Climate change and cherries

What do cherries have to do with climate change?

Youth Climate Corps (YCC) crew members in Kimberley/Cranbrook can answer that question, after spending eight days on food recovery projects – two of them spent salvaging cherries and sharing them with a healthy food sharing initiative.

“I found that working with the cherries was a great example of how a community can work together to help eliminate food waste. The farmers identified that these perfectly edible and delicious cherries would not be salable in supermarkets and they needed to find a way to put them to their highest use,” describes crew member Amanda Weatherall. “Instead of wasting them, they were offered to community groups in the area. This benefits food organizations and avoids both the waste of the energy that goes into growing them and the greenhouse gases that would have been the result of them going to a landfill. I discovered that working in this capacity is incredibly fulfilling and shows that our food system needs to be rethought.”

YCC launched in the summer of 2020 to empower young people to inspire and implement solutions to the climate crisis through employment, training, and leadership development. Since July, the Kimberley/Cranbrook Youth Climate Corps (YCC) has been focused heavily on a forestry research project. They’ve also teamed up with like-minded organizations to gain experience and support other organizations’ climate change efforts.

Through partnerships with Healthy Kimberley Food Recovery Depot and Cranbrook Food Recovery, the YCC crew witnessed firsthand the magnitude of food waste that exits the backdoors of our grocers. Most of the foodstuffs collected by these two organizations comes from local grocery store products that would otherwise likely be tossed.

Food waste is a national problem. An estimated 20% of all the food produced in Canada each year becomes avoidable food loss or waste; this means food that is grown, raised, caught or harvested but never actually eaten.

Food systems contribute massively to climate change worldwide. When food is disposed of in landfills, it degrades over time to form methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times more heat trapping power than carbon dioxide. Reducing food loss and waste prevents this generation of methane, and ensures that the energy, water, and other land resources that go into producing our food are not wasted.

“There are many simple ways individuals can reduce food waste,” asserts Shannon Grey Duncan, Coordinator of the Healthy Kimberley Food Recovery Depot. “Increasing food skills leads to creative ways of using food and therefore keeping it out of the landfill. We can all try to compost, but perhaps more importantly, take the time to do it properly. Learn from neighbours or local businesses where we can work together to do things better or make change easier.”

The Food Recovery Depot operates under the umbrella of Healthy Kimberley, and aims to deliver healthy and viable food options to community members in need. To date, they have managed to divert over 68,038 kgs from the landfill since launching three years ago, while Cranbrook Food Recovery has diverted more than 190,359 kg since it opened two years ago.

“We have built and rely on a globalized system,” says Meredith Funston, Coordinator of the Cranbrook Food Recovery. “The way the system is built ultimately results in so much loss, and we have to change it. Shifting away from a global system to a more local system will be challenging, it will take creativity, but it is important to try.”

Our food system creates waste, and greenhouse gases, at each step on its journey from farm to fridge. First, there is production, where food is grown or raised. Followed by transportation and storage. Then, packaging, processing and manufacturing, and finally distribution to the consumer, most often through retail grocery chains. All along the way, food is lost or wasted due to various elements of the globalized food system such as: culling to meet corporate quality standards, inadequate storage or handling, pests, damage or delays in shipping, wear-and-tear due to distance travelled, and — in our privileged society — our finicky decisions surrounding consumer choice.

In support of local food production, the Kimberley/Cranbrook YCC crew traveled to Creston to help pick and distribute more than 453 kg of cherries that would otherwise have rotted in the field.

“There’s a lot of hands and a lot of distance in the food production system,” says Shannon. “There are problems with the current system, and not a lot of action that is helping climate change. Producing and consuming food on a local scale is definitely part of the answer. The cherry picking we did is an example of how this could be done.”

In the Kootenays, we are exceedingly fortunate to have access to a bounty of delicious, local food options. Placing more emphasis on obtaining seasonal harvests from local providers not only bolsters your local community and economy, but helps to reduce our over reliance on a globalized food system.

Local growers and producers such as the cherry orchard we visited during the salvage mission are imperative to fill gaps in local food systems and are, in fact, part of community-based climate change solutions. One can safely presume there are fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and consumption of cherries originating in the Creston Valley, as compared to California or another faraway place. Supporting local producers, who generally do not engage in the globalized system and instead focus on their local communities, works towards removing both waste and emissions from the system. YCC is proud to participate and learn about the attainable food-based climate solutions that our local food recovery organizations are advancing.

“Taking the time to explore and learn about the options available to us locally and then utilizing these resources will help to build more sustainable and resilient communities,” says Tim Chapman, Kimberley/Cranbrook YCC coordinator. “YCC is honoured to be a partner of this work.”

Biting into the world of food systems not only helped to protect a local food economy, but it also impacted the lives and decision making of the YCC crew.

“Working with Shannon and Meredith and hearing their thoughts about the issue of food waste has been thoroughly thought provoking for me personally,” says Tracey Mitchell, Kimberley/Cranbrook YCC crew member. “It is compelling to think about restructuring the food system away from one that is globalized, to a point where farmers’ markets are the first stop on our grocery shopping trips, enabling us to pull stored, locally harvested food from our pantries over the winter. This integration into the practical lives of the local community could transform the accessory or ornamental ‘farmer’s market’ into a meaningful community hub. We all know it’s good to shop local, let’s explore what that can mean.”

Visit Healthy Kimberley and Cranbrook Food Recovery to learn more about local food recovery initiatives. To learn more about YCC, visit our website.

Wildsight’s Youth Climate Corps exists to connect, inspire and empower young adults interested in making a difference for the greatest challenge of this generation: the climate crisis.Learn more