Oceanview Church pastor Darin Phillips led a contingent of 18 church members on a trip to volunteer at the Fraser Valley Gleaners, an organization that takes wasted produce from farmers, and turns it into soup mixes for developing countries.
The trip was Phillips’ sixth time volunteering with the Gleaners, and the one where he feels he gained the most insight about how Fraser Valley Gleaners operates.
“This time I got to do different volunteer jobs than the other times,” Phillips said. “Typically they get in the produce… from the beginning of March all the way to early November. In the winter months, that’s when they take all the dried product and make soup mix. Always showing up for a week in the summer we never got to make the soup mix, but this time we did.”
A bulk of the product they work with is produce that has been deemed too unattractive to sell. For example, misshapen or discoloured produce often gets rejected by grocery stores because consumers won’t pay full price for produce that appears to be lower quality. In reality, there is nothing wrong with the produce.
Creating soup mix is an intricate process. Once the Gleaners obtain produce from farmers, volunteers prepare the produce. The produce is then processed through a chipper that cuts the vegetables into small pieces. The produce is then dried in a commercial drier for 24 hours. This dehydrates the vegetables to prevent them from spoiling, and reduces the weight of the produce for transport.
Once the produce is prepared, volunteers create the soup mix on an assembly line. The finished product is bagged, then placed in boxes to be shipped across the world.
“Each bag can make 100 soup servings,” Philips said. “There’s not one bit of it that’s allowed to remain in Canada, it’s got to leave our country. They don’t want this product coming back into our food chain… This isn’t meant to be for sale in Canada at all.”
The soup mixes assembled by Philips and the group from Oceanview Church are destined for Malawi, an African nation currently recovering from Cyclone Idai that devasted the country in March.
Fraser Valley Gleaners produced 15 million servings of soup per year out of an estimated five percent of all produce waste in the Fraser Valley. The non-profit organization is run entirely on donations, and receives no government funding. There are approximately four paid employees. All other work is done by volunteers.
“There’s typically, if you add in our group, about 60 people on the floor every day. It’s amazing what 60 to 70 volunteers can accomplish in a morning,” Phillips said.
The group stayed in Abbotsford for a week. Volunteers can stay on the Gleaner’s property either tenting or with an RV. Volunteer shifts run from 8:00 am – 12:00 pm, then they have the rest of the day to do whatever they like.
Phillips is looking forward to leading a group to Fraser Valley Gleaners again next year. He hopes that they’ll be able to take an even larger contingent next year. Although the group was made up entirely of church members, volunteers do not need to be involved in organized religion to go.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve gone as a church… and occasionally we’ve had a family, individual, or a couple that doesn’t go to our church be part of the experience. This time, we thought, what if we really pumped it up with the community and we made it half people from the church, and half people from the community,” Phillips said.
Fraser Valley Gleaners welcomes volunteers at any time of year. Single people, couples, and families can come any time. Larger groups are encouraged to contact the Gleaners in advance to ensure there is enough capacity on site to accommodate the group.
For more information on the work done by Fraser Valley Gleaners, visit fvgleaners.org.