ReFeed Canada is building a sustainable food system to combat food insecurity and close the loop on food waste. Discover how in this exclusive interview with Stuart Lilley, CEO & CVO, as featured in Make The World Better Magazine.
/5 mins/ SparxTeam
As the world continues to experience unprecedented times, one thing that’s certain is humanity’s need for secure food systems. Unfortunately, many people remain food insecure, while the amount of food waste in developed countries like Canada continues to be high.
ReFeed Canada is challenging this reality by ensuring future generations have access to sustainable food systems. We chatted with Stuart Lilley, CEO & CVO, about ReFeed Canada’s efforts to repurpose food waste, their worm farm, and their exciting partnership on an eNFT project.
Tell us about ReFeed Canada’s mission.
“For the Love of Food, People and Planet.”
ReFeed is on a mission to create sustainable food systems for future generations. At a time when over 58% of the food in Canada is wasted, with one third of that food still suitable for human consumption, 1 in 8 people in Canada remain food insecure. At the same time, the agriculture industry accounts for 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced globally.
The food system is broken, and we believe we can help fix it through circular systems that recover nutrients from agri-food waste, and produce surplus to produce nutrition for people, livestock, and soil.
What inspired you to start ReFeed Canada?
For the past 12 years, I have witnessed first-hand the industrial amount of pre-consumer food waste that occurs daily in our food industry. During that time, I worked with numerous companies in the food industry, including an insect technology start-up, supplying them with food waste to produce sustainable protein. I struggled endlessly with supplying food that could’ve been recovered for organizations that address food insecurity if priorities were aligned with society, rather than the company that controlled the waste stream.
I felt that a better system would be to have a facility that could receive and rescue industrial amounts of produce for people first, and what’s left could then be used as feed for livestock and insects to create sustainable protein and organic soil amendment and fertilizer products, all from agri-food waste. These products could then be sold to produce more food and the revenues could be used to support the social enterprise part of the business, Circular Nutrition™, with a sustainable business model.
I didn’t understand why all interests: societal, environmental, and financial, could not be aligned in one facility.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
As a start-up, you encounter a multitude of challenges on a daily basis. ReFeed is a very ambitious project with multiple modular pieces that work together to create the circular system. Right out of the gate, we were handling industrial amounts of produce waste.
We officially took over the facility on March 1, 2021. Shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all of the plans and investors we had lined up fizzled. We had to go into survival mode, and that meant becoming scrappy in how we generated revenue while we figured out how we were going to build our vertical worm farm with no money and very little help.
Being underfunded was definitely one of the bigger challenges. If it wasn’t for my waste consulting company and the ability for ReFeed to immediately generate revenue by rescuing and processing produce waste, I don’t think we would’ve made it.
More recently, supply chain issues have severely delayed the buildout of the worm farm. But I have learned to be philosophical about every challenge, delay – it’s all part of the journey. I am confident we can get through anything as long as I keep waking up in the morning and showing up for work. This is all part of a bigger plan.
What do you consider ReFeed Canada’s biggest success?
I think our biggest success has been the team that we have assembled: our staff, advisors, and partners. We have been extremely lucky to find a great team that believe in the vision of ReFeed, the circularity of our model, and the impact we create, and are committed to bringing it to fruition
What makes your organization unique?
I haven’t heard of too many companies that are committed to impact in our community and our environment before profit, never mind the fact that we are bringing together food rescue to address food insecurity, produce waste recovery to feed livestock, and worm farming to produce sustainable protein and replace synthetic fertilizers all at one facility – and somehow make it all make sense from a business perspective.
How do you feel ReFeed Canada makes the world better?
It would be easy to say that ReFeed makes the world better because of the environmental and community impact that we create, but the reality is that aspect of our company is just a drop in the bucket of what needs to happen around this planet. I truly believe that the greatest impact we are having in the world is how we are inspiring others to think outside of the box, helping to motivate others to improve or start their own impactful company, and contributing to a growing community of people that want to see real action with urgency to fix our broken systems.
I’ve said from the beginning of this journey that ReFeed isn’t the answer to everything, but it is setting a new benchmark of what can be done, and hopefully, it will push and inspire others to elevate their game so that we can start accelerating innovation and solutions that will reverse our current trajectory on this planet.
Tell us about your organization’s goals.
Our primary focus is on building out our Langley facility into a centre of innovation, a commercial scale demonstration of the potential of circular systems in agriculture. We want to demonstrate the entire Circular Nutrition™ potential by utilizing agri-food waste as a resource to be food for people and livestock, or bio-converted into organic growing mediums that are then used to grow more food for the local market, dense in nutrition and carbon negative.
As this comes together, we are planning the expansion of ReFeed Farms into other markets, leading with our modular vertical worm farm, while also developing further applications for worms at the farm level to address manure management issues, the reduction of synthetic fertilizers and mined minerals, and supporting farmers’ transition to regenerative farming practices.
Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share?
One that we are very excited about is our partnership with a company out of Denmark that has created a platform for good called Coin4Planet. Founded by Morten Røngaard of Reality Gaming Group, the premise behind this platform is to create a blockchain-based investment platform which will raise funds by selling “Nature Coins.” The proceeds will be directed to real world projects that are making a significant impact, are transparent, and quantifiable for the planet, as well as society.
Coin4Planet provides a tool both for investors looking to contribute to green tech projects making a measurable difference, and those who are simply seeking annual returns with added stability from crypto assets which are tied to real-world projects.
ReFeed Canada will be one of their genesis projects receiving direct investment to support the expansion of our operations, including a range of products and services to help farmers move off chemical fertilizers and onto our natural solutions. I believe this new model of funding has the potential to change the world.
What do you most want people to know about ReFeed Canada?
The most important thing that I want people to know about ReFeed Canada is that we are just a group of regular people who have seen that the food system has been broken for a long time and are not interested in more reports or committees to discuss what we need to do. We are just simply going to do what we believe needs to be done and are happy to do the heavy lifting to get the momentum needed to start changing the way things are done.
We can end hunger in this country because it’s not a food production issue, it’s a food redistribution issue – we already grow and make more than enough food to feed everyone. We can also eliminate synthetic fertilizer use by shifting to bio-based growing mediums and nutrient recovery from manure. We need to create systems that recover nutrients instead of wasting them, and nature is our guide.
We’re doing this to help ensure that our children have a future and that their children have a future. We don’t have any more time to waste.
How can people help or contribute to ReFeed Canada’s mission?
The first way people can help contribute to ReFeed Canada’s mission is to follow us on social media and to get the word out about the work that we are doing with your friends, your schools, local municipal, and provincial leaders.
In 2022, we’ll be launching our worm castings fertilizer and soil remediation products for purchase, and partial proceeds from these sales will directly support our social enterprise that rescues industrial amounts of produce for redistribution to food banks and non-profits.
In the bigger picture, look around your day-to-day life and see what you can do to help reduce your environmental impact in your community. Big business is watching and listening to the consumers like never before. What we support as a community and what we decide to spend our money on makes a difference. It says a lot about where we want to go as a society.
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