December 29, 2016

Fresh food or landfill?

What happens to the food that doesn’t make the journey from the farm to the market or the produce at the market that won’t sell on the day? Brooke Eggleton reports.

At 7am on a Wednesday morning, produce grower Marce Vassallo is busy creating his display, as the smell of seasonal fruits and freshly cut herbs attract hoards of buyers to Sydney’s popular Flemington Markets.

Mr Vassallo said: “There’s a lot of stuff that gets wasted, especially vegetables.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, approximately one third of the food produced in the world every year, which is roughly 1.3 billion tons, gets lost or is wasted.

Australia’s leading food rescue charity Oz Harvest have estimated that around 20 to 40 per cent of fruit and vegetables are rejected before they’ve even reached the shops.

This can sometimes result from poor weather conditions but is more likely the work of strict cosmetic standards or low sales.

Gourmet Herbs owner Vassallo runs an efficient operation by monitoring his customers’ demands and planting his crops accordingly.

Unfortunately, not all businesses are run as effectively as his.

Vassallo explains that when a product is cheap and plentiful, only half may be picked because you can’t sell the rest.

“There’s no market sometimes for it, you can only pick so much, the rest you have to hoe it in,” he said.

Budgetary pressures mean that it’s cheaper for the grower to destroy the remainder of the crop and start over than to sell it at a depleted price.

Tristate wholesaler Anthony Pavone said: “It all comes down to dollars and cents at the end of the day, because the cost to produce the article has to meet a certain amount.”

“The largest amount of cost becomes pallets, cartons, freight and labour, which is harvesting it and packing it.”

The problem is that there’s no organisation that collects this specific type of food wastage, that is, crops produced by growers or farmers.

Vassallo said: “There’s a lot of people like pensioners, where if you said to them I’ve got potatoes here going to waste come and get a bag of potatoes . . . but there’s no outlet anywhere.”

The incessant beeping of trucks and forklifts interrupts his train of thought as he begins to pack up his stall for the day. It’s 9am and the peak selling period is over.

Whilst growers may find it hard to donate their stock, there are food charity services, such as Oz Harvest and Foodbank that collect food donations from markets and shops and redistribute them to those in need.

Oz Harvest collects food from the Flemington Markets twice a week that is then donated to a variety of charities and refuges for consumption.

An Oz Harvest spokesperson said: “Our seven vans on the road each month are collecting 60 tons of food that otherwise would have gone to waste. 60 tons a month in Sydney alone, that’s scary.

“Who wants to see all that beautiful food go to landfill, when there’s people out there that are hungry?”

This article was first published on Reportage-Enviro by Brooke Eggleton.

Reportage is the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism’s (ACIJ) web magazine. It is dedicated to high quality independent journalism.

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