Real Desmarais, left, with Hope and Area Transition Society’s Ray Hartt, front, and Kelsey John. The weekly produce delivery goes to residents of the Thunderbird Motel, to the Joshua Project and the Hope Food Bank. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

Fraser Valley produce man has a big heart for Hope

Real Desmarais said 1,360 kilograms of produce donated is just the beginning

The more support he gets from each community he serves, the more he gives back.

That’s Real Desmarais’ business model. For Hope, this means 1,360 kilograms of fresh produce and fruit delivered in March to community members who normally cannot afford to purchase fresh food.

Desmarais runs Valley Produce, a delivery service that brings a bin of fresh produce to people’s doorstep. It’s a weekly service he runs all the way from Langley to Yale.

Customers in Hope have been very supportive since he started out in February, which in turn means more donations flowing to the Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS), the Joshua Project and the Hope Food Bank.

“February was a small amount because we were just getting started…in March, I gave well over 3,000 pounds to the different organizations and then just this month alone, April, I’ve probably doubled or tripled that just with HATS,” he said.

Desmarais’ truck is loaded up with mushrooms, salads, potatoes and B.C. fruits. He gets good deals from his suppliers and takes advantage of ‘deals stock,’ food which needs to sell quickly, as well as what grocery stores call ‘number two’ produce, which is still edible but may be misshaped or have marks on it.

Having previously done the same kind of work for a non-profit, he now runs Valley Produce as a for-profit company with a big heart.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m still making money off of it. I’m making a profit, it’s a business. But I hate the word greed. Greed is the worst word out there,” he said.

“As long as I make enough money to keep myself alive and my bills paid, I’m happy to go to work and help people every day.”

Apart from greed, waste is another hated word in Desmarais’ world.

That’s why the giving back makes great sense, not only for his business but also to avoid the enormous amounts of food that often go straight to landfills.

Desmarais also does a lot of canning: he pointed out the mango and grape jam in his truck, ready to sell.

Canadians waste 396 kilograms of food per capita each year. The numbers, presented in a report by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in April, make Canada one of the worst food wasting nations in the world.

Instead of bringing leftover produce to the dump, Desmarais distributes it to organizations in Hope.

“No one is going hungry,” said Kelsey John, Aboriginal homeless outreach support worker, who works with community homeless outreach worker Ray Hartt to distribute what Desmarais donates.

The pair make their first stop at the HATS office to bring fruit to the youth group. They then move on to the Joshua Project and the Hope Food Bank. The final stop is a door-to-door visit to each resident of the Thunderbird Motel.

“Especially out at the Thunderbird, they appreciate it immensely because they normally don’t have extra money to go buy their vegetables and fruit and that kind of stuff. So when we bring this it doesn’t last long, it goes to everybody right away,” Hartt said.

Hope residents are not eating enough fresh food and it’s affecting their health. Less than one in four eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day, 32 per cent of the population is obese and 34 per cent suffered from high blood pressure, according to Hope’s community health profile completed by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The population here is also living on limited means: 47 per cent live on a household income of under $40,000, the same community health profile found.

Low-income families, people on disability, people who are homebound, pensioners and people on set incomes, these are the folks Desmarais wants to reach. And he’s hoping to improve not just their taste buds, but their lives.

“A person who only has $150 a month to spend on food, they’re buying Mr. Noodles and Kraft Dinner and they’re buying stuff that makes them sick. And that’s why they are in the health conditions they are in. If you have the opportunity at a low cost or even a facility like a food bank that’s giving you food that you normally wouldn’t get, you’ve just improved your life,” he said.

Desmarais sees it among his own customers, who gather in his Facebook group Valley Produce, Real Rad Deals. They tell him their lives have changed because of the shifts they’ve made in their eating habits and their ability to access affordable produce.

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A produce delivery service is giving thousands of kilograms of food to Hope organizations. From left are Ray Hartt, community homeless outreach worker with HATS; Real Desmarais, owner of Valley Produce; and Kelsey John, Aboriginal community homeless outreach support worker with HATS. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

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