Costa tours the food rescue initiative OzHarvest and meets the team transforming waste into taste. Subscribe 🔔
OzHarvest is the biggest supplier of rescued food in Australia and it’s where food, gardening and community come together. In 2004 Ronni Kahn developed the idea to rescue fresh food destined for landfill and over 20 years they’ve delivered more than 225 million meals to hungry Aussies. Ronni says, “I saw food waste in my business and one day decided to do something about it, not even imagining that this is what would come out of it… I didn’t realize the scale of waste; I didn’t realize that food waste feeds climate change. I thought I’d start a social organization but very soon I realized it was also an environmental organization.”

Australia wastes 7.6 million tons of food a year. OzHarvest rescues 250 tons a week which Ronni says, “is the equivalent of two blue whales, if you just want to imagine quantity.” The national figure of 7.6M tones is caused one-third by farms, one-third by industry and one-third by households “so we really do have a huge role to play,” says Ronni. Every day the team set off in their iconic yellow vans to collect and distribute donated food from their Sydney base in Alexandria. They collect from everywhere in the food supply chain including farmers, supermarkets, manufacturers and wherever food is served or produced. Ronni says, “we deliver that out to over 2000 charitable organisations, but that’s not all that we do. Our education arm is hugely important.”

In addition to a school program called Feast, OzHarvest delivers community team-building programs called Cooking for a Cause. Here people gain essential cooking skills, such as proper knife-handling techniques and how to use every millimetre of food put in front of them. Dishes made in these programs are tasted by the learners and then sent out to people in need. Ronni says, “this is dignity and respect in a container.” OzHarvest chef, Mark Hamilton, says, “this is what I like to do… teaching them little tips and tricks about food waste and giving them new skills in the kitchen.” Participant Lucinda says, “I’m amazed that all this food was donated for one thing, that we could turn it into such a delicious-looking meal and learn some fabulous skills from Chef Mark. I hope our team are really happy with what we’ve done, and that the people at the end of the line enjoy the food.”

A lot of the produce is also grown on-site in a raised kitchen garden. They grow fruit trees, vegetables and a wide range of herbs, with a focus on growing produce that is less likely to be donated fresh. It’s run entirely by volunteers and garden team leader, Ruth Dexter, says, “it’s been a case of experimenting with what will grow here, with the limits we have with sunshine, water and being stuck in the middle of an industrial estate.” Garden team leader, Edgar Liu, says, “we also try to grow things that have multiple purposes, like the fennel for example. We can get the bulb, we can use the fronds, the pollen, and even the seeds.”

Reflecting on what OzHarvest has achieved, Ronni says, “I’m actually in awe of what it has become. My intention was to stop food waste, do that for a little bit until I’d solved the problem, but I didn’t realize the scale of the problem. I look around and see all our programs and our masses of volunteers, a staff now of over 300 people; it blows my mind, but the truth is the need is there. All we’re here to do is service and have the greatest impact we can. I think if I have one message it’s that every single one of us can play, and must play our part.”

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