Food for good: Three Melbourne ventures changing lives for the better

Kevin Dick, head chef at The Green at St Columbs.
Kevin Dick, head chef at The Green at St Columbs. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

It's easy to forget the power of food. Here are three Melbourne projects enriching lives and the planet through food.

The Community Grocer

Supermarket headquarters have entire departments devoted to creating an instore experience equivalent to the ebullient atmosphere you'll find at The Community Grocer. In gentrified Carlton, prices make fresh food inaccessible to those who are food insecure, and it's hard for many residents to get to the closest market, which is two tram rides away. Instead, manager Dori Ellington, with the help of passionate local volunteers and the City of Melbourne, is bringing the market to the people who need it most. Each Friday the common area, adjacent to the playground, bustles with shoppers from the local high-rises, surrounding streets and nearby student accommodation buying the season's freshest fruit and vegetables at wholesale prices. Neighbours meet, chat and trade recipes, while hungry children devour plates of vegies from the free barbecue cooked by volunteer chefs.  Ellington first learnt of the idea volunteering for similar markets run by Cultivating Community, and knows the positive health effects of making fresh fruit and vegetables accessible and affordable. However, "the community aspects have become the most rewarding," Ellington says. "In some ways, human connection is as important as food." 

Dori Ellington of The Community Grocer.
Dori Ellington of The Community Grocer. Photo: Supplied

The Community Grocer, 510 Lygon Street, Carlton, Fri 10am-2pm

The Green

Sit, drink good coffee and eat excellent food, while providing training for long-term unemployed youth? Sounds like a cracking Saturday morning. The Green at St Columbs inhabits an old church hall and the airy fitout is calm and beautiful. A small sign says: "A place to pause and be nourished". The cafe's garden grows some of the menu, while local urban farmers deliver the vegetables, honey comes from the cafe's hives and locals bring surplus fruit for the kitchen. The Green is the final step for budding chefs who have previously cut their teeth in the catering arm of the not-for-profit Ignite program run by the Jesuit Social Services. At The Green, head chef Kevin Dick (St Ali North, Cutler and Co) makes all the food from scratch, giving aspiring chefs artisanal skills they wouldn't necessarily get in other kitchens. Smoking salmon, making bread and foraging – it's quite an education. So what makes Dick proudest? "I am proud of the fact that, little by little, we change people's lives for the better," he says. "They gain confidence in the workplace. You can actually see the change over the length of time they are with us." 

Katy Barfield created the Yume app to help customers find cheap food and minimise waste.
Katy Barfield created the Yume app to help customers find cheap food and minimise waste. Photo: Supplied

The Green at St Columbs, 5 St Columbs Street, Hawthorn, Tue-Sun 8am-3pm


Both a force of nature and a force for nature, Katy Barfield is a waste warrior. Her impressive CV includes having been founding chief executive of SecondBite, which grew to rescue 2 million kilograms of fresh produce and redistribute it to charities each year. As the founding chief executive of Spade and Barrow, Barfield created a market, and the term "nature's grade", for the less glamorous but still tasty and nutritious produce that supermarkets reject. Now she has food businesses and their unsold food in her sights. Using her new app, Yume, food businesses list surplus food items at 50 per cent of the original price. It might be a meal, a loaf of bread or a rotisserie chicken. Customers use Yume to find cheap food, while helping to minimise waste. Alternatively, businesses can choose to donate the food for a charity to collect. Guy Grossi and Matt Wilkinson are on board, and Barfield has plans for 2000 food businesses serving 10,000 customers throughout Australia within the next year. With these numbers, 1 million kilograms of food could be prevented from going to waste each year. "Happy customers, happy businesses, happy planet," says Barfield, who is driven in part by the knowledge that "each year more than one-fourth of all the water we use worldwide is taken to grow over 1 billion tonnes of food that nobody eats". "I'm hoping that Yume will help stop some of that waste. Every little bit helps."