THE CHANGEMAKERS

Si­mon Far­rell-Green talks to the peo­ple try­ing to change the way we eat

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

“WE TALK ABOUT food in­se­cu­rity,” says Matt Dag­ger, the gen­eral man­ager of Kai­bosh, a food res­cue or­gan­i­sa­tion based in Welling­ton. “The in­abil­ity to have suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of the right types of food. The thing which al­ways amazes me is the fluffy white bread you can buy for $1 – that’s not going to keep you healthy or your kids strong.”

Kai­bosh – along with the other or­gan­i­sa­tions fea­tured in these pages – is at the fore­front of try­ing to change the food sys­tem in New Zealand. Whether it’s es­tab­lish­ing com­mu­nity gar­dens or res­cu­ing food for the poor, or coming up with novel ways in which to de­liver lo­cal, or­ganic pro­duce – or on a to­tally dif­fer­ent level, telling the sto­ries of refugees’ food – these groups see food as the solution to multi-pronged prob­lems.

It’s not easy. There are deep, em­bed­ded ways of think­ing – but they can be changed. “That’s what we’ve ended up with – so many skills lack­ing and gen­er­a­tions of wel­fare,” says Com­mon Unity Project founder Ju­lia Milne, whose idea for an ur­ban farm has rein­vig­o­rated a small com­mu­nity in Lower Hutt. “What that cre­ates is an ex­ter­nal cur­rency. That’s what we’re try­ing to break – let’s tell a new story of our­selves.”

GAR­DEN TO TA­BLE

You can hardly have missed Gar­den to Ta­ble: over the past eight years the pro­gramme has ex­panded from three Auckland pri­mary schools to 40 spread across the coun­try, in­volv­ing hun­dreds of vol­un­teers and thou­sands of chil­dren spend­ing sev­eral hours a week in school gar­dens be­fore head­ing into the kitchen to make them­selves lunch.

The pro­gramme started in 2008, at a now-de­funct food sym­po­sium called Savour at which one of the key­note speak­ers was Aus­tralian food writer Stephanie Alexan­der; the call went out to cre­ate a sim­i­lar pro­gramme here. Within a cou­ple of years, the Gar­den to Ta­ble trust had raised $180,000 and three Auckland schools were signed up. Now, says chair and founder Cather­ine Bell, the need is “even greater. I don’t think we re­alised how great the need was.”

While the trust re­ceived a lot of press at­ten­tion for its work in low-decile schools, it works in every type of school from Decile 1 to 10. “It’s across all fam­i­lies,” she says. All work­ing par­ents with chil­dren strug­gle to sit down as a fam­ily to eat at night, re­gard­less of whether they’re work­ing in a law firm or a fac­tory. “It’s food poverty for a dif­fer­ent rea­son – but it’s still food poverty. Those kids aren’t hun­gry, but they’re not hav­ing a pos­i­tive food ex­pe­ri­ence on a daily ba­sis with their fam­i­lies.”

Gar­den to Ta­ble works on three lev­els. Stu­dents learn about what it takes to grow some­thing – plant­ing the seed and nur­tur­ing the plant, be­fore har­vest­ing the food and learning how to cook it. After that, they sit down as a group and share what they’ve grown and made. “It’s in­cred­i­bly em­pow­er­ing,” says Bell. “It’s sit­ting down and sharing food – that’s a great act of to­geth­er­ness.”

The ef­fect on in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties has been marked. Get­ting solid data is dif­fi­cult – the trust is work­ing with Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity on a project to mea­sure the im­pact on chil­dren’s BMIs – but anec­do­tally, schools re­port that chil­dren know more about veg­eta­bles and eat more of them. Par­ents, mean­while, re­port their kids are coming home with knowl­edge that changes the way the fam­ily ap­proaches food.

The only frus­tra­tion? Gov­ern­ment sup­port has been un­forth­com­ing. Schools pay $2000 to join Gar­den to Ta­ble, which pro­vides them with a pack­age of re­sources and an area co­or­di­na­tor, and then find funds for gar­den and kitchen co­or­di­na­tors from their own bud­gets.

