Saving P.E.I.’s Potatoes: A Truly Canadian Food Rescue Story

by | Jul 4, 2022 | Food Waste

This is the story of how potatoes have the power to connect a country-wide community of Canadians. In 2021, two potato fields in Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) were found with potato wart—a fungus that is harmless to humans. This prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to close the Canadian-US border for all exports of potatoes. That left 300 million pounds of P.E.I. potatoes without a home (that’s the equivalent of 5,300 tractor-trailers). Thousands of local farmers and workers, as well as P.E.I. potato importers and buyers, were left in the lurch.

“This decision by the federal government has shocked and devastated our industry,” said Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson. “Now more than ever our farmers deserve our support.”

Let’s put this problem into perspective:

  • 1 in 4 potatoes in Canada was produced in P.E.I.
  • P.E.I. potatoes feed nine million Americans annually.
  • The potato industry contributes $1.3 billion to P.E.I.’s economy.
  • In 2019, 85,500 acres of P.E.I farmland were dedicated to potato production (one acre is roughly the size of a football field).
  • In 2016, the industry generated $48.9 million in taxes in P.E.I; 5,016 full-time equivalent jobs; $240 million in wages.
  • P.E.I. potatoes represented 23% of Canada’s total international exports of potatoes between 2009 and 2018.

Something had to be done. 

Saving P.E.I.’s Potatoes: A Truly Canadian Food Rescue Story
Potato farm images from P.E.I. Potatoes’ Facebook

How Canada’s Surplus Food Rescue Program Saved P.E.I. Potatoes

When the border closed to P.E.I.’s potatoes, we knew there would be an outstanding surplus of 300 million potatoes that needed to be rescued and redistributed before they went to waste. This was during the pandemic, too, when millions of Canadians found themselves reliant on food charities that were struggling themselves to meet the immense food demand across the country. That’s when Second Harvest partnered with the Government of Canada and P.E.I. farmers.   

While our procurement team worked with P.E.I. farmers to find a solution to their surplus of potatoes, our CEO connected with the federal government to see what could be done. The Minister of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Security Fund provides money to the charitable sector to help Canadians access needed food services. The federal program is called Canada’s Surplus Food Rescue Program—and Second Harvest was able to position a portion of funding to purchase and redistribute the surplus potatoes. 

Second Harvest secured $3.9 million from the Canadian government grant. Working directly with the P.E.I. Potato Board, we purchased $2 million worth of potatoes or 12 million pounds of potatoes. The remaining funds were used to cover transportation costs, where trains, trucks, and even planes in a few locations helped move the shipments.

Potato farm images from P.E.I. Potatoes’ Facebook

Delivering 12 Million Pounds of P.E.I. Potatoes to Agencies Across Canada

Second Harvest worked with logistic companies and deployed our own fleet of trucks, using our warehouse for storage, to rescue and redistribute the potatoes. We partnered with dozens of food charities and organizations across Canada to help. 

Here’s a look at some of the logistical feats Second Harvest accomplished with help:

  • 12 million lbs of potatoes rescued and redistributed this year
  • Potatoes are distributed by train, plane, and trucks across the country
  • 3,900 lbs of potatoes distributed in Ontario from January 2022 until end of May
  • 2,120,000 lbs of potatoes distributed to BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba from January 2022 until end of May 2022
  • 1,267,000 lbs of potatoes redistributed to Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and PEI from January 2022 until end of May 2022
  • 79,500 lbs of potatoes distributed to Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon from January 2022 until end of May 2022

Through this project we’ve provided a small revenue stream to support P.E.I. potato farmers and managed to provide much needed fresh food to communities in every province and territory. All of the potatoes were purchased from the 25 Licensed Potato Dealers in P.E.I. that had interest in the program and in total this would include over 50 P.E.I. potato growers. We took great care to stagger deliveries and to not disrupt the market or saturate any regions.

Gratitude for Surplus Potatoes in Local Communities Across Canada

Potato farm images from P.E.I. Potatoes’ Facebook
Potato farm images from P.E.I. Potatoes’ Facebook

“This means our clients will have fresh produce for a long time now.” 

—Chair Bernice McLean, Athens Food Bank, Ontario

“I just wanted to provide you with an update about the 50,000 pounds of potatoes that was provided by Second Harvest to the Dauphin Friendship Centre… The Dauphin Friendship Centre would like to thank Second Harvest for providing the potatoes to our organization, and commend you on how organized everything seemed to be. The potatoes were clean, and surprisingly out of all 5,000 bags, we only found one where the potatoes had spoiled. This speaks volumes to the preparation that was done by Second Harvest prior to the potatoes being shipped to our building.”

