'A natural thing to do.' Farmers ramp up donations of un-sellable, but edible, produce

It’s the time of year when appeals for non-perishable food items, or cash, go up. But one group of Ontarians makes sure that food bank clients get servings of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round: farmers.

Dominion Farms in Bradford, Ont., one of increasing number of farms diverting fruits and veggies to food banks

Tony Tomizza, general manager of Dominion Farms, says donating produce he can't sell is 'a natural thing to do.' (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

It's the time of year when appeals for non-perishable food items, or cash, go up. But one group of Ontarians makes sure that food bank clients get servings of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round: farmers.

For years, the Daily Bread Food Bank has had informal relationships with Ontario farms, getting donations of so-called "seconds." That's produce that doesn't qualify as Canada No. 1 grade, and therefore can't be sold.

But a year ago, the organization hired a staffer to develop formal agreements with farms in an effort to get even more fresh fruits and vegetables. This way, according to executive director Gail Nyberg, the Daily Bread can spend cash donations on rounding out its stock with dairy and protein.

Now, a hamper given out by Daily Bread or one of its partner agencies across the GTA contains over 30 per cent fresh food, "and we're pushing to even have more," Nyberg told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

"We want people to get two to three days' worth of food covering all of the food groups. Giving someone a bag of crackers isn't really helping. We want to have protein, we want to have fresh fruit and vegetables, we want to have dairy."

The growing relationships with farms are paying off, she noted. Between July 1 and Nov. 21 last year, the Daily Bread had collected some 181,000 pounds of food. As of today, the total is 510,000 pounds, Nyberg said.

While the agency is cultivating new relationships, one long-standing farm is also its biggest donor.

'A natural thing to do'

Dominion Farms in Bradford has been giving its "seconds" of onions, carrots, parsnips and beets to Daily Bread since 2007. Tony Tomizza, general manager of Dominion Farms, said the farm began donating produce when his father Nino was in charge. Tony is happy to carry on the tradition.

Carrots are seen in the plant at Dominion Farms in Bradford, Ont. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

"I never thought it was really a big deal until they started giving us awards," Tomizza told CBC Toronto. "I just thought it was a natural thing to do. Help them to help the needy in Toronto."

A tax credit was also not his family's motivation to help. But as it turns out, a provincial government program rewards farmers for donating agricultural products to eligible community food programs, including food banks. The Food Donation Tax Credit for Farmers gives farmers a tax credit valued at 25 per cent of the fair market value of the products they've donated.

In 2015, the Daily Bread gave Dominion Farms a tax receipt for $100,000. The Daily Bread also honoured the farm with its Best in Class Award in 2017 for most pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables donated. The farm has donated about 1.8 million pounds of food to Daily Bread over the past decade, Tomizza said.

Donating seconds is better than composting un-sellable but perfectly edible produce, he said.

"It's a win-win. We don't want to be dumping good produce back into the fields if we can help it," he said. "We do compost enough already."

'They are so generous'

Gail Nyberg, executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said she is 'gratified' that so many farmers are donating produce. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Nyberg said the Daily Bread still wants people to donate non-perishable food items, so staff can focus on protein, dairy and other essentials.

But with the increase in both protein and dairy, and fruits and vegetables, the Daily Bread is now in need of a grant to be able to put in additional freezers and coolers, particularly if farmers continue to increase their generosity.

"It's made a difference for people who have to use food banks," she said. "And I'm so gratified that they are so generous."

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp