October 22, 2021

irkaimboeuf

Food never sleeps

Leamington food hub celebrates grand opening

4 min read

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A food hub spearheaded by UHC-Hub of Opportunities marked its grand opening Thursday as an opportunity to further reduce food waste and get good produce to people who need it.

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The Leamington Regional Food Hub is a 1,500 square metre (16,000 square foot) production facility where volunteers take donated produce from local farmers, sort and package it and send it off to be delivered to local food banks, northern and rural communities and food programs like the UHC’s (Unemployed Help Centre’s) Farm to Food soup program.

“The Leamington Regional Food Hubaddresses two key issues: food waste and food insecurity,” said June Muir, CEO of UHC-Hub of Opportunities. “Because of the (food hub), we’re able to give more produce hampers to our food banks, out friends up the highway and to northern communities.”

It works like this, said Vern Toews, director of the food hub: They partner with farmers to pick up their donated “imperfect food” — food that is nutritionally fine, but not good-looking enough for grocery store shelves. Toews said that can be as much as seven to eight per cent of what’s produced in greenhouses.

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There is a lot of individuals and families who are food insecure

“The greenhouse capital of North America is within 10 miles,” Toews said. “Leamington is the best location Canada to have a food hub because of the proximity to the greenhouse industry.”

Fresh vegetables are packed into boxes and ready for shipment inside the newly unveiled Leamington Regional Food Hub, on Thursday, August 12, 2021.
Fresh vegetables are packed into boxes and ready for shipment inside the newly unveiled Leamington Regional Food Hub, on Thursday, August 12, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

From there, the food hub volunteers package the food — potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and multiple varieties of peppers and tomatoes — into hampers. Hampers are delivered to local food banks as well as rural and Northern First Nations, and UHC’s Farm to Food soup program.

Toews said the idea to package vegetables into hampers, seemingly a simple idea, has been transformational. Each hamper holds about seven kilograms (15 pounds) of fresh produce.

“We used to ship in bulk, but it was taking too long for distribution,” he said. “A simple idea is a game changer. When we ship up there, the process is cut by three days to get it unloaded. They just have to unload and people get hampers off the pallet.”

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The process for creating the food hub started over two years ago, but really got rolling in November when UHC-Hub of Opportunities partnered with Sterling Ridge Group for the donation and lease of the building. Provincial, federal and donor funding helped get the building completely renovated and running.

In the three months since then, Toews said they have 91 dedicated volunteers signed up to help, as well as an experienced production manager on staff and process about 181,436 kilograms (400,000 pounds) of food per month, with more expected as they expand operations.

“There is a lot of individuals and families who are food insecure,” Muir said. “We know what it costs when we go into a store to buy produce, it’s very expensive. It’s great we’re giving something healthy out that people might go without.”

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June Muir, CEO of UHC-Hub of Opportunities, speaks during a press event unveiling the new Leamington Regional Food Hub, on Thursday, August 12, 2021.
June Muir, CEO of UHC-Hub of Opportunities, speaks during a press event unveiling the new Leamington Regional Food Hub, on Thursday, August 12, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

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