'A win-win': Montreal Public Markets network expands unsold produce program

The Récolte Engagée program, started in 2017, will soon expand to Atwater Market to help low-income households access fresh produce.  (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)
The Récolte Engagée program, started in 2017, will soon expand to Atwater Market to help low-income households access fresh produce. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)

After five years of successfully redistributing unsold produce from the Jean-Talon Market to low-income households, Montreal's Public Markets network is expanding its Récolte Engagée program to the Atwater Market.

Through the program, vendors donate unsold produce to community organizations that serve those living with food insecurity.

Last season, 677 low-income households saved 10 tons of produce from going to waste.

"It's a win-win," said Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet, executive director of Montreal Public Markets.

"It's important for public markets to take part in benefiting the community, whatever the income of the families."

The partner organizations operate in the neighbourhoods they serve, with the Centre de Ressources et d'Action Communautaire de la Petite-Patrie (CRACPP) near the Jean-Talon Market and Share the Warmth in the Sud-Ouest borough.

Need for fresh produce is high

The Récolte Engagée program's arrival in the Sud-Ouest is a big relief, said Share the Warmth executive director Stéphanie Taillon.

Taillon said they've been struggling to meet the demands of those using their food security programs, which include food banks and lunchboxes for kids.

"This project is also really important for us because the cost of food has gotten so high," said Taillon. "To buy fresh produce for our community is really a lot of money, so to have produce like this donated to us will alleviate the costs."

According to Taillon, their food bank membership has risen by 65 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic — something she has never seen before. Share the Warmth is adding an average of seven to 10 households to their membership per week, she said.

But by meeting the vendors and building community relationships, Taillon says the program is off to an exciting start.

"No one should be food insecure, and right now it's really going up," she said.

"With projects like these it's important to have this really good merge. We're answering a need for them also, it's good for them to have a place for the food to go and not waste."

Fabien-Ouellet said the goal is to eventually have all public markets participate in the program while partnering with those who know their communities' needs best.

The Atwater Market vendors aren't ready to redistribute produce just yet as details of the partnerships are still being settled, but Fabien-Ouellet says they should be all set in the next month or so.

"All traders are happy to participate in the program and benefit the community," said Fabien-Ouellet.