In Calgary, Canada, graduate student, Cindy Zhang saw a gap in the market for food waste. During the pandemic many restaurants closed due to lockdowns, leaving farms with huge amounts of food with nowhere to go. Cindy had recently spoken to food banks and found out they had a shortage of food- the idea was seeded in her mind to bridge a gap between the two.
“I just started to talk to food banks in Calgary and Edmonton, and heard there was an increase in demand. We wanted to connect the two with our organization.” she said.
Cindy founded the non-profit organisation Farms to Families with her friend Tom Zhao in May 2021. She looked for guidance from U.S based not-profit The Farmlink Project. The huge U.S. farm-to-food bank was an invaluable resource, helping Cindy find out how to connect with farms. Initially, Cindy and Tom would cold-call farms from Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta. They drove to pick up food from farms and greenhouses that generously donated their produce.
“In the beginning, we partnered with a few greenhouses because it wasn’t harvesting season yet,” said Zhang. “Then we partnered with hydroponic lettuce farms, and then more greenhouses and regular farms that produce lettuce and tomatoes.”
Increasing demand for food banks
The organisation has grown hugely, as farms continue to donate. Today they have 15 student volunteers and have saved 40,000 lbs (18,143 kg) of food from being wasted. The students donate their time to contact farms and put them in touch with food banks- creating a bridge between the two.
“We began reaching out to farms in Alberta, and eventually expanded to Ontario,” said Zhang. “We’re continuing to build more farm connections. We definitely have more than when we first started. We’re hoping to work with farms weekly or monthly. We do a few deliveries here and there, but we definitely want to do more constant deliveries.”
Food banks have seen a huge increase in visits since the pandemic. In Alberta there has been a nearly thirty percent increase in people accessing them compared to 2019. Organisations like Farms to Families provide a vital resource by assisting food banks gaining access to more food supplies to help fill the increased demand.
“We also hope to empower students in reducing food waste and help individuals who may face a barrier to accessing nutritious food and make access easier for them.”