Medicine Hat groups
divert food from landfills
to make meals for people
around the world
WRITTEN BY FRANCIS SILVAGGIO
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF RED HAT CO-OPERATIVE
Every day, nearly 795 million people
worldwide won’t get enough to eat.
“There’s a lot of hungry people in the
world,” says James Smith, the president
of Prairie Gleaners. The Medicine Hat-based non-profit works with six other
Canadian groups to supply almost 40
million meals a year to people around
The problem isn’t a lack of food. One
of the largest reasons for food shortages,
says the United Nations, is food waste.
The most recent data shows that nearly a
third of world food production is wasted.
That’s nearly 1. 3 billion tonnes a
year—enough food to fill a chain of
railway cars that would circle the
equator more than three times.
Smith is working to shorten that chain.
“We are able to salvage produce that
would otherwise go to waste,” he says.
Prairie Gleaners partners with local
producers such as Red Hat Co-operative
to salvage so-called ugly produce that
doesn’t meet retail specifications and
is typically used for animal feed or
dumped into the landfill. They process it,
dehydrate it and send it.
“Once it’s dehydrated you’ll never
know whether it was a broken carrot
or a crooked carrot,” says Smith. Plus
broken, crooked vegetables and fruits
are every bit as nutritious and healthy as
cosmetically attractive produce.
Red Hat Co-operative’s Mike
Meinhardt says their growers are also
eager to help change the way North
Americans buy food.
They’ve made inroads convincing
retailers across the continent to put ugly
or “misfit vegetables” into commercial
“It’s just wasteful to throw away
perfectly good food just because it
doesn’t look perfect,” says Meinhardt.
“If we could eat what we grow, without
throwing away a certain percentage of
it, I think it’s socially a more responsible
thing to do.”
And when retailers sell imperfect food,
it becomes more affordable and available
for consumers. Red Hat Cooperative
is the first Canadian producer to sell
ugly produce in 35 grocery stores across
Alberta and Saskatchewan, and 500
stores across the United States. And
at prices 30 to 50 per cent lower than
“If we’re having a conversation about
food waste in general, that motivates
people to buy crooked cucumbers or
two legged carrots, because they realize
there’s nothing wrong with them,” says
Meinhardt. They see that as a good thing
for growers, grocery shoppers and others
across Alberta and the world. |a
Ryan and Brianne Cramer and their children Eden and Rhys are one of 35
families in the Red Hat Co-operative who are changing how we see less-than-perfect produce.