste and institutional procurement project. They're already working on expanding the project to include cauliflower and sweet potato. 

"We're open to working with any farms that have seconds that we could look at different products that could be available for new markets for them, because the institutional market in Nova Scotia and in Canada is quite big," she said.