Food choices are often personal

Originally published in the Western Producer, May 2022

We all know someone who is extremely vocal about their food choices, even to the point of it causing friction with others.

If not, you’ve never been on Twitter.

Sustainable, organic, vegan: terms like these are increasingly morphing into exclusive tribes and dirty words rather than simple descriptive nouns.

This is a problem, especially at a time when Canadians are reporting more societal division than ever before.

As members of the agri-food industry, it will be increasingly important for our industry to take a curious approach to market demand rather than a combative one. The first step is understanding how and why people behave the way they do in relation to their food choices.

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Do consumers really want to know?

Originally published in Western Producer, August 2020

There’s a prevailing notion in agriculture that we must get consumer and public “approval” for modern farming practices and that we need to build “social licence” among consumers.

We have responded and invested significant resources and money into winning hearts and minds.

Lately, I have been increasingly wondering if this a strategically sound effort and a worthwhile investment. I’m not sure, for a couple reasons.

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Five delightful facts about the Regina Food Bank

When you think of a food bank, you probably think of an agency that gives food to people who immediately need it.

Which the Regina Food Bank does.

But it also does so much more.

“We have 9,000 people come through our doors each month, so we have to be able to find out how we can help them in terms of food security,” says Todd Sandin, Director of Operations.

This means not only striving to eliminate hunger but also to solve the longer-term problems associated with food insecurity.

One component of this is educating people on food – where it comes from, and how they can grow and prepare local foods for their families.

Another component is growing sustainability within the organization’s own operations, a necessary requirement when you receive upwards of 3 million pounds each of food and non-food donations each year.

Because of these focuses, the Regina Food Bank is home to some super cool and innovative initiatives, some that are not yet being done at any other food bank in the world (just one more thing you can be proud of in this amazing city!)

Here are five delightful facts about the Regina Food Bank.

  1. It has a machine that turns waste into fuel!

Officially it’s called a “gasification unit” (I think that name needs some marketing input) and Regina is the only food bank in the world to have one, Sandin says!

Here’s how the machine works: You put in up to 500 pounds of waste/non-perishable items (except plastic, unfortunately) and the machine slowly breaks it down and “cooks” it, turning it into fuel. The Food Bank then uses this fuel to heat its greenhouse and warehouse and has enough left over to share with other partner agencies as well (for example, the YWCA has used it to heat its pool!).

Altogether the machine has helped the Food Bank save $30,000 a year on waste that has been reinvested back into programs.

They’ve only had the machine for six month, Sandin says, but future plans include sharing their knowledge and experience with it to other agencies across Saskatchewan that may also benefit from such technology.

The gasification unit turns waste and non-perishable items into … this!

  1. It has a Farming Robot!

Or FarmBot, if you will.

This is basically a machine that uses the same technology as 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC routers to power a little farm that operates without any human interaction (the only thing it cannot do on its own is harvesting).

Why does a Food Bank need a farming robot? This is part of the educational component, Sandin says.

“When we sat down with our team to discuss what would be the best use of our assets, we found that the education program actually produced an amazing yield of engagement with students, what they learned about where their food comes from and how important local food is as well,” he says.

“It’s really important to show kids these days where their food comes from, how they can do it at home, how they can be more of a family unit when it comes to producing their own food.”

And of course, what better way to engage kids than ROBOTS.

Which leads me to ….

  1. It teaches people about food production and how they can produce their own food

The robot is just part of a greater educational program.

The Food Bank also has a year-round greenhouse which is home to 30 “ecotowers,” (little standup gardens that can grow a bunch of stuff in a small space). Schools and other community organizations can tour the greenhouse and learn about food production.

Partner schools in the city have been able to use the ecotowers to grow their own produce in the classroom. One classroom used their yields to have a potluck. Another class grew lettuce to feed their own gerbil. How sweet is that?!

The Food Bank also has a commercial kitchen that is used to teach people how to cook with certain food products. For example, lentils, which the Food Bank receives large donations of.

Some local classrooms have used these ecotowers to grow their own produce in the classroom.

  1. They don’t just deal with food.

This is another way the Regina Food Bank is unique – every year it “repurposes” 290,000 pounds of non-food donations to 120 partner agencies, that then distribute it to people most in need.

The Regina Food Bank is able to do this for a number of reasons, Sandin says.

First, they have a massive building (35,000 square feet of warehouse, which was donated to them). Second, they have amazing network of business partners, transporters and volunteers, which allow them to get the donated products from their warehouse to the places in need.

“We have a great alignment of stars right now,” Sandin says. “Not all food banks have that luxury.”

Are you wondering what 290,000 pounds of donated products looks like? They have had everything from shampoo, to bikes, to wine glasses, to BBQs, to branded office uniforms (which they were able to unbrand and donate to Comso Industries!).

“I’ve literally seen it all,” Sandin laughs.


My photo-taking skills suck because this doesn’t even begin to do justice to the size of the “donated goods” warehouse. Or the variety of donated items.

  1. They welcome everyone to get involved!

While there are the traditional ways to get involved – make a financial or food donation – Sandin says all community engagement is welcome.

“Get involved, volunteer some time, come see what we’re doing now. There’s a lot of great unique initiatives we have going on in our building, our greenhouse, our mobile pantry, our commercial kitchen – a lot of ways for people to get involved.”

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