Local initiative attempts to address the issue of food waste

By Bradley Turcotte – 

Winston Avenue resident and recent Algonquin College graduate Rachael Martin’s concept to address the issues of food waste and affordability, is in the running for the top prize of the Amazing 50 Innovation Fund as Ontario Colleges celebrate their 50th anniversary.

The mandate of the Unearthed Café is to rescue undesirable and nearly expired food from local grocery stores and transform the items into healthy, affordable meals. The Café would have pay-what-you-can-items in addition to a suspended menu, where those who can afford to can purchase items for those who cannot.

Close to half of all food produced worldwide is wasted, according to The David Suzuki Foundation, and about 20 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from landfills.

Rachael’s dream is to open a brick and mortar café in Wellington Village or Hintonburg but for now she’s aiming for a pilot pop up event in Somerset Square where the diners would be a mix of residents in need and paying customers. Securing a food truck for the initial event is her greatest hurdle, Rachael admits.

Rachael Martin’s concept to address the issues of food waste and affordability is in the running for the top prize of the Amazing 50 Innovation Fund. Photo by Ryan Mullin
Rachael Martin’s concept to address the issues of food waste and affordability is in the running for the top prize of the Amazing 50 Innovation Fund. Photo by Ryan Mullin

While growing up on a farm in Maine, Rachael reminisces that her family did their part to lessen waste by necessity.

“I didn’t really realise that what we were doing was rescuing food – produce from grocery stores we would use for the farm animals,” Rachael explains, adding that her family would consume the freshest produce that didn’t go to the cows and pigs.

Rachael saw firsthand how resources can be squandered while volunteering at the Parkdale Food Centre. She noticed produce go to waste, even with the centre’s best intentions. Some produce that couldn’t be sorted in time, for example, ended up in the compost. “It was frustrating to see,” says Rachael.

The first round of voting for the Innovation Fund prize is complete and the winners of this round will be announced August 31. The grand prize winner will be announced in November. First place nets $15,000, although Rachael estimates her fully formed vision would cost close to $100,000. As a business management and entrepreneurship student, Rachael developed her concept with help from Algonquin’s Summit Intensive and received $3000 in seed money.

From the farm to the distribution centres and finally ending with careless consumers, Rachael hopes her concept will remind Canadians to be cognisant of how they store their food and how much they throw away.

“I think it’s a real problem, seeing the statistics that 40 per cent of the food that is produced in Canada is wasted. There’s a lot of water and time that goes into growing this food and then it’s just in the compost. On the other end, there’s people who struggle to put food on the table every day. There’s two problems with food insecurity and food waste. Why not have them solve each other?”

For progress on the project, visit unearthedcafe.com or follow the café on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @unearthedcafe.

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