There is no such thing as “extra” food. People around the world are starving, so the challenge is to steer surplus food from areas of plenty to areas of great need without having it spoil on the way to the hungry. Food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply in the U.S., and the Coronavirus pandemic is only making global food insecurity worse.
Niagara Christian Gleaners (NCG) is demonstrating how food waste can be repurposed on a large scale. The non-profit preserves surplus and “ugly” off-specification fruits and vegetables by drying the food with a NYLE FDG 1000 dehydrator. At some poverty-stricken locations overseas such as an orphanage in Haiti, NCG’s on-site partner organization feeds more than 1,000 kids per day. In their first full year of operation, NCG prepared and dried over 1.5 millions pounds of fresh produce – the equivalent of more than 5 million food servings!
Gleaning is a biblical concept in which God instructed farmers to leave a portion of their crops for the poor to gather. The Niagara Christian Gleaners aim to divert 7,000 pounds of produce each day from the trash. NCG General Manager Pete Wierenga and his team partner with generous Ontario farmers to intercept their surplus fruits and veggies. They steer the “waste” to their processing plant near Toronto, which was built in 2018 for $2.5M. The non-profit’s 75 volunteers wash, sort, chop, dehydrate, pack and ship the dried food to regional food banks, and organizations overseas that rehydrate the meals to feed the hungry. Overall, their meals can feed more than 17,000 people per day.
“Simplicity, reliability and consistency is what we value most about the NYLE drying system,” says Wierenga. “I’m glad we purchased this NYLE machine, as the other companies we looked at had complicated dryers with more variables and lots of moving parts that require maintenance,” says Wierenga. “We have a lot of volunteers working part-time, and we dry 20 different foods, so we need a dryer that features easy systems and easy programming,” says Wierenga. “All the staff needs to do is look up the programmed recipe for that particular food, and then push the button to run that cycle.”
NCG Dried 20 Different Fruits and Vegetables in 2019
Dehydrating is the critical step in the food repurposing process. It preserves nutrients and greatly extends the shelf life and ability to store and ship it, and the food can be simply rehydrated for use. It is remarkable that in 2019 NCG dried 20 different fruits and vegetables with the NYLE FDG 1000 including: mushroom, asparagus, beet, zucchini, cabbage, carrot, celery, turnip, eggplant, onion, parsnip, pepper, potato, rutabaga, squash, sweet potato, apple, pear, and apricot.
After the food is cleaned, chopped and diced, the volunteers measure 2 liters and spread it evenly on each standard 18” x 26” bakery tray. They then load the trays into a standard tiered bakery rack that holds 21 trays, and wheel the 33 racks into the vast chamber room of the NYLE FDG 1000 for a pre-programmed dehydration cycle that typically lasts 10-12 hours. Often the dryer is running two batches in 24 hours - 6 days a week. Most of the fruits and vegetables are dehydrated to between 8 to 10% moisture.
The dried food is packed into 4-cup bags, and 20 bags of food are loaded into each Food Aid box. The boxes of food are available at no cost to aid organizations who distribute them to areas where food security is a challenge. NCG partners with organizations in the countries receiving the shipments. One example is The Luke Commission in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). A recent shipment there contained close to 1.3 million servings - a complete sea container full. Hunger is more prevalent than most people realize. NCG’s current inventory of 2 million servings has already been claimed, and is loaded on pallets and ready to be shipped by the container load.
For more information about the good work of the Niagara Christian Gleaners, visit https://www.niagaragleaners.org/.