The reFRESH Cowichan Food Recovery Program hit a significant milestone at the end of 2022: Since its inception in 2018, the program had recovered over 1 MILLION pounds of food!
Having created an intricate closed loop distribution system, the program not only reduces food waste (and thus, greenhouse gas emissions) but simultaneously increases access to nutritious food in the Cowichan Region.

The Program was initially established in 2018 as a Job Creation Partnership Program funded by a grant from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. The program’s objectives were to both ‘rescue’ surplus food from retailers while also delivering the often perfectly edible produce to vulnerable community members at no cost. The program has grown steadily over the last five years: Today, the Food Recovery team delivers up to 1,000 pounds of fresh food to over 18 local service providers and community organizations five days a week.

So how does this work?

The program’s dedicated driver Mike makes his rounds each weekday in the morning: He collects bins full of donations from six grocery stores stretching from Mill Bay to Lake Cowichan, including Thrifty’s Foods, Country Grocer, Save on Foods, and Great Greens Market. When Mike arrives back at the Cowichan Green Community’s distribution center in Duncan, staff and volunteers begin sorting through the donated food to separate the good from the bad. Any food that is inedible for humans because it is moldy, broken or crushed, is collected in bins to go to local farmers as pig food. In the process, any plastic packaging is removed to be recycled. Food that is deemed good for human consumption is sorted into boxes. Through this process, nothing is wasted!

Most of the food donations are fruit and vegetables, however, the program also picks up dairy, baked goods, meat, and grocery items. The program also accepts donations from local farms and home gardeners.

Once everything is sorted, the distribution of food begins. A small percentage of food from select stores is sent to the reFRESH Marketplace, CGC’s small grocery store, where customers and reFRESH Coupon Program participants benefit from the affordable produce. This also helps to cover some of the ongoing operational costs such as mileage and staff wages.

Another small percentage of food goes into the CGC’s onsite commercial kitchen where it is processed and made into community meals as well as value-added items to be sold in the store.
About 70-80% of recovered food is then sent out to the many service providers the program supports, including Lake Cowichan Community Services, Clements Centre, Cowichan Tribes, Penelakut Island, the Cowichan Valley Basket Society, and more.

By midday, all of the food that was picked up in the morning is already re-distributed to feed people in the community in these various ways.

Considering that Canadians waste over half of the food produced, while the cost of groceries keeps rising, the Food Recovery team is proud of this purposeful daily work. They ensure all food is redirected in the most sustainable way possible while creating greater access to healthy food throughout the Cowichan Region.

If you want to learn more about this program, or get involved as a volunteer, visit our Volunteer Page or call the CGC office at 250 748 8506.