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Oliver non-profit preparing 7.5 million servings of soup to tackle world hunger

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An Oliver, B.C., non-profit organization is gearing up to process 7.5 million servings of dehydrated soup mix to feed millions of people overseas and tackle world hunger.

Okanagan Gleaners, founded in 1994, turns blemished fruits and vegetables, donated by local farmers, into a delicious dehydrated soup, to spare produce from the landfill.

“A serving is a 250-millilitre cup of soup. In a lot of cases, it isn’t used as soup, it is used as additional food for stretching whatever people would put on tacos or in their rice,” said general manager Greg Masson.

Read more: 17% of food produced globally wasted every year, U.N. report estimates

Masson said the organization fills a gap to ensure edible food isn’t wasted or left to rot in fields and orchards.

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“Most of the produce we receive is unsellable. It is too big for market, too small for market, not ripe enough, or overripe, so what they can’t sell, and I wouldn’t want to be a grower today because they are supposed to have a crystal ball,” he said.

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Growers from all over the region will donate thousands of pounds of excess or blemished produce, he said, to its processing facility on Number 3 Road in Oliver.

“We just had a local grower up on River Road in Oliver bring us peppers, potatoes, squash,” he said.

“We are blessed with a potato farmer, they will supply us with 120,000 pounds of coal potatoes.”

Read more: Canada among heaviest food wasters on the planet, report says

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Masson said the small non-profit society struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic to host its usual army of volunteers to create high volumes of dehydrated soup.

“We’ve been very restricted on the number of volunteers that we can have. We are not getting the youth groups out of Richmond that would bring us 60-70 teenagers a week, sleeping in tents, we are not getting those, we are getting self-contained RVers and we are being able to maintain a distance that way and working outdoors,” he said.

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This year, processing will occur from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6.

“We’ve sent two shipments to Burundi in southeast Africa, we’ve sent soup to Venezuela, we are sending food to Eswatini, and we’ve got two orders ready to go to Haiti, so wherever there are food shortages or unsustainability,” Masson said.

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When asked why the product is shipped overseas instead of feeding the hungry in the Okanagan, Masson said it was a fair question.

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“We started working with an organization out of Edmonton to send dried vegetables and soup mix to 10 Inuit communities along the Arctic Ocean,” Masson responded.

He said it is the mission of the Christian faith-based organization to help address world hunger.

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Anyone interested in volunteering can visit the group’s website.

A UN report estimates 17 per cent of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That amounts to 931 million metric tons (1.03 billion tons) of food.

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