“We just want the gov­ern­ment to ac­knowl­edge the value of the pro­gramme,” Bell says. Last year the Min­is­ter of Health, Jonathan Coleman, an­nounced the Child­hood Obe­sity Plan, a raft of mea­sures to re­duce child­hood obe­sity, which in­cluded the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion as a key part­ner. For Bell, en­abling every school to roll out Gar­den to Ta­ble would go a long way to teach­ing chil­dren about food. “It’s a no-brainer.” gar­den­totable.org.nz

OOOOBY

Ooooby Founder Pete Rus­sell used to im­port food – a busi­ness that was im­pacted se­verely by the chaos fol­low­ing the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, as cur­rency and com­mod­ity mar­kets went hay­wire. “It started out as a cri­sis for our own busi­ness,” he says, “and turned into some­thing big­ger.” As the cri­sis deep­ened, Rus­sell grew con­cerned about the fu­ture of food se­cu­rity in New Zealand, a coun­try that ex­ports its best pro­duce over­seas, just as small hold­ers find it in­creas­ingly un­eco­nomic to grow food.

Ooooby (it stands for Out Of Our Own Back­yards) was set up to re­build lo­cal food mar­kets by cre­at­ing di­rect, lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture for small grow­ers. The is­sue is two-fold: un­less they ex­port, the price grow­ers and pro­duc­ers re­ceive for their goods isn’t eco­nomic, and many find them­selves locked out of do­mes­tic dis­tri­bu­tion be­cause they’re too small.

The busi­ness – it’s 87 per cent owned by the Ooooby Foun­da­tion, which pro­motes healthy eat­ing and lo­cal food – started with a short-lived re­tail store on Waiheke Is­land, be­fore shift­ing its fo­cus to farm­ers’ mar­kets. Here, Rus­sell re­alised they were sell­ing to peo­ple who al­ready cared about lo­cal food, rather than con­vert­ing the main­stream. In its third in­car­na­tion, the busi­ness shifted to on­line or­der­ing and home de­liv­ery from hubs around New Zealand.

An Ooooby box includes a huge va­ri­ety of novel pro­duce ac­com­pa­nied by recipes and sug­ges­tions on how to cook it. Cus­tomers can also dial up ar­ti­san prod­ucts such as Fix & Fogg peanut but­ter and Wild Wheat sour­dough, as well as free-range eggs or ex­tra fruit for the week. “That’s when we started to get some real trac­tion,” he says. “If we’re going to cre­ate a real shift in the way that peo­ple con­sume food, you’ve got to make it easy.”

On the face of it, it’s sim­ple: the com­pany pri­ori­tises small, or­ganic or lo­cal grow­ers, but will ac­cept con­ven­tional pro­duce if it has to. The lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges be­hind or­der­ing, stor­ing and then dis­tribut­ing food are man­i­fest – it’s one rea­son why su­per­mar­kets have re­duced the num­ber of sup­pli­ers they source pro­duce from, and de­vel­oped stock man­age­ment sys­tems that en­sure they’re only ever a few days away from run­ning out.

Iron­i­cally, Ooooby has ended up de­vel­op­ing a sim­i­larly so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem. After work­ing in every area of the busi­ness and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its “pain points”, chief en­gi­neer Davy van de Vusse has de­vel­oped a so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware plat­form, which helps as­sess de­mand, place orders, pre­dict de­mand and de­liver orders.

Rus­sell is no pro­gram­mer, but he does come from a back­ground in lo­gis­tics: the key to Ooooby (and the fresh­ness of its rain­bow chard, as I can at­test) is that its sup­ply chains have as few lengths as pos­si­ble, and the food doesn’t move very far, which means Oooby is able to di­vert 50 per cent of its in­come from sales to its grow­ers – al­most dou­ble what they would re­ceive nor­mally.

After start­ing in Auckland, Ooooby has ex­panded around New Zealand, into Syd­ney and Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia. At the moment, Rus­sell is based in York­shire where he’s es­tab­lish­ing the first Bri­tish hub. “There’s real need here for lo­cal and small-scale pro­duc­ers to ac­cess a mar­ket,” says Rus­sell. “In fact, there’s prob­a­bly more of a need over here than our ex­ist­ing mar­kets, and it’s an area where we can make a dif­fer­ence quite quickly.” ooooby.org

COM­MON UNITY PROJECT

Not long ago, Ju­lia Milne got a call from com­plain­ing about the “weeds” that had sprung up around the neighbourhood from the com­mu­nity gar­den she runs in the grounds of Epuni Pri­mary School in Lower Hutt. “It turned out it was kale,” she says with a chor­tle, “which grows all through the neighbourhood. I was be­ing told off for cre­at­ing a kale ex­plo­sion! It was beau­ti­ful.”

