It’s about redistributing surplus food to where it’s needed the most amid a global pandemic.
Vancouver-based tech startup FoodMesh is leading a new collaborative project to take on food security challenges and food waste across Canada.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has created severe volatility in the food supply chain, creating an unprecedented amount of food left in farmers fields, or at processing plants due to cancelled contracts,” said Jessica Regan, CEO of FoodMesh, in a release.
FoodMesh launched the pilot version of the food-recovery project in Chilliwack in 2018, partnering with Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) and service providers, to give edible food a second chance with the help of technology.
Now they’re building on the software platform developed for the pilot, and scaling the project into a national food distribution network with the help of a broad-based consortium.
“It’s a positive development,” said FVRD chair Jason Lum, about the scalability of the project. “The FVRD was an early adopter helping to prove out the whole concept that an oversupply of food could effectively be diverted to non-profits and charities in this way.”
It’s fairly “uncommon” for a local government to get involved in tech startups and pilot projects, Lum said, acknowledging the forward thinking of FVRD staff that led to its participation in the pilot.
Identifying the highest and best use of the surplus food is “good for the environment, for the economy and it’s good for communities,” Lum added.
So much food is being discarded, Regan noted, but at the same time food banks and relief organizations have been reporting a significant spike in demand from clients in need.
“This project is about using technology and network effects to bring stability and predictability to accessing nutritious food in a time of uncertainty, while ensuring our food suppliers are compensated fairly for their work.” added Regan.
The FoodMesh ‘marketplace’ will be open to any food business, charity or farmer, serving as the online portal to buy, sell, donate or claim unsold surplus food. Food retailers can sign up to have all of their unsold food collected by charities.
The project budget is $2.2 million, and the food recovery network is expected to rescue an additional 1.5 million meals per month that will not end up in the landfill.
Consortium participants aside from FVRD include: United Way Lower Mainland, Overwaitea Food Group, Buy Low Food Group, Daiya Foods, Vancity EnviroFund, Metro Vancouver, National Zero Waste Council, City of Richmond, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, Traction on Demand, and Salesforce.
Co-funded in part by the Digital Technology Supercluster, Vancity EnviroFund and industry participants, the new project led by FoodMesh will bring together the food sector, non-profits, and governments, in the intelligent matching and delivering of surplus food sources, and service providers, with an eye on cost recovery for farmers and suppliers.
For more on the emergency food distribution network, or how to participate (either as a supplier or recipient of food), see www.foodmesh.ca/supercluster
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