“By last November, we had completed thousands and thousands of transactions,” says the UCalgary Environmental Design grad, (renamed the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape) who’s one of Fresh Routes’ co-founders. “So many communities began asking us, ‘how do we get the market to stop here?’ and we began seeing the reasons for food security were so different across Calgary. Some were in a food desert, some were in areas with a lot of seniors who had mobility issues, others were in young immigrant populations that just didn’t have time to take a bus to get to an affordable grocery store.”
That’s when Juan and her team began working with social workers as well as Calgary Transit, Loblaws, Prairie Mills, local farmers’ outlets and others — all keen to redistribute healthier food at affordable prices to underserved areas of the city. In fact, the tenets of the food strategy that Juan used to create her very first social-good project, Leftovers Foundation, are identical. In 2012, Leftovers began as a food redistribution channel that saw volunteers collect donations from businesses and then deliver the food to dozens of agencies and community groups around Calgary. The principles behind Fresh Routes are very similar — if people have a hard time getting to the food, why not bring the food to the people?
“Even though the numbers were amazing (today, Leftovers works with more than 50 agencies and 80 vendors to redirect about six tons of food per week) we felt the food access piece was still lacking,” says Juan, explaining Leftovers was really a food redistribution hub, and they, as an organization wanted to do more . . . for underserved households.
That’s precisely why, if you check its schedule, you’ll see that Fresh Routes stops at neighbourhoods such as Pineridge, Bowness and East Village, as well as post-secondary institutes (UCalgary on Fridays) , the Alex, Mustard Seed, Stoney Nakoda. Tsuut’ina, and others.
Don’t assume that Fresh Routes is all about alleviating poverty, says Juan, “it’s about choices, it’s about selling people healthy food, it’s about food dignity. In fact, the whole dignity piece was really big for us. That’s why we didn’t want to bring an old dingy bus into a community.”