Three-and-a-half years ago, Milne got chat­ting to her neigh­bour, who just hap­pens to be the prin­ci­pal of the school, over a glass of wine. Could a com­mu­nity build an ur­ban farm and in do­ing so build a sense of com­mu­nity? “It was a way of caring for and feed­ing chil­dren that be­comes em­pow­er­ing of chil­dren,” she says. “We wanted to see if it was pos­si­ble to help the com­mu­nity to help them­selves – and of course it is.”

Not long after, the board signed off on the con­cept and she found her­self stand­ing on a bar­ren patch of grass that had for­merly been one of the school’s two soc­cer pitches. In the weeks and months that fol­lowed, she bad­gered, ca­joled and gen­tly charmed the com­mu­nity – turn­ing up reg­u­larly at school drop-off with her pet goat as a way of get­ting par­ents to talk to her – into help­ing her build what is now the coun­try’s largest school gar­den, cover­ing an acre and in­clud­ing chick­ens and hives run by a group of lo­cal fathers.

“Food pro­duc­tion isn’t some­thing that hap­pens out­side of the city,” says Milne. “By the time chil­dren go through the school they’ll learn that food and eat­ing isn’t lin­ear – it’s a cy­cle and it’s sea­sonal.”

The gar­den has be­come a key part of the school cur­ricu­lum, and a hub for the com­mu­nity. Each Tues­day, the school heads out to the gar­den for the morn­ing, learning about ev­ery­thing from keep­ing seeds to com­post­ing and prun­ing fruit trees, and each Wed­nes­day there is the Koha Kitchen in the school hall, when the com­mu­nity comes to­gether to cook – learning about food and cook­ing, and tak­ing a meal home with them for that evening. The gar­den pro­vides lunch for the whole school, three days a week.

“There is so much food,” says Milne. “It shows we don’t have hun­gry chil­dren be­cause we don’t have enough food – it’s that we don’t have the ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels.”

There is fam­ily gar­den­ing on Satur­days as well as a bike-share scheme on Satur­days, and classes on Mon­days about

“Food pro­duc­tion isn’t some­thing that hap­pens out­side of the city. By the time chil­dren go through the school they’ll learn that food and eat­ing isn’t lin­ear – it’s a cy­cle and it’s sea­sonal.”

feed­ing a fam­ily of four for less than $100 a week. There is knit­ting on Thurs­days and sew­ing on Fri­days. The project is burst­ing at the seams, and has com­pletely out­grown the school hall and kitchen – though the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, pre­dictably, would rather fo­cus on every stu­dent hav­ing a de­vice than help Milne build a com­mer­cial kitchen.

The im­pact on the Epuni com­mu­nity has been enor­mous. “You’re cre­at­ing abun­dance,” says Milne. “By fill­ing the school up with flow­ers and plants and all that crazy stuff – and spread­ing kale around the neighbourhood – you can’t help but gen­er­ate a new kind of vibe. The com­mu­nity knows that there is so much avail­able to them.” com­mo­nuni­typro­ject.org.nz Kai­bosh started in 2008, when Welling­ton woman Robyn Lang­lands was vol­un­teer­ing at a women’s refuge: she was con­tacted by the Wish­bone chain to say they had left­over sand­wiches, so she started pick­ing them up from one store and de­liv­er­ing to the refuge. She very quickly re­alised she had more sand­wiches than the women could ever eat, so she started to drop them off to the City Mis­sion as well.

Ini­tially it was an ad-hoc or­gan­i­sa­tion: Lang­lands, her car and a fridge. Over the fol­low­ing few years, it grew and grew. “It caught the zeit­geist post-GFC,” says gen­eral man­ager Matt Dag­ger. “Peo­ple were very aware of peo­ple strug­gling and waste had be­come un­ac­cept­able.”

In 2012, it grew too large for Lang­lands so she brought in help: a board was es­tab­lished and Dag­ger – who pre­vi­ously worked for the City Mis­sion – came on board. Kai­bosh now has two de­pots, one in Lower Hutt and one in cen­tral Welling­ton, and a staff of four, along with 140 vol­un­teers who, Dag­ger reck­ons, drive the or­gan­i­sa­tion. It now costs $400,000 a year to keep afloat.

