They say one man’s trash is another’s treasure, but for Christina Piecha, Carol Cooper and Alan Cosh, it’s more like one family’s wasted fruit could feed another. Dismayed by the wasted fruit they saw littering the lawns of their community (Sherbrooke, in northwest Edmonton) the three were determined to turn the spoils of this unwanted urban harvest into something greater.
So in 2010, they founded Fruits of Sherbrooke, a fruit rescue organization which specialized in taking local fruit and turning it into jams, jellies, condiments and sauces that could then be sold at local farmers markets. Profits from those sales would go directly back into the business, helping to fund further fruit rescue and culinary creations.
Demand for their products quickly grew and within a few years, Fruits of Sherbrooke expanded its offering to produce convenient, pre-packaged dried fruits and snack options. To distribute these, they developed partnerships with organizations such as E4C, which could offer healthy snacks to students in inner city schools, and Evoolution, a gourmet food retailer with three locations across Edmonton.
But as demand for their preserves grew, the small but mighty trio found themselves often personally financing business expenses up front. And while this worked in a pinch, it wasn’t sustainable. So when Fruits of Sherbrooke grew to have a board of directors, new President Jackie Costello knew something needed to change.
“We started out with a very broad sense of the business, and not much of a formalized plan,” says Costello. “But truly, the founders more than made up for that with their determination and sense of goodwill. Still, we knew we couldn’t continue to rely on a personal loan to fund our operations. We needed financing from an institution, and I’m so glad we were able to work with SEF for this.”
Today, Fruits of Sherbrooke depends on 4 part-time kitchen staff, as well as a handful of casual market staff and a steady base of volunteers to help with fruit collection, sorting, preparation, and packaging. Throughout all stages of production and distribution, the organization aims to hire staff in a way that will have the most impact, whether that means hiring newcomers to Canada or even using Anthony at Your Service, a local courier which hires individuals with intellectual disabilities to deliver goods.
“From the beginning, the goal was always to have a positive impact on the community,” she says. “We love feeding people, yes, but we also want to look outside of that and see what else we can rescue.”
Now almost a decade later, it seems like they must be doing something right – helping save the fruits of Sherbrooke, and investing in the greater Edmonton community.
The Sage Seniors Association was one of the first organizations to work with SEF back in our earliest days.