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Upcycling for a Food Secure Community

Two tomatoes and two bulbs of garlic sit on a wooden fence in a pastoral scene

About a third of food produced in Canada is wasted somewhere along the value chain. At the same time, about 12 percent of Canadian households experience some type of food insecurity. While many types of food rescue exist to reroute those would-be wasted foods to those in need, food upcycling, a type of food rescue, is becoming a growing trend.

Upcycling involves value-adding through processing food that would have otherwise been wasted. It can extend the shelf-life of food products and allows less visually appealing foods – “ugly fruits” for example – to enter the food chain.

As part of a food security solution, these foods are not necessarily immediately diverted to the food insecure. Rather, through social enterprises the processing and marketing of the upcycled product can provide paying jobs or funds that can be rerouted to those in need.

University of Guelph faculty and students who worked with the SEED in Guelph, Ontario, identified that understanding the motivations of volunteers participating in a food upcycling enterprise were vital to attracting new volunteers and supporting existing ones. Together these faculty and students researched recruitment, motivations and interests of volunteers at the SEED to support the project. Their research was recently published by  Social Sciences.

Their work found that volunteers at the organization are primarily motivated by meaningful expression of personal altruism and alignment with the SEED’s mission statements. Skill development was also considered a motivator, as well as the social aspect volunteering provides. The paper’s authors found existing volunteers are very excited about the potential of new projects.

The paper concluded with suggestions for volunteer recruitment and retainment for the organization and similar organizations in the future:

  • Ensure volunteers have a voice in the organization and their contributions are recognized.
  • Interview potential volunteers to assess how their values can align with the organization’s, which may lead to a longer relationship with that volunteer.
  • Organizations should clearly communicate the intentions of new projects so volunteers can determine their own alignment with the work.
  • Commitment to reducing stigma associated with using food-services will be important for continued development and evolution of organizations such as the SEED

Sabrina Rondeau, one of the authors of this paper, is an Arrell Scholar and MSc. student in the School of Environmental Sciences. Sara M. Stricker, a PhD candidate in Plant Agriculture and Chantel Kozachenko, a Masters student in Geography, were both Food from Thought research assistants. Kate Parizeau is a professor of geography at the University of Guelph.  Several of the authors of this paper worked with the SEED as part of AFI’s graduate program community partnership.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash