The Story Behind ReHarvest

It all started, as with many stories, when we saw a problem: heaps of edible food are being thrown out from bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores every day, yet one in eight Canadian households continue to struggle to put food on the table. We were shocked. Food is incredibly resource-intensive to produce, yet 30% of all food produced is wasted. In Canada alone, $31 billion dollars worth of food is thrown away. Even a single decimal decrease of these statistics would lead to substantial environmental and social impact.

Nearly a year ago, we started to talk to people to understand how to take action. It was important to us that the impact we had on our community — London, Ontario — was sizeable and sustainable. We talked to city councillors, London’s mayor, the National Zero Waste Council and more. We asked tons of questions to dig to the root of how we could best have an impact in London.

During this process, we were struck by the complexity of the issue and the diversity of organizations working to tackle it. For example, we became more familiar with the importance of the work of food education programs; they provide fresh food along with the skills to prepare these foods, improving both food security and long term capability in a community. We also realized that larger nonprofits generally have the personnel and vehicles to pick up donated food themselves while smaller organizations don’t have those resources. This is a gap that we realized needed to be filled.

By October, we solidified our mission statement: to support food literacy with rescued food that would otherwise be wasted. We decide to start by focusing on supporting smaller nonprofits and food education programs.

With a clear goal in mind, we made a list of all the bakeries and grocery stores we could find and worked our way through that list. We asked for regular donations of overripe produce or day old baked goods — anything that they weren’t willing to sell but was perfectly fine to eat. In between many rejections, due to varying reasons from our youth to lack of clarity to apathy, a handful agreed. Excited, we paired them with non-profits that ran food programs.

Our next challenge was to find volunteers. After weeks of unsuccessful recruitment through mainstream social media and non-profit networks, we decided to send out a press release. The next day, we were overwhelmed with the positive response, and spent the next morning sharing our story with the CBC, CTV, and the London Free Press. Our food rescue slots quickly filled up for the next couple of months and with that, we set ReHarvest into motion. To this date, our volunteers have completed over 135 food rescue runs.

Most social change agents start their work, like us, on a local level. When proven successful at that level, they then “scale out” the initiative, disseminating it to other individuals, organizations or communities. However, over time, the same organizations discover that in order to reach their goal, they need to change the socio-political system that created the problem in a first place. This scaling up of social innovation would ideally culminate at the policy level, and it is the type of work we hope to achieve. It is important to continually challenge and question the current socio-political system because despite the immediate effect of the work that ReHarvest does, a well-managed food system ultimately cannot end hunger, deprivation, and poverty.

For us to achieve this scale, we realized the importance of fostering conversations around food waste and food security, and summarily added that to our mission statement. Through our physical work connecting donors to recipient and through our long-term vision of promoting discussions within this community, we hope to unite and mobilize communities to push for change at the policy level. This blog will play a key role in our goal. We hope to establish an active writer from each province and territory in Canada by the end of 2017. We’re so grateful to be able to shape the Canadian food landscape and we are even more so to have you be part of our cause. Please join us along this journey via this blog and social media.

Amy and Jasmine are cofounders of ReHarvest, a food recovery and equity movement. Special acknowledgements to the rest of the ReHarvest London team: Ashara, Olivia, and Neel, as this wouldn’t have been possible without them.