Food trucks are so in. You’ve probably seen fleets of them now cruising our coastal streets and cities, selling hip dishes to foodies with a couple of notes to rub together.
But here we speak of a food truck, or rather a yellow, refrigerated van, which operates in the utter reverse. Instead of selling food to afforded punters dining on the street, the OzHarvest van rescues and delivers food to those who might sleep on it.
OzHarvest Gold Coast, one branch of Australia’s first perishable food rescue organisation, rescues a considerable amount of food from the Gold Coast Turf Club and Nerang Farmers’ Markets every Sunday. Following trade, the small volunteer team loads the van with unsold food and heads towards three local charities where they will unload it.
For a first timer, it’s unclear how farmers will respond to donation requests for unspoiled food. They could eat it, after all. But just three steps into the market, flanked by mother-daughter volunteers, Renee and Judy, I already bear the weight of 40 bananas underneath six fronds of silverbeet tangled with gai larn and basil.
These farmers know the drill. They donate potatoes, pumpkins, broccoli, zucchini, squash, crates of cauliflower, leaves crystalized from the Esky. Donations transcend the everyday tater. Our boxes swell with heirloom tomatoes, exotics greens, expensive herbs and boxes of kale just begging for an Insta-post.
The final 400 kilograms of food we collect is in pristine condition. These aren’t squashed scraps fit for the compost. Or worse, landfill, where it would end up. This is dawn-fresh produce, free-range eggs, sourdough and handmade cakes, all now Tetris-ed in the van. We hit the bitumen, Nerang bound.
OzHarvest Australia has rescued 6000 tonnes of food from landfill and delivered more than 35 million meals to thousands of disadvantaged Australians. Relatedly, Australians spend around $1000 a year on food that only sees the bin, while 40 per cent of household rubbish is food. We discard $8 billion worth of edible food each year.
First established in 2004 by Ronni Kahn as Australia’s first perishable food rescue mission, OzHarvest rescues quality excess food from commercial outlets – supermarkets, restaurants, markets – and delivers it free to charities, who convert it to nutritious meals.
It’s a seamless operation model, with a two-pronged philanthropic impact. Reduce landfill, feed disadvantaged Australians.
Lee Danahay is the force behind the Gold Coast branch. Following a long corporate career and Global Financial Crisis that warranted a lifestyle change, South African-born Lee “stumbled upon an OzHarvest article and was immediately drawn to the cause.”
“I couldn’t believe that this fantastic charity wasn’t operating on the Gold Coast, so I made it my mission to bring OzHarvest to our community,” she says.
Lee faced little challenge setting up, which is unsurprising given the benefits for both parties. While OzHarvest assumes the costly and time-consuming process of waste disposal for food outlets, it simultaneously eliminates the charity’s need to search and pay for a regular food source. It’s a rare occasion to appreciate the middleman in food distribution.
The Gold Coast local branch grew fast from its inception.
“We’ve gone from rescuing 7000kg in the first month to averaging 18,000kg a month. I’ve only had positive reception from food donors as they hate to waste their products, while the charities are incredibly grateful for the fresh food we deliver each week, so we continue to grow,” says Lee.
OzHarvest Gold Coast now has 60 donors, 35 food recipients – churches, charities, schools and community groups – and with the help of one full-time driver and 20 regular volunteers, rescues 4,000kg food each week. This equates to about 12,000 meals delivered to those in need, which has a substantial impact on their health.
“Our deliveries provide access to a wider variety of fresh produce and therefore more varied, nutritious meals. This has contributed to the mental, physical and nutritional wellbeing of the recipients,” Lee explains.
“Organisations are now able to redirect vital and scarce funding into providing improved services for those they are trying to help. There is also a huge positive impact on our volunteers.”
Renee Holden is first to confirm this. Happy and positive, with a laugh you can hear across the market, she volunteers on average four days a week while her mum, Judy, volunteers Sundays, both with unwavering enthusiasm. But although her competence stands out on Sunday, Renee started with no knowledge of the food system.
“I didn’t have a clue about the food process or OzHarvest, but it didn’t take long to realise something serious was happening here. We were picking up 300-400kg of food regularly, and people had been throwing this out. It was shocking,” Renee says.
“The biggest impact on me has been meeting the people in need. Some are homeless, others are just struggling to pay rent, some are trying to get back on their feet after jail or domestic violence. You meet these people and realise how important OzHarvest is.”
The future holds more growth at OzHarvest Gold Coast, starting with a second van manned by volunteers.
“We have received a grant from the Visy Foundation and from the Gold Coast Mayoress Charitable Foundation, so now we need to find a dealer who would like to support OzHarvest with a great deal,” says Lee, crossed fingers in her voice.
With the Gold Coast’s established philanthropic culture coupled with our gradual concern for food origins and waste, it’s safe to say locals will get behind this organisation as it continues to grow. And while bearing the weight of 40 bananas and a handful of greens, I can tell you – OzHarvest is not you average food truck.
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Keen to see the action firsthand? OzHarvest Gold Coast is holding a Think.Eat.Save campaign lunch on Monday 27 July at The 4217, Surfers Paradise, where their office is located. Here, Paradox will be preparing a free lunch to raise awareness about food waste. See www.ozharvest.org for details.