Langley-based food waste processor ReFeed Farms says it’s hauled in roughly 4.5 million kilograms of produce that would have otherwise gone to landfills or industrial composters over the past year and turned it into edible food for people, livestock feed and soil.
Of those 4.5 million kilograms of produce, considered unsellable by grocers and warehouse suppliers, 2.8 million was sold back to local livestock farms, 1.36 million went to anaerobic digestion, or soil production, and 346,000 kilograms was sent to the Vancouver Food Bank and other small, local food charities.
The farm recently partnered with the food bank and film producers Rich&Jay Creative to create a nine-minute documentary on the evolution of the business.
ReFeed founder and CEO Stuart Lilley says the business model can reduce food waste, feed people in need and contribute to what’s called regenerative farming, a practice intended to rebuild organic and diverse soil matter.
“As someone who grew up in a family that knew the value of food, I decided to dedicate myself to finding ways to fix our food waste problem. Along the way, I realized that the problems started with our agri-food system, and the ReFeed mission and model grew to encompass that as well,” said Lilley in a statement for the film’s launch online.
Dr. Laila Benkrima at the B.C Centre for Agritech Innovation lends a voice at the introduction of the film.
“Conventional agriculture is what supports billions of people on this Earth and it’s not sustainable,” said Benkrima, who is among a scientific community concerned about soil degradation due to fertilizers, which create a short-term abundance of food.
Lilley and ReFeed are attempting to build not just a sustainable product, but a sustainable business model. The company is paid to take food from grocers and warehouses that would otherwise be taken to a landfill or composter (for a fee).
Put simply, the food is sorted by ReFeed workers into three piles: food that can still be eaten (less than 10 per cent); food that can be fed to local livestock (about two-thirds); and food that’s good enough for worms.
The food bank and other charities pay ReFeed some money for the re-purposed edible food; the livestock farmers pay for the feed; and ReFeed is developing a line of retail products for soil made of worm castings from the company’s vertical worm farm. ReFeed also takes manure back from livestock farms, for its worm casting production.
The produce provided to local livestock helps lessen the need for farmers to grow or buy feed, saving and sequestering carbon emissions and improving land use.
“Our focus is really getting back to healing soil, getting life back into soil and then growing food that is healthy for future generations,” Lilley explains in the film.
Lilley hopes to expand the business to multiple locations across Canada. Unless Canadian grocers and consumers can lessen food waste at the outset, ReFeed’s growth potential seems nearly endless since the 4.5 million kilograms of food waste it takes in represents just 0.04 per cent of the estimated 11.4 million metric tonnes of avoidable food waste across Canada’s food supply chain, according to the food bank.
“Every year, the demand on food banks increases, and every year we work even harder to raise more money, feed more people. It’s still never enough,” said David Long, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, in a statement.
“That’s why we’re working with ReFeed. They help us address our immediate issues while developing a food system solution that’s scalable, sustainable, and exportable around the world,” said Long.
The company got its 50,000-square-foot custom facility off the ground with the help of a $390,000 federal government loan (Farm Credit Canada) and a $250,000 provincial grant.