—Dauphin Friendship Centre, Dauphin, Manitoba

“Potatoes are such a good staple and thank God for producing them. Also for the generosity of Rotary Brockville and The Brockville and Area Food Bank, so we can assist those in our community.”

—Major Stephen McNeilly, Salvation Army Brockville, ON

“Volunteers and the community got together to help this food bank that didn’t have a loading dock or a lift to properly unload the potatoes. Through effort and determination, they unloaded 25,000 lbs of potatoes by hand in about 2 hours to help feed the community! 

La BASE food bank, Gatineau, Quebec

“Thank you so much for allowing us to be part of the Second Harvest distribution of P.E.I. potatoes to so many groups in need.”

—Rotary Club, Brockville, ON

“Thanks so much for the potatoes. Rotarians Rock! This truckload of potatoes will be used for nine weeks—we go through 100 pounds of potatoes a week! We can’t thank Second Harvest enough for all of these potatoes!”

—Program Supervisor, Laurie Prichard, Loaves and Fishes, BC

“We are a non-profit daycare and this will go towards our Easter Meal and help us due to rising food costs.”

—Kampus Kids, ON

Lac La Biche community in Alberta received 52,800 pounds of potatoes that went to over 25 organizations with the help of over 70 volunteers.

“This project empowered our organization to reach people from every area in Lac La Biche
County, Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, Kikino Metis Settlement, Heart Lake First Nation, Beaver
Lake Cree Nation, and Whitefish Lake First Nation. People of all ages and cultural backgrounds
came to The Great Potato Pickup.

As always it is so great to work with the staff at Second Harvest. The support provided always
organizations like Community Learning to help so many families in remote rural areas. With
rising food and household costs it is so difficult for some to make ends meet. It is rewarding to
keep food and agriculture waste out of the landfills and feed people as well. We look forward
to working with Second Harvest in the future.”

—Stone Soup, Lac La Biche, Alberta
Cooperative Care Centre in Brockville, Ontario, receiving their P.E.I. potatoes
Cooperative Care Centre in Brockville, Ontario, receiving their P.E.I. potatoes

Food Charities and Agencies That Received P.E.I.’s Surplus Potatoes 

Food charities from coast to coast to coast in Canada gladly received the surplus potatoes—and are continuing to into mid-2022. These potatoes are being made into meals by the generosity and hard work of food charity workers and volunteers for families and folks who are in need of a good meal. Here are some of the organizations and communities that received potatoes:

Ontario Food Charities: 

  • Helping Hands (Hanmer, ON)
  • Homelands (Little Current)
  • United Way Sault Ste Marie Algoma (Sault Ste Marie): Each palette was about 2,000 pounds and they received 26 palettes (for an approximate total of 52,000 pounds of potatoes for people of the Sault in need of food).
  • Daily Bread Food Bank (Toronto)
  • Plentiful Harvest (Unemployed Help Centre) (Windsor)
  • Rotary Club Simcoe/Collingwood
  • Rotary Club Kingston/Brockville 19 skids to Community Food Redistribution Warehouse, operated by Lionhearts Inc, Kingston. And 5 skids to Brockville Area Food Bank, Brockville. 

Quebec Food Charities: 

  • Moisson Montréal (Saint Laurent-Montreal) 
  • Banques Alimentaires du Québec (BAQ) (two Locations Quebec)
  • Mission Nouvelle Generation (Brossard)

Saskatchewan Food Charities: 

  • Prince Albert Grand Council  (Prince Albert)

Alberta Food Charities: 

  • Calgary Family Peer Connections (Fort Mcleod)
  • Harvest Hills Cares Calgary (Calgary)
  • Edmonton’s Food Bank (Edmonton)
  • Calgary Food Bank (Calgary)
Wings of Hope for Africa received potatoes from a distribution that Calgary Family Peer Connections hosted and gave them out to families in Calgary. They are very thankful for the donations and said the families receiving them were incredibly grateful.

British Columbia Food Charities: 

  • Central Okanagan Food Bank ( Kelowna)
  • Loaves and Fishes (Nanaimo)
  • Queen Elizabeth Lions ( Delta)
  • Greater Vancouver Food Bank (Burnaby)
Fishes and Loaves organization receives potatoes shipment in BC

Newfoundland and Labrador Food Charities: 

  • Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
  • The Salvation Army Mount Pearl Food Bank

Nova Scotia Food Charities: 

  • Feed Nova Scotia (Dartmouth)
Salt River First Nations community in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories picking up their potato shipment

Thank you to everyone involved across the country. This was a true testament to the outstanding work that we Canadians can accomplish when we set our minds to it and work together.

Read our top (free) resources on how to stop food waste and do your part.