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Food for thought, and Food For Change: A foray on the farm with Matthew Donovan

Imagine you’ve just endured a long, arduous week at work. You’re positively knackered and looking forward to getting home. The traffic is made tolerable only by thoughts of the delicious meal you’re going to make for dinner. You’re salivating at the thought of the first bite, warm food hitting your tongue as your body hits the couch, settling in for a long, comfortable night in front of the TV with a good movie. 

You burst through your front door, chuck your bags down and make a beeline for the kitchen. Stomach rumbling, you open the pantry and feast your eyes on…nothing. You move over to the fridge, open the door, and… there’s nothing there either. Then it dawns on you, you’ve eaten all the food you could afford this week and there’s still the weekend to get through. The only saving grace is the fact that you’ve only got your own mouth to feed. For a second, you imagine trying to placate a couple of hungry kids right now too. You shudder at the thought. 

For too many Australians, this is reality. Only there are plenty of people who experience this scenario with children or other dependants, who rely on them for sustenance to function. 

One in ten Australians seek food relief annually and a quarter of them are turned away. But these numbers are slowly moving in the right direction, as more Australians are starting to receive the nourishment they need, thanks to a humble Melbourne-based food relief charity making a big impact across the country. Enter: Food For Change.

HOW IT STARTED

Founded by Matt Donovan in 2016 on the belief that nobody in Australia should go hungry, Food For Change grows and rescues food to support the 2500+ food relief organisations around the country feeding hungry Australians.

As we wandered through the lush Food For Change farm in Clayton South which opened in Early Feb 2017, Matt reflected on where his affinity with food began as a child, under the guidance of his mum. 

“My mum was a chef, I grew up in Kangaroo Island because she shared a restaurant out there. And I loved it. When people go, why did you start this, what’s your story, I think from a young age, because I was in that environment (and I have really vivid memories of it) I’ve always just loved feeding people.”

“I won’t cook great things for myself. I’ll just be very bland, making the same meals over and over again, but if I’ve got people at home or if I’m entertaining, it’s a lavish kind of thing. And it’s always been like that, I’ve always given food away.”

“The first time I put zucchinis in the garden, mum was like, oh you won’t need that many plants (and I put about ten plants in for myself), I soon realised, oh, that’s too much – mum is always right. And that’s when I started giving away food.”

Matt’s been experimenting in the kitchen since he was five years old and growing food since he was at university. But it wasn’t until he reconnected with his father after a few years of estrangement that Matt realised his passion for food was also a calling to help those in need. 

“It was absolutely horrendous the way he was living,” Matt said of learning of his father’s experience with homelessness and food insecurity during their time apart. “You think homeless shelter, it’ll be reasonably okay. But this wasn’t okay.” Prior to the shelter, his father had been living on the streets.

When Matt moved to Melbourne, he was still reeling from what he’d learnt about his father’s final years. “I hadn’t told anyone about my dad, because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was in an unfortunate place with a recent divorce but fortunate to have the time to work through things. That space allowed Food for Change to be born.”

HOW IT’S GOING

Now, the thriving, national food relief charity is based out of two major farm sites in Victoria, Clayton South, and Mornington Peninsula and operates under a grow, rescue, support structure.

Grow: Food For Change uses land in partnership with food relief organisations to grow as much food as possible to help feed the millions of hungry Australians who seek food relief every year. They grow nutritious fresh fruit, vegetables & herbs. Food For Change’s growing program is run by volunteers and all the food they grow is donated to local food relief agencies.

Rescue: Food For Change has been rescuing food since its inception and during this time they have realised that local, small scale food rescue is not adequately catered for. In response, they have developed two unique, app-based food rescue programs. The programs put local food donors together with local food relief organisations to maximise the amount of food rescued in Australia.

Support: All the food Matt and his team grow and rescue serves one purpose and that is to support the food relief agencies that feed hungry Australians. From large organisations like St Vincent De Paul to small local agencies, Food For Change forms strategic partnerships that use existing infrastructure to deliver more food to those in need.

Strolling under the shade of the fig trees, just past the corn crops, Matt points out the fields of leafy greens, the abundance of mint, and just about every type of sage, while musing on his son Issac’s already impressive knowledge of vegetables and herbs.

“We were in the garden the other day and the girls were mucking around going, Issac, what’s that? And he says, that’s tricolour sage, and that’s pineapple sage, and the girls’ jaws just dropped. He’s learning so much already.”

“Some days he’ll be helping to load up the foodbank truck and I stand back and think, wow. He’s one of the reasons I started this and he’s too young to understand the concept of how some people can’t just get food.”

“We’ve always got amazing food and we’re constantly cooking together; we’re very lucky, we sit down every night and talk about that. I ask, mate, what did you do today? Do you know how lucky you are? And he is starting to get it. Yeah, we’re pretty blessed. Sorry, I talk about him so much.”

The Clayton South farm, run by Matt and a gregarious team of volunteers, boasts a remarkable diversity in produce and offers a feast for the senses.

“This is Vietnamese mint. Beetroot here. That was the last of our cauliflower,” Matt’s culinary knowledge knows no bounds, with tips for every herb. “Check out this pineapple sage, it’s used in a lot of Asian cooking instead of honey because it sweetens up the dishes. You don’t eat it, you just tie it up and put it through the dish.”

WHERE IT’S HEADED

To date, Food For Change has grown 284,121 meals, rescued 283,877 meals and provided 85,550 support meals through its various partners and programs. The charity relies heavily on volunteers and donations and is always looking to connect with individuals or corporate groups who are keen to give their time to an incredible cause.

Recently, Food For Change launched a fresh produce delivery service, delivering boxes of fruit and vegetables across Melbourne and Victoria, monthly. 100% of the profits from these fresh food boxes go towards helping to end food insecurity in Australia. 

Next month, Food For Change is launching a Seeds For Change program; a range of seeds for each season that can be grown anywhere in Australia. With each packet containing three varieties of seed and only $9.90 per packet, they provide amazing value with 100% of the profit from the sale of the seeds going to feed hungry Australians. For each packet sold, Food For Change will also donate another packet to a community group to pass onto a vulnerable Australian who would like to start growing their own food. 

Looking ahead, Matt aims to grow both farms, with hopes to secure a third location. But he’s enjoying the process, and the people, in the meantime. 

“The people you meet through Food For Change are really good people; there’s just good energy and it’s really nice. For me, it’s just a better way to live.”

“I think it’s what I’m meant to be doing. It seems to work. Well, it doesn’t really feel like work, because I love it.”

To discover more about Food For Change or to order one of their divine fresh food boxes, head to https://foodforchange.org.au/ 

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