Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Once upon a Dumpster

Organic store's owner floored by Manitoban's shopping habit

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VANCOUVER -- The phone call was admittedly a bit awkward at first.

"I'm a reporter from Winnipeg," I began, speaking to a man who runs an organic food store in Calgary.

"OK," he replied, nonplussed.

"This may sound a bit bizarre," your humble agent tentatively continued, "but do you have a Dumpster behind your store?"

"Well," the man said, "it's more of a compost bin. But, yeah, it's like a Dumpster."

Now the part that got a little hard to broach.

Me: "Have you been watching the Olympics?"

Him: "Sure."

So I told the nice store manager of Planet Organic (his name is Josh Atwell) that there was an Olympic speedskater at the Vancouver Games who, while training in Calgary, didn't have a lot of money over the last few years. Like about 99 per cent of all Canadians training for the Games. His name was Kyle Parrott, a good kid from Minnedosa, who wanted to eat organic food because he knew it was healthier. Just one problem: It was too expensive for the modest budget of a speedskater who consumes about 5,000 calories a day.

Then, I continued, one day he looked in the compost bin behind Planet Organic and, lo and behold, there was...

"No, no, no," Atwell protested, as if he knew what was coming. "Don't tell me."

Yes, there was some fruit and vegetables, perfectly edible, that had been thrown out. To a hungry, obsessed athlete looking for "healthier" food on the cheap, it was all perfectly reasonable. Even logical.

As Parrott told the Free Press last month: "They had bunches of bananas where only two of the bananas were bad, but they'd throw them all in the Dumpster. So I would go Dumpster diving to get produce so that I could eat organic fruit. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to eat it. There was a whole array of stuff in there. Sometimes there'd be stuff that wasn't even expired yet."

Parrott wasn't embarrassed by his rather strange shopping outlet. In fact, upon informing his four speedskating roommates about his find, all of them were soon rummaging through the Planet Organic's discarded goods.

"It was all about getting the job done," the 24-year-old first-time Olympian said, matter of factly.

Needless to say, Atwell was taken aback.

"Unbelievable," he blurted.

Parrott claimed there were others scrounging through the trash, too. "Yeah," Atwell said. "But they were probably vagrants."

Although somewhat shocked, Atwell nonetheless could relate to Parrott's motivation. He was an athlete, too, in university, trying to get by with more desire than cash.

"I understand," he said. "I was a student, I was an athlete. You'll do just about anything you can to get by on very little money."

Though Atwell certainly didn't approve of Parrott and his friends rifling through his trash, he was diplomatic: "If they're Olympians, I couldn't catch them anyway."

But enough with the Dumpster diving. Although Parrott has been training for several months in Richmond in preparation for the 2010 Games, Atwell gave the reporter a message:

"Give him (Parrott) my name," he insisted. "Tell him to come and see me when he gets back. Maybe we can look at doing something that he doesn't have to eat out of our Dumpster anymore. Maybe we can sponsor him."

Then Atwell had one more question: "How did he do?"

Well, not so good, actually. Parrott finished 21st in the 500 Wednesday night, placed 24th in the 1,000 with a time of 1:10.89 -- far below his best previous results in Richmond. That's not uncommon for an Olympic rookie, especially a surprising newcomer with just one year of World Cup experience under his track suit.

When I told Parrott about contacting Atwell, he managed a chuckle.

"He's going to stop throwing out produce?" the skater wondered.

No, he wants to work out a deal so, you know, an Olympian isn't going to resort to eating out of his compost Dumpster.

How does that sound?

"That," said Parrott, "would be awesome."

No gold, no silver, no bronze.

But maybe, for a young speedskater only beginning to get a taste of what the Olympic experience is all about, a few decent oranges.

It's a start.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2010 C2

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.


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