The model hasn’t changed much: Kai­bosh res­cues food from eight Count­downs, the Wish­bone chain and a few other or­gan­i­sa­tions and takes food from the likes of Com­mu­nity Fruit Har­vest­ing – who go scrump­ing in peo­ple’s yards and aban­doned or­chards – and Good Bitches Bak­ing. Vol­un­teers sort the food to make sure it’s in good con­di­tion, be­fore de­liv­er­ing it to or­gan­i­sa­tions around Welling­ton. Food is dis­carded for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: some­times it’s near­ing its best-be­fore date; cus­tomers will al­ways pick the fresh­est sand­wich in the chiller. Kai­bosh vol­un­teers peel the leaves off the let­tuce and open the bag of ap­ples, and look for the food that is still good to eat. “Every piece of fruit is picked up and checked.”

From there, they tar­get food to the or­gan­i­sa­tion depend­ing on need: veg­eta­bles to soup kitchens, sand­wiches to night shel­ters, fruit and veg to fam­i­lies

“We put real im­por­tance on the qual­ity of food and the dig­nity of food. If some­one is strug­gling and they put their hand up for help, the last thing they want is to be given rub­bish.”

in need. “We’re one lit­tle or­gan­i­sa­tion that caters to 45 or­gan­i­sa­tions,” says Dag­ger. “We reckon our food is going through 4000 or 5000 peo­ple a month, easy,” he says. “There are peo­ple cry­ing out for food.”

And in par­tic­u­lar, they’re cry­ing out for fresh food. “Peo­ple just don’t have the re­sources to cover their costs,” he says. Debt, poor health, over­crowd­ing and in­con­sis­tent work all lead to peo­ple not hav­ing the re­sources to af­ford good, fresh food: for that rea­son, Kai­bosh works only with or­gan­i­sa­tions that also of­fer wrap-around help ser­vices.

It’s also the rea­son they fo­cus so hard on the qual­ity of what they de­liver: Dag­ger often says no to bak­eries and man­u­fac­tur­ers try­ing to off­load highly pro­cessed food. “We put real im­por­tance on the qual­ity of food and the dig­nity of food. If some­one is strug­gling and they put their hand up for help, the last thing they want is to be given rub­bish.” kai­bosh.org.nz

BREAKBREAD

Auckland is full of refugee cul­tures, but it’s rare to be of­fered an in­sight into their food. There is one Ethiopian restau­rant in Auckland, de­spite a size­able com­mu­nity, and the only place you’re likely to eat Afghan food is in some­one’s home. Breakbread is set­ting out to change all that.

Vivi­enne Teo was one of the orig­i­nal staff at the two-hat restau­rant Or­phans Kitchen, and a cou­ple of years ago met mem­bers of Auckland’s Mon com­mu­nity while vol­un­teer­ing at an Auckland refugee cen­tre. The Mon are an an­cient civil­i­sa­tion from Burma who have been re­pressed first by colo­nial pow­ers and then the mil­i­tary regime, and who have fought a war of in­de­pen­dence to re­tain their dis­tinct cul­tural iden­tity. On out­ings, Teo was amazed by their food. “There’s just food there the en­tire time,” she says. “They have their lan­guage, they have their flag – and they have their food. When you don’t have land you grasp onto cul­tural iden­tity.”

Though the first time she met them, they of­fered to make her Malaysian or Thai. “They said, ‘Our food is salty, sour, you no like.’” Even­tu­ally, she per­suaded them to cook Mon food. It was fab­u­lous.

De­ter­mined to show the peo­ple and their food to New Zealan­ders, Teo left Or­phans Kitchen and set out to make a doc­u­men­tary about a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Or­phans chef Tom Hishon and a mem­ber of the Mon com­mu­nity, Naing Min – who just hap­pens to be a former chef and fish­er­man him­self. They would each learn about each other’s food, and Teo’s crew would film it. “They were re­ally hon­oured to have Tom walk into their house. And then they were re­ally ner­vous and wor­ried we wouldn’t like it.”

In or­der to get peo­ple to see the film, she or­gan­ised a din­ner at cen­tral Auckland’s his­toric Hopetoun Al­pha buildling, where you could watch the film and eat food in­spired by it, cooked by Auckland’s hottest pop-up, The Cult Project. There were speak­ers in­clud­ing Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and New­shub’s Mike McRoberts – and the film. “The idea at the end is that at some stage of the night every­body has been touched some­where. There’s some­thing they’ve been able to con­nect with. They’re the ba­sic keys to open­ing the di­a­logue.”

