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Opinion: We can create effective food systems with entrepreneurial ideas

Greater Vancouver Food bank champions collaboration and innovation to address growing need
Greater Vancouver Food Bank CEO David Long

Our country is going through a pivotal change, with food insecurity casting a long dark shadow over many households and families. It’s a complex problem, stemming from economic disparities, unforeseen environmental crises and a broken food system. Food banks are often caught in the conversation, labelled as evidence of our current failing societal systems.

At its core, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) exists to provide healthy food to those in need. This is our mission, and we do our best to ensure it is met, providing fresh, healthy nutritious food to our growing average of 15,000 clients and 150 agencies, week after week. Every year, these numbers increase, and we, like other food security organizations, find more creative ways to expand our support to address the growing need in our communities.

There is no shortage of food—there is a distribution problem. To break the cycle of wasted surplus food, our team has been piloting a new project, connecting B.C. farmers with local food banks by providing information about the B.C. Farmers’ Food Donation Corporate Income Tax Credit. After filling their quotas, many farmers leave excess products in the field because harvesting the remainder of the crop is not financially viable. By encouraging the use of this tax credit, we can encourage farmers to donate surplus food to the food bank and, in exchange, receive an additional 25-per-cent tax credit of the retail value of their donation against their operating expenses. Since 2023, we have partnered with six farmers and received more than 375,000 pounds in donated produce.

As we explored this, we found a new challenge—where do we store this surplus fresh product? One solution is increased storage capacity and refrigeration. Another solution is food preservation—finding ways to extend the life of local produce, which also increases the scope of its distribution potential.

This year, the GVFB ran a food preservation pilot project, transforming thousands of pounds of surplus apples into freeze-dried “apple fries.” Initially labelled too small for retail, these apples were destined for the landfill despite being perfectly edible. By working with ReFeed Canada, the GVFB intercepted this product and gave it a new life as a preserved, long-lasting product with 97 per cent retained nutritional value and a 20-plus-year lifespan. The resulting apple fries are crispy, delicious and made without producing any excess waste.

These apples symbolize the opportunity in the battle against food insecurity and surplus food waste. As B.C.’s largest food bank, we recognize our responsibility to support smaller provincial food banks through our industry partnerships and logistic capabilities. This year, we have redirected more than 300,000 pounds of surplus healthy food to other provincial food banks.  

Storing surplus food to help serve a growing number of clients and agencies requires more space in Vancouver, which is home to over 60 per cent of our clients and 75 per cent of our agencies. In October, we opened the doors to a new long-term Vancouver facility, a significant milestone in the GVFB’s 40-year history. This space offers increased storage and refrigeration capacity, and the opportunity to consolidate our client and agency teams in one building. This will be a first for the GVFB and will provide many newfound operational efficiencies. 

Having a long-term facility allows our organization to explore the opportunity to offer wrap-around services that will connect GVFB clients—especially newcomers to Canada—with organizations that will provide the job skills and training they need to support themselves and their families.

At the GVFB, we always say it takes more than food to run a food bank. Food insecurity is increasing, and food banks recognize that sticking to the same course of action year after year is not a solution. We require and deserve systemic change to address the growing number of people in need across Canada and around the world. We can build a stronger future for our communities through entrepreneurial ideas, continued partnerships with our farmers, government support and some new faces around the same old table discussing solutions—not complaining about problems. The GVFB has a vision: Healthy communities through fair and effective food systems.

David Long is CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank