OzHarvest’s Mobile Market van stopped by Cootamundra last Thursday, 17th March, dropping off fresh produce to members of the community just out the front of the Scout Hall on Parker Street.

OzHarvest was founded in 2004 by Ronni Kahn after noticing the huge volume of food wastage in Australia. The food-based charity started with just one van in Sydney before growing to become Australia’s leading food rescue organisation.

Rescuing food surplus from businesses that would otherwise go to landfill is at the core of OzHarvest’s overall objective and they are committed to halving the amount of food wastage in Australia by 2030.

OzHarvest’s Mobile Market has been incorporating Cootamundra in its route for the last 12 months, with over 24 pop-up market events in town. Long lines were forming at the OzHarvest Mobile Market van from 1:30pm on Thursday afternoon, with lots of locals eager to get their hands on some fresh, free produce.

Bananas, apples, carrots, potatoes and the like were on display for locals to come and collect, which were bagged up by two OzHarvest workers. The OzHarvest Mobile Market heads into Cootamundra every fortnight to support the local community.

“Despite living in a country of abundance, consistent access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables is simply not the reality for thousands of regional NSW residents. This was true even before the covid pandemic began,” Gabriella Dal Pozzo, OzHarvest’s Mobile Market Project Lead said.

“Our Mobile Market team hears many stories from those we serve: single parents having to choose poor quality food over the fuel expense of travelling long distances to shops, or elderly people choosing between a decent meal, medical expenses or switching on the heating in winter. Bringing healthy food closer to communities is essential.”

Cootamundra locals are supportive and appreciative of the initiative.

“On average 50 locals attend our pop-up market in Cootamundra each fortnight, and anyone is welcome to attend. We are also supported by local pantries, Church groups and the wonderful Red Cross volunteers, combining efforts to get produce and other goods out to people in their established networks.

“The connections that unfold at the market are just as important as the food. Particularly in lockdowns, with all our safety measures in place, it has been a consistent safe space for people to re-connect to neighbours, share cooking ideas and link to other local services.”

The OzHarvest team has four different runs, two of which come out of Sydney and head down south, and two out of Newcastle which heads north.

The mobile crews head to roughly two towns a day.

OzHarvest’s work is a godsend for lots of rural towns and communities around Australia, especially after the last few years with drought, floods, bushfires and the COVID pandemic.

“The effects of covid, bushfires or sustained drought, lasting effects of covid unemployment and the presence of existing local community service groups are some key factors in deciding the route of OzHarvest’s Mobile Market,” Dal Pozzo continued.

“The key aim is to combine healthy food access with connection to local services. It is wonderful to witness the friendships and service collaborations that result from consistent fortnightly OzHarvest visits. Cootamundra has been no exception.”

One in five Australian’s experience food insecurity, magnified in some low-socioeconomic areas and rural communities with no local shops available.

“The Mobile Market project is funded by the NSW Government and delivers purchased produce to over 30 regional communities. Wherever possible, the Mobile Market team works closely with grocery business owners in each town to ensure that there is a financial benefit back in to the community that we are serving.

“This is funding-reliant model is new to OzHarvest since the beginning of Covid, as the majority our other programs nationally still rely on rescued or donated produce. OzHarvest is eager to speak with small to medium sized farms or packing sheds that have capacity to donate excess volumes of fresh food staples, including potatoes, tomatoes, onions, apples, oranges or bananas. OzHarvest’s transport partnerships will enable us to collect and distribute quality food to those in need and stop food waste on farms.”

 

Tim Warren