FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Northern Environmental Action Team’s food rescue program, NOURISH, is receiving a $150,000 grant over three years through the City of Fort St. John.

Council agreed to draft a fee-for-service agreement at $50,000 per year for 2022, 2023, and 2024 to help cover operational costs, including supplies, wages, and advertisement.

NEAT is looking to build on its existing program over the next year by increasing the volume of food donations from local food stores and the public and expanding partnerships around food skills and literacy.

City staff is also applying for a poverty reduction grant through provincial funding from the Union of BC Municipalities to support additional costs associated with proposed initiatives for NEAT’s Meals on Wheels & NOURISH programs. Staff will manage the grant if approved, with no matching funds required from the city.

Between October 2020 and September 2021, over 22,000 pounds of perishable food from local grocery stores and gardeners initially headed to the landfill was repurposed to the community through a partnership with the Salvation Army. NEAT says around 100 tonnes of emissions were saved by diverting organics from the landfill.

“NOURISH is uniquely positioned to provide a value added service to the traditional food rescue, to support the supply of nutritious food staples available for food bank clients, and to reduce the environmental impacts of organics in landfills,” said the executive director for NEAT, Karen Mason-Bennett.

The program operates with three staff and a shared coordinator. Donations received are sorted into three categories: fresh distribution, human consumption with processing required, or local farms for compost and feedstock. The newly approved grant funding will cover roughly one-third of the program’s $150,000 annual budget.

The organization’s efforts to create other revenue streams are gaining traction, but there is still room in the budget for outside support, Mason-Bennett said.

“NEAT and, by extension, NOURISH is working to create opportunities for revenue generation that, in turn, will be reinvested into program operations. We are developing a
catering service and have created a series of products that are available for sale at the Fireweed Market.”

There was only one councillor who voted against the grant funding on Monday. Councillor Lilia Hansen noted a $30,000 grant council approved last year for the program to get off the ground financially and asked if the new agreement fell under the city’s umbrella.

Mayor Lori Ackerman says the program represents items within the city’s community plan on food security.

Hansen praised NEAT for its work in the community but was concerned with the city’s budget priorities, seeing as council is already facing challenges with this year’s budget.

“As we look at our budgets, I’m just really cautious at this time as to extra programs that we take on,” said Hansen.