There were other, more tan­gi­ble ef­fects though: Hishon of­fered Min a job wash­ing dishes at Or­phans Kitchen, be­fore it emerged he knew more about fil­let­ing fish than the restau­rant’s chefs, and was even­tu­ally pro­moted to chef.

Teo is cur­rently or­gan­is­ing fund­ing to make her sec­ond doc­u­men­tary – a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Ethiopian com­mu­nity and restau­ra­teur Che Bar­ring­ton. And Breakbread is ex­pand­ing into other ar­eas too: Teo is help­ing to or­gan­ise a refugee women’s com­mu­nity gar­den in Hen­der­son Val­ley. She’d like to con­nect it to restau­rants, which would buy the pro­duce and sup­ply chefs to help in the gar­den.

“The idea is that the in­vest­ment from the restau­rants will make it a sus­tain­able busi­ness for the women in a safe en­vi­ron­ment,” she says. “I can’t re­ally ex­plain what’s going on – it’s crazy, but the peo­ple who are pop­ping up are in­ter­linked, in one way or another.” breakbread.co.nz

FOOD SHARE

“The thing about Dunedin is that poverty was quite well hid­den un­til a few years ago,” says Food Share’s Deb­o­rah Man­ning. “It wasn’t some­thing you saw – we didn’t have peo­ple in the streets. But there are new types of food in­se­cu­rity, be­cause of the other com­mit­ments peo­ple have.” Too often, food is what peo­ple economise on.

Man­ning’s ah-ha moment came four years ago while watch­ing a doc­u­men­tary about dump­ster div­ing, just as she found her­self read­ing a lot about food in­se­cu­rity. “I saw that you could use one prob­lem to solve the other prob­lem,” she says. So she jacked in her law ca­reer and started Food Share, a not-for-profit com­pany ded­i­cated to res­cu­ing food, us­ing it to feed peo­ple who don’t have enough – and then ed­u­cat­ing them on what to do with it.

Cru­cially, she iden­ti­fied a need with fresh food and pro­duce. Four years later, Food Share has a net­work of re­tail­ers and pro­duc­ers who con­tact them when they have food that would oth­er­wise be thrown away, which the or­gan­i­sa­tion matches with agen­cies that have peo­ple in need of food. Food Share doesn’t sup­ply food di­rectly to peo­ple in need: it spe­cialises in get­ting fresh food to the right place – and quickly. “Un­able to sell but good enough to eat,” she says. “And the test is: would they eat it them­selves?”

Some­times it’s re­tail­ers with food that is ap­proach­ing its best-be­fore date – like the 100kg of mince they re­cently took de­liv­ery of – or it comes from pro­duc­ers with can­celled orders, or food that hasn’t met the grade for ex­port or su­per­mar­ket sup­ply, like the 1.5 tonnes of ki­wifruit it re­cently dis­trib­uted. The driv­ers pick it up, then head back to Food Share’s HQ, where vol­un­teers break it down into vol­umes the agen­cies can cope with, be­fore it’s straight back out the door.

In the early days, many agen­cies didn’t have chiller space to deal with per­ish­able food. “When we first started, the is­sue wasn’t where will we get the food from,” says Man­ning. “The is­sue was where we could take it and who will be able to han­dle it.”

Four years on, that’s not so much of a prob­lem, and the fo­cus has shifted to ed­u­ca­tion. Food Share’s agen­cies reg­u­larly re­ported that, while their clients ap­pre­ci­ated get­ting fresh food, they didn’t al­ways know what to do with it. So Food Share part­nered with the Uni­ver­sity of Otago to de­velop an on­line re­source of 40 types of veg­eta­bles – how to store, pre­pare and eat them; they’ve also de­vel­oped recipes.

And most re­cently, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has de­vel­oped work­shops in re­sponse to spe­cific de­mands in the com­mu­nity – cook­ing classes for wid­ow­ers, for in­stance. Slowly, she says, peo­ple’s at­ti­tude to food is chang­ing. “Peo­ple are talk­ing,” she says. “Peo­ple recog­nise that food is the con­nec­tor – it’s nourishing for your fam­i­lies, your soul and the whole fam­ily.” food­share.org.nz

OOOOBY

FOOD­SHARE

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