The Permaculture Co-op not only picks food, but processes it to share with the growers, pickers, and needy people in the community. Photo submitted

West Kootenay gleaner’s group gets big funding boost

CBT grant allows project to save more local produce from compost bin

A Slocan Valley group’s work to prevent food waste has received a big boost from the Columbia Basin Trust.

The Trust is giving the West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op $89,000 to expand its pilot program of the last two years.

“Communities told us that making essentials like nutritious food more affordable and accessible is a priority for improving well-being in our region,” said Aimee Ambrosone, director, delivery of benefits at CBT. “Food recovery is one way that we can meet the needs of children and families, while also helping to reduce food waste and loss.”

Under the program, the co-op (which works under the brand Kootenay Food) will expand its capacity to pick and process unused fruits and vegetables produced in the valley.

They’ll start by expanding and improving their database of food sources and food harvesters, says co-op chair Shauna Fidler.

“One of the priorities is to have people register food trees, or crops that are going unharvested,” says Fidler. “We will come out and harvest the crop, and then the landowner can take a share of the harvested portion of the crop or take a share of what we turn it into, which is a shelf-stable preservative.”

The co-op has put an easy-to-fill-out form on its website, says Fidler, for both pickers and people with food to pick.

West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op

The grant will also allow the co-op to buy a van for moving harvest and people around the valley, and to expand their school programs and First Nations.

The core of the program is sharing: the grower gets a share of the gleaning, as do the pickers; the food is processed by the group, and those results are also shared by all involved.

The rest of the food is shared in the community to people experiencing food insecurity.

Last year, about 3,000 pounds of food was shared out. The year before, a bumper apple crop, more than 12,000 pounds of food went out to the community.

Fidler says it’s a worthy project for the valley.

“If you look at cold, hard stats, we are much lower income than the rest of the country. That’s a quantifiable fact,” says Fidler. “One of the things we do have, though, is an innate, hardy, homestead-y kind of a culture here. So we do have a lot of people growing a lot of food, which for various reasons people are unable to collect or harvest.

“We will help close the gap between available resources — such as good food and the know-how to acquire and handle it — and those most in need.”

The co-op would like to hear from people with trees or gardens from Castlegar and Nelson, all the way up the Slocan Valley, but they’re not looking for food from restaurants or grocery stores.

This will be the third year the program will run, and Fidler says the new money will allow them to expand their product range. Last year they gave out 12 kinds of food or shelf-ready preserves; this year that number will double.

Fidler says people can start contacting them now.

“Volunteer and let us know about your excess harvest,” she says. “Get involved, come pick fruit, come make jam. And then if you have those extra trees, let us know, let us help you out.

“And you’ll get some jam.”

The West Kootenay Permaculture Co-op is a not-for-profit incorporated in January 2014. It evolved from the Valley Permaculture Guild that originated in 2012.

The group also has an AGM on May 23.

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