Reducing food waste at the farm is key to ensuring farmers’ economic resiliency and the sustainable management of water, resources, energy and labour. The relationship between on-farm food waste issues and farm characteristics in B.C such as aesthetics and precarious labour result in perfectly edible food at the farm going to waste. Cost savings are critical when addressing on-farm food waste and actions to fully address food waste should be pursued in a collaborative manner across the food supply chain.
Food Systems Lab received a grant from the SFU Community Engagement Initiative to take a social innovation approach to address the complex problem of food waste with a focus on the farm sector in Southern B.C. While there are tax incentives to support the donation of food, or platforms connecting farmers with surplus food to charitable food rescue programs, these initiatives are not financially sustainable when farmers are themselves unable to recoup the cost of inputs that have gone into producing the food. As such, this project employed social innovation principles which include connecting farmers, food stakeholders and industry to explore alternative market and entrepreneurial opportunities.
In light of the interconnectedness of the food supply chain and the complexity of the issue of farm waste, we had the following research questions:
What is the role of social innovation in developing systems-based solutions to address the issue of farm surplus, waste and culls?
What are the barriers and opportunities to farm waste prevention and reduction and how can diverse perspectives contribute towards collaborative solutions?
The first phase of our project consisted of 40 semi-structured key informant interviews with farmers. Through these interviews, we identified common causes of food waste on farms, challenges to implementing solutions to reduce food waste, and proposed recommendations for policy and program changes.
The second phase of the study included a one day Networking and Farm Waste Solutions focus group. The focus group participants were asked questions related to the findings from the key informant interviews, followed by an inter-sector discussion session to promote collaboration between participants for future work in addressing on-farm food waste.