UBC medical student Maegan Stuart. photo:contributed

Food recovery projects support rural Kootenay community

UBC medical student helps address food security in Kimberley

A UBC medical student has helped tackle the problem of food security in a rural BC town

Access to healthy foods is a common challenge for vulnerable populations in small communities like Kimberley, explains Dr. Ilona Hale, clinical assistant professor with the Southern Medical Program (SMP).

Hale, who is also chair of the Healthy Kimberley Society, says people often rely on food banks and other community programs to subsidize their household needs. But food options at those places can be limited. Food banks in smaller communities typically need to balance limited financial resources with a lack of commercial-scale refrigerated space to house fresh produce, she explains.

“Most food bank items are non-perishable, canned and dry foods,” said Hale. “Certain groups don’t have the financial means to regularly access healthy, fresh foods.”

This past spring, SMP student Maegan Stuart reached out to Hale to see how she could help address this problem as part of her training to become a doctor.

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“A substantial amount of food thrown out at grocery stores is fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t look nice,” said Stuart. “The idea of a food rescue project is to divert perfectly-edible food from the landfill to programs that feed the community.”

At the time, Stuart was in Kimberley consulting with potential user groups including the food bank, school lunch programs, churches and seniors’ organizations. Following a similar model of food recovery projects in other small communities in B.C. and the U.K., Stuart helped kick-start the process of securing suitable storage space, coordinating refrigeration equipment and recruiting volunteers. The final stop was the local Save-On-Foods grocery store where the local manager eagerly offered to donate all of their excess produce, dairy and other perishables.

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“Liability is the most commonly cited reason for grocery stores declining to participate,” said Stuart. “Fortunately, the Food Donor Encouragement Act in BC protects companies from product liability when donating food. Once we explained how they are protected and could potentially save thousands of dollars in disposal costs, they were fully on board.”

At the end of August, the Healthy Kimberley Society secured a $95,000 grant from the Columbia Basin Trust to hire a part-time coordinator and launch the project in the fall.

“Maegan worked really hard to pull all the necessary stakeholders together and build a successful business case,” said Hale. “Although we have been thinking about this kind of project for some time, Maegan’s work really helped us get it going.”

Now into her third year of medical school, Stuart is currently training at Kelowna General Hospital.

“I have a strong interest in preventative medicine and supporting long-lasting change,” said Stuart. “This project will help improve lives on a long-term basis and that means everything to me.”

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