Give away your leftovers and make a friend
2 September 2020 at 8:00 am
Spare Harvest is doing more than helping the environment, it’s building a connected and strong community of like-minded people across the country, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.
When Helen Andrew, the founder of Spare Harvest, moved to a large property on the Sunshine Coast with her family back in 2016, she was thrilled at the number of fruit trees in the backyard.
But when it came to harvest time, she quickly realised there were more mandarins, lemons, and tangelos than the family could ever need for themselves.
Even though she did her best to spread the bounty between neighbours, friends and school teachers, they too were inundated with their own home-grown produce, and so for two years running, the majority ended up buried in the backyard.
Andrew isn’t alone in encountering this problem. Each year, over 5 million tonnes of food ends up in landfill. Eliminating global food waste would save 4.4 million tonnes of C02 a year, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.
“What I was finding was that the people around me were coming up against the same issue, and it really got me thinking about how I could get my excess produce into strangers’ hands,” Andrew tells Pro Bono News.
She knew that social media platforms such as Facebook were to an extent being used to offload and share products, but posts were often lost in people’s feeds before you could get hold of them.
“I would see people giving away tomatoes or jams, but by the time you get around to contacting them it’s impossible to find the post in your feed,” Andrew says.
And so, Spare Harvest was born.
It’s a free marketplace designed to exchange what people have spare in their kitchens and gardens. Andrew is using the platform to not only grow the sharing and circular economies and reduce waste and consumption, but to connect like-minded strangers with one another.
These days, there are hundreds of Spare Harvest members from across the country using the site to share everything from jams and chutneys, to pots, seeds, kitchen utensils and gardening equipment.
A strong and connected community
Andrew says that some of the best things that have come from creating Spare Harvest, are the social connections and friendships that have blossomed between community members.
“In the early days of Spare Harvest, I dropped off a box of mandarins to a woman’s house, and when I got home I had a beautiful note thanking me, and saying that it was the only fresh fruit the woman’s daughter would have in a lunchbox that week,” she says.
Another particularly memorable story for Andrew is a long-lasting friendship between two families.
“Makita, who lives down the road from me, had a young lady come and get her excess fruit one day and their kids just got on like a house on fire,” she says.
“So just by having an excess of fruit on her tree, we were able to facilitate that beautiful friendship that is still going strong to this day.”
And during the current crisis, where some have been doing it particularly tough, Andrew says Spare Harvest has provided a way for people to lean on their neighbours and surrounding community for support in a dignified and private way.
“People who are growing their own food are happy to share what they’ve got because they don’t want to see it wasted, and they are not going to judge your economic situation if you are doing it tough,” she says.
“They’re just happy to connect with someone who will actually take it and use it.”
A different kind of procurement
The enterprise creates revenue by taking the Spare Harvest model into workplaces to support and develop environmental and social impact strategies.
“We take it into workplaces so staff can come together, connect and exchange what they have in their kitchens and gardens at home, in the workplace,” Andrew says.
“So then it’s both an environmental and a social initiative where employees are not just doing something good for the environment by reducing consumption, but creating meaningful connections with one another about something outside of work.”
With the only overhead cost being the running and maintaining of the website, this revenue stream makes enough to keep the online marketplace free to the public, which for Andrew, is critical.
“Because Spare Harvest is a technology platform we’re not dependent on volunteers or employees so as long as we have enough funds for the platform to stay up and running and free for the community to use, that’s the only thing I’m worried about,” she says.
While office shutdowns and working from home arrangements have thrown a spanner in the works in terms of how the enterprise attracts revenue, Andrew says that there are new opportunities on the horizon.
“When one door shuts, another door opens and that’s exactly what’s happened to me during COVID,” she says.
“I’ve had an organisation in the US reach out and want to partner with me using a shared value model.
“So I’m in the final stages of negotiating what that looks like, but there is such a beautiful alignment in our values and what we’re wanting to do out there in the world, which has been really exciting.”
With the past six months serving for many as a tough period of reflection and evaluation on what a post-COVID world looks like, Andrew is hopeful it puts social and environmental connection at its core.
“I truly believe this crisis is bringing people together and actually opening up our kitchens and gardens to our community and coming back to the real concept of the sharing economy,” she says.
“I just hope that Spare Harvest is part of that well into the future.”