Fresh Take: Bayer & Food Banks Canada
Bayer is taking on food insecurity in Canada through its support of Food Banks Canada, a partnership aimed at helping the more than 860,000 Canadians who turn to food banks each month get more fresh food.
The battle against hunger and food insecurity is waged in Canadian communities big and small, with an astonishing 860,000 individuals, more than a third of them children, turning to food banks each month. While it’s a reality that the thousands of people who work and volunteer at food banks across the country know all too well, it comes as a surprise to many others, says Chris Hatch, CEO, Food Banks Canada.
“People don’t realize how big the problem of food insecurity is in Canada,” says Chris. “The number of people in need of food banks each month is roughly the same as the population of Mississauga, Ontario, which is Canada’s sixth-largest city. The good news/bad news is that it’s not getting worse, but it’s a stubborn problem that’s not getting better.”
What has changed is the increasing demand at food banks for fresh food, something that too frequently gets cut out of diets in favour of cheaper, less nutritional processed foods. Today, not only are food banks working to produce more fresh foods, they are educating and building the capacity of people to grow and use their own, creating stronger communities along the way.
Bringing fresh food to Canadians in need is at the heart of Bayer Canada’s new partnership with Food Banks Canada, which is a national charitable organization dedicated to helping those living with food insecurity by supporting a network of over 3,000 food-related organizations in every province and territory, and by advocating to reduce the need for food banks in the future. A person or family is “food insecure” when they don’t know where their next meal will come from, they eat poorly or they don’t eat a meal at all because they can’t afford it.
A growing partnership
Bayer directs its support to Food Banks Canada’s +Fresh Gardens and Growing Fund, which supports community gardens and other initiatives that provide food banks with more fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products. The fund supports efforts like the one at the Regina Food Bank’s Four Season Urban Agricultural Centre, where herbs, kale and other leafy greens grow in four newly installed, soil-less aeroponic tower gardens. They’re a new addition to the demonstration floor, where people are educated about the various ways to grow food indoors and in limited outdoor space,
“Our greenhouse started in 2016, and we’ve been adapting and growing as we go,” says Kimberley Wenger, Community Greenhouse Coordinator at the Regina Food Bank. “It’s a learning curve for us, but there’s a really big interest in the community in urban agriculture, and we want to inspire people to learn and even become agricultural leaders of the future.”
Along with Regina’s aeroponic towers, Bayer-funded grants through Food Banks Canada have already supported a number of other projects, including a new greenhouse in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, expansion of the garden program in Lethbridge, Alberta, adding a composting program in Gabriola, British Columbia, and a partnership with a local farm in Erin, Ontario, amongst others.
Bayer's Social Engagement
Bayer’s support of Food Banks Canada is part of the company’s new Corporate Social Engagement strategy, which focuses on three core priorities: health, innovation and nutrition. The Corporate Social Engagement strategy reflects Bayer’s broader commitment to sustainability - making a positive difference for the future.
We sought out non-profit organizations that share our core values. Engagement is more than just financial; it’s also about volunteerism and sharing our expertise.
“We had always referred to our social programs as corporate responsibility, and we wanted to go from that reactionary mode towards a more proactive, meaningful approach to social engagement,” says Derrick, V.P. Communications & Public Government Affairs, Bayer Inc. “We sought out non-profit organizations that shared our core values. Engagement is more than just financial; it’s also about volunteerism and sharing our expertise.”
From a long list of 40 potential not-for-profit partners, six made the short list and were voted on by Bayer employees in late 2017; Food Banks Canada, along with youth education group Let’s Talk Science, came out on top. Along with funding, the company is working on a volunteerism framework to help organize and support the many enthusiastic employees looking to help.
Bayer Canada’s Accounting team were among 40 employees who recently volunteered to pitch in at the Mississauga Food Bank, sorting the equivalent of nearly 3,000 meals
“Food Banks Canada is an innovative organization, and its work to improve food security and eliminate hunger aligns directly with Bayer’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger,” remarks Derrick. “The food banks’ goal is to go out of business, and our goal is to help them.”
For Bayer and Food Banks Canada, the focus on supporting the +Fresh Fund and particularly stimulating community gardening makes good sense.
“About 50 per cent of our business in Canada is our Crop Science division, so we have a very strong connection to agriculture,” explains Derrick. “We work with growers everywhere across Canada as well as food producers; we see synergies and the ability to help,” explains Derrick.
Fresh approaches bust food bank myths
For Chris, having the support of partners like Bayer is helping organizations break through the out-dated image of food banks being just about canned or boxed foods. Today’s food banks are increasingly focused on having fresh foods available for food bank clients in order to contribute to better nutrition, a critical factor in maintaining good health.
Chris points to success stories like the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre’s Garden Patch, supported by the +Fresh Fund. It’s one of the many blossoming food bank community gardens that are not only valuable sources of fresh foods, they offer hands-on opportunities for participants to learn and grow their skills and confidence.
Located on an acre-and-a-half vacant lot in the heart of downtown Saskatoon, the Garden Patch produced a whopping 21,741 pounds of food in 2018 – it’s highest yield ever. Education and community engagement are also key; along with hosting school visits, gardeners learn environmentally sound approaches and can earn a University of Saskatchewan-backed ‘Gardening 101’ certificate. Volunteers team up to ‘Adopt-a-Plot” and compete for the coveted ‘Golden Beet’ award. There are even two honeybee hives.
“The garden gives us some control over our supply chain, gives us some predictability, and allows us to better cater to the wants and interests of our clients,” says Adrian Werner, Urban Agriculture Program Manager, Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre.
Adrian hopes to next expand the skill-building component of the Garden Patch’s programming, helping people do everything from conceptualizing their own garden to successfully cooking with the ingredients they grow.
Building awareness about the role of fresh foods to a healthy diet, and making fresh food that delivers better nutritional value more available at food banks across Canada, has Chris Hatch excited.
I wish they could see the smiles on the faces of people, especially children, when they receive fresh food at the food bank.
“We are trying to grow more fresh food so we can feed more people,” he says. “Many of the food bank users are children, and good nutrition is critical in terms of their growth and development. I wish everyone at Bayer could see the smiles on the faces of people, especially children, when they receive fresh food at the food bank. It’s a highly valued product that our food bank clients really appreciate.”
That positive impact is exactly why Bayer’s partnership with Food Banks Canada is a perfect fit, says Derrick.
“Our purpose as an organization is to help create a better life,” he says. “We strive to do that through our science, but also through our Corporate Social Engagement choices. Together with Food Banks Canada, we are helping more Canadians get access to the nourishing fresh foods they need for a healthier life. Nutrition matters, and we’re proud to be supporting the work of Food Banks Canada to make more fresh foods available for more people across Canada.”
Bayer employees give back
Employees at Bayer’s inaugural Fall Giving Campaign hit their donations target, raising $50k in support of Food Banks Canada. Highlights include a charity golf tournament, raffles and auctions and a “food build challenge” to create the St. Louis Arch and Bayer’s Leverkusen HQ and collected close to 700 pounds of food.