Steve Breum was looking for a way to expand his vegetable operation and give back to the community at the same time when he decided to start growing fresh produce for food banks.
“We’re in a recession here, and people don’t have the money for food. These food banks need donations,” said Breum, owner of Gone Green Farms near Pigeon Lake.
“If we can feed people healthy food at a reasonable cost, it just makes sense.”
Breum, a third-generation farmer who has a mixed operation on two quarters of land, connected with the Edmonton and Calgary food banks last winter to see how he could help them meet their growing demand for fresh produce.
And their need was great.
Last year, the Calgary Food Bank distributed nearly 91,000 food hampers containing a mix of perishables and non-perishables to a record high of 187,500 people who were impacted by these donations. In Edmonton, that number was even higher, with nearly 264,000 people accessing hampers last year, another record high.
“They really needed it this year. The need has increased for sure,” said Breum.
So Breum decided to see how much fresh food he could donate to the two food banks. And just like that, Alberta Farm to Food Bank was born.
In the spring, Breum planted a garden of root vegetables — potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, onions, and beets — that would help the food banks offer produce that is both fresh and storable.
“It was just like grandma’s garden,” said Breum. “Grandpa and grandma survived on root vegetables for the winter. That’s where they got their nutrition from.
“It’s important to feed people with healthy food, rather than just with the stuff that won’t go bad. If it won’t go bad, there’s not much nutrition in it.”
With a $1,000 donation from Qualico, a real estate company, as well as other online donations, Breum was able to buy seed and pay for some labour throughout the growing season. And when the time came to harvest, he put out a call to the community for help.
“For harvest, we got probably about 20 people who showed up over the course of a couple of weekends,” he said. “We got a lot of great community support.”
In the end, Alberta Farm to Food Bank was able to donate 31,228 pounds of vegetables to the Edmonton and Calgary food banks, who each received half of the harvest.
“We love to feed people and we love to grow things, so whatever we grow goes,” he said.
“Giving back to the community is so important.”
Breum is already in the planning stages for next year and hopes that he can increase the size of the donation with help from fundraising, corporate sponsorships, and other farms.
“As this grows, I’d like to bring other little farms into it, too,” he said. “We’d like to buy vegetables from other little farms with sponsored money and then donate it to the food bank. That way, the farmers aren’t just donating — they’re getting something back for it, too.”
There are a lot of ways for other farmers to get involved too, he added.
“People can grow food and donate it directly to the food bank, or they can donate money to us and we’ll grow food for them.”
And this support is greatly needed, said Breum, who has seen first hand the impact these donations have made to the people who use the food bank.
“I’ve got some really positive feedback from people who use the food bank or have in the past,” said Breum.
“If all the other reasons to do it weren’t enough, hearing from these people who need it just makes it that much more important.”