Vancity EnviroFund awards $39,500 to Fernwood Helping Hands – a push for greater local food access at the neighbourhood level
 >> Alex Harned

Food access and the Good Food Box go hand in hand. While growth has transpired to reach more people (from the Gift of Good Food, weekly ordering and deliveries, to partnering with over 10 agencies and new pick-up locations) it remains equally important to value locally grown food.

As the Good Food Box is expanding to a weekly distribution schedule beginning February 2017, this will necessitate the food supply to double in size in order to meet delivery needs. This is why the Good Food Box is also ramping up its new year’s resolution—a challenge to double the amount of produce sourced from Vancouver Island farmers this year.

Last year, the Good Food Box invested over $20,000 in our Vancouver Island farms and our local Island food economy. If you peek inside a Good Food Box today, 25% of the fruits and veggies found inside are Island grown. When widening the scope to include the mainland, Oregon and Washington, that number jumps to nearly 50% of produce to be grown within our surrounding regions. Yet, the Good Food Box is not immune to the economic reality of rising food costs, and despite their savvy seasonal and bulk buying, the cost of food importing food is inevitably going up. Thus, increasing local produce accessibility while maintaining affordability of the Good Food Box is the next project for Fernwood NRG.

This is where the inspiration bloomed for a new pilot project, Fernwood Helping Hands.

Fernwood Helping Hands, a local produce gleaning program, will strengthen partnerships with local farmers to develop permanent, sustainable capacity to rescue gleaned produce in real time and flow surplus produce into the Good Food Box supply chain and other food security initiatives hosted by Fernwood NRG such as the Family Dinner, Daycare lunches, Family Resource Program and the Senior’s Lunch.

This project has successfully been awarded $39,500 of the Vancity EnviroFund. Over the last five years the enviroFund™ has distributed a total of $3.2 million to a variety of initiatives, like Fernwood Helping Hands, that contribute to building a local food system that integrates shared values related to sustainability, community health and economic vitality.

The Fernwood Helping Hands will work in partnership with LifeCycles Project Society, an organization that has successfully orchestrated a well-established Fruit Tree project for the past eighteen years and has included a successful Farm Gleaning component for the last two years. LifeCycles’ volunteers head out to fruit trees and farms across the CRD to, ‘glean’ otherwise unused fruit and redistribute a large portion of produce to food insecure folks. In 2016, the Fruit Tree Project harvested and distributed a record breaking 66,000 lbs of fruit, but even then could not meet the demand to harvest and glean more from farmers and fruit tree owners.

Fernwood Helping Hands will utilize LifeCycles’ successful Fruit Tree Project systems to ‘glean’ unsaleable produce and in turn, provide incentives for local farmers who participate. Volunteers will provide labour capacity needed to glean, clean, and sort surplus produce where local growers, both small and medium size farmers, young farmers, and urban agriculture farmers, might not have the capacity to do so otherwise. In exchange, volunteers will gain access to the inclusive skill-building opportunities of the Fernwood Food Literacy Curriculum—a combination of digital resources, experiential learning, applied knowledge and mentorship in growing, harvesting, food processing, and culinary arts—and of course, will take home their own Good Food Box!

The potential impact of the Fernwood Helping Hands increases capacity to access healthy, local food for communities in the CRD through the streamlining the success of the Fruit Tree Project and Gleaning projects into the expansion of the Good Food Box Program – an established, successful, healthy produce distribution system. By the Good Food Box reducing its reliance on purchased inputs by substituting gleaned produce grown on Vancouver Island (procured through the use of volunteer labour), the program bolsters regional food security and provides an equitable local food access system for people in our diverse communities.

Want to get involved? If you would like to become a Fernwood Helping Hands champion, as a farmer or a volunteer, please contact Alex Harned at

Support for this project does not necessarily imply Vancity’s endorsement of the findings or contents of this report.