Aussie social enterprises unite to shake up Victorian food system
31 March 2020 at 6:40 pm
The enterprises will start by delivering thousands of meals to vulnerable groups
Over 20 Australian social enterprises are joining forces to create a new sustainable food system to help vulnerable people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, as well as keep their businesses afloat.
Enterprises including STREAT, CERES, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering, Fruit2Work, Whittlesea Food Collective and Cultivating Community have pooled resources together to launch the Moving Feast.
The project will see thousands of ready-made meals delivered to vulnerable groups of people, will grow fresh produce and teach people how to grow their own food gardens.
Emergency food boxes are also packed with resources on how the community can stay connected and remain resilient through these turbulent times.
Bec Scott, the CEO of STREAT, told Pro Bono News they had a heap of tips on how to connect with people, how to be active, how to keep learning, how to be aware, how to help others.
“Those first food boxes that went out last week had a newsletter in them that was written by our team of psychologists, youth workers and social workers on how to stay sane when you are restricted at home,” Scott said.
She said the project was about much more than providing immediate food relief for vulnerable communities. The aim is to give people the know-how to provide for themselves well into the future.
“What we want longer term is to have a just and sustainable food system, and for Melbourne’s backyards [to be] full of thriving vegie patches so families have their own food security, not just for this pandemic, but for what we know is going to be a very hard time in the future with climate change,” Scott said.
Conservative estimates predict over 10 per cent of the population will need emergency food relief in the coming months, and Scott said that Melbourne’s fresh food system was not equipped for this scale of crisis.
She said while Victoria’s food social enterprises were relatively small, they would be critical in the current crisis.
“They create food security right across the food system from farm to table – farming, food relief, food rescue, distribution, social cohesion, therapy and occupational health and education,” she said.
“They are also major employers and service providers to vulnerable Victorians, every day doing heavy lifting for the government through their sustainable business models.”
What are the stages of the project?
– Immediate, culturally appropriate food relief for the state’s most vulnerable people.
– Rapid building of a large scale food delivery system.
– Mass assembly and distribution of start-up kitchen garden growing kits.
– Increase inner-city urban farming.
– Increase food security of low income and public housing.
– Mass production and distribution of produce boxes (including cooking and nutrition basic educational materials).
– Creating integrated and resilient local food systems.
– Set-up new food social enterprises to fill in service gaps.
– Connecting social enterprises right across the food process of growing, storing, distribution, cooking, education, and community development and connection.
Social enterprise sector rethinks purpose
For the past six years, STREAT has provided homeless and disadvantaged young people with hospitality work experience and employment opportunities.
Scott said that while businesses such as STREAT had been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, this was an opportunity to “pivot and reconfigure at their core” to continue to assist vulnerable groups of people.
She said that figuring out how to deliver food at scale would be a particular challenge that they weren’t used to, but one they believed they could overcome.
“Our core business is community development essentially, and so we are continuing to do that,” she said.
“It’s in our DNA to do good through food.”
For social enterprise Fruit2Work, a corporate fruit box social enterprise employing those impacted by the justice system, the project is a lifeline and ensures that at least 10 workers can retain their jobs.
The organisation had been faced with imminent closure after corporate clients started closing their offices, but their refrigerated vans have now been redeployed to distribute food for the Whittlesea Food Collective which needed vans and drivers for a new emergency food distribution centre.
Aiming for funding
RACV has provided seed funding for the initiative which will see the first 1,000 meals delivered on Friday. Philanthropic support has also been received from the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the Newsboys Foundation.
Scott said the collective were now aiming to raise $3 million in three months via a crowdfunding campaign to be launched on Friday.
She said while they had set a big target, it was hoped it could develop into something much bigger.
“We’ve set ourselves a very, very high target to essentially keep the doors open of all these social enterprises,” she said.
“But longer term, we would absolutely hope that the government sees the incredible work that we’re doing and that we become part of the food relief system for the state.”
Find out more about the project here.