Join the food community in spreading the love this Valentine's Day

Don't just give your heart away this Valentine's Day; enlarge it with the help of these labours of love.
Don't just give your heart away this Valentine's Day; enlarge it with the help of these labours of love. Photo: Getty

Love is in the air, and it goes way beyond the lure of chocolate and flowers on Valentine's Day. So many good people are doing good things in the world of good food that we wanted to pay it forward, in the recognition that a fundamental shift is happening in our society.

So this article is about love for our planet, our farmers, our regional producers, our firefighters and the people who cook for us and serve us in restaurants and cafes. There's the love a farmer has for her fellow women on the land, the love a suburban Indian restaurant has for its community, and from overseas, lots of love for Australia.

Some of these initiatives are small and grassroots, others are portents of sweeping changes in our conversations and our cultures; signposts to the building of stronger social structures and values. Many came from transforming overwhelming feelings of helplessness that bloomed into positive acts.

My single call-out on social media for Australia-wide initiatives unleashed an outpouring; I only wish I could include them all. I've also added a "to do" to each one, in case you want to spread the joy. Love, it turns out, isn't all you need. It's doing something with it that counts.

Woolworths OzHarvest Banana Bread. Richard Watson (left) OzHarvest State Manager with Andy Thomas, Woolworths Head of Bakery at Woolworths Marrickville Metro. 21st January 2020. Photograph Dallas Kilponen Woolworths banana bread, made with past their prime bananas in store.

Woolworths OzHarvest Banana Bread is made with overripe bananas. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

PLANET LOVE

Use your loaf

Problem: Unsold overripe bananas were sitting in Woolworths, about to head for landfill. Solution: Woolies' bakery team had the bright idea to mash 'em up into fresh banana bread, perfect for the school or office lunchbox. (Overripe bananas make the BEST banana bread.) Not only that, 50 cents from every $4 banana bread sale goes to food rescue charity OzHarvest, to continue their work with people in our community who don't have a secure source of food.

"Reducing food waste and keeping surplus food away from landfill is a top priority," says Woolworths head of bakery, Andy Thomas. "With the launch of this banana bread, we're also supporting Australians in need."

To do: Eat more banana bread! Available from Woolworths stores with in-store bakeries across Australia.

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Light years ahead

"In my experience, the potwash area is the last thing thought about in a plan for a commercial kitchen," says executive chef Brad Simpson, of Acre Farm and Eatery in Burwood. "They're usually hot, dark and messy and – like a casino – you don't know what time of day it is."

At Acre, two long windows are placed either side of the dishwasher. "There's a connection to the natural world, which is what our restaurant is all about," says Simpson, who nurtures 11,000 seedlings in a nearby glasshouse. "You can see the sky and all the way to the city. It makes it a nice place to be."

Acre Farm and Eatery is on the rooftop of the new Burwood Brickworks development in Melbourne's east, billed as the world's most sustainable shopping centre. DV

To do: Go visit, and say hi to the dishwasher.

Hedgehog slice and a coffee- Moon Rabbit Cafe,Preston. 15th May 2018 The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Coffee and cake at Moon Rabbit cafe in Preston, Melbourne. Photo: Joe Armao

Mug shot

Nobody wants to see one billion single-use coffee cups go into landfill every year in Australia, and there are some great alternatives that won't wreck the planet. The one we like best is the mug library, a return to real cups made of real china, donated by locals and free to borrow and return. In Sydney, see Single O in Surry Hills and Carriageworks, Bru Bondi and Gertrude & Alice in Bondi, and Hemingway's in Manly. In Melbourne, Moon Rabbit in Preston and Bridge 2 Eden in Hurstbridge; in Hobart, Hamlet Cafe. cupexchange.com.au

To do: Consider staying in for your coffee rather than taking away.

REGIONAL LOVE

Fierce Female Farmers

It began last July with a single Facebook post by Inverell farmer Margy Perkuhn. "OK guys," she posted, "Farmer Margy has totally had enough with this seemingly endless drought and is desperately needing to do something positive. I need your help." Perkuhn collected and distributed care packages of health and beauty items to those 'fierce female farmers' she knew were putting their families and everyone else before their own needs.

Specifying quality items such as "moisturising soap" "because winter drought skin is a bitch", and banning bath bombs, for obvious reasons (um, drought), she has so far succeeded in sending out more than 70 care packs and 140 quality food packs around Inverell, in northern NSW. "We can't change the climate but what we can change, when we work together, are the lives of the incredibly strong farming women who are living it."

To do: Perkuhn recently stepped down due to health issues, but wants Fierce Female Farmers to inspire other regional women to look out for each other. As she says, "you have to give, knowing that giving is the real gift."

Menu aid

It's a good thing when your own fodder can provide a farmer with fodder, too. Nelly Robinson launched his Australian Rural Aid menu at the basement fine diner nel. in Sydney in January, promising $5 of every $128 degustation menu will go to provide hay, water and support for farmers through Rural Aid's Buy A Bale campaign. So far, more than $4000 has been raised by a menu that lists the famous Bunnings sausage sizzle, Vegemite focaccia and even smashed avocado, heavily disguised as fine-dining dishes. nelrestaurant.com.au

To do: The Rural Aid Menu will run until April 4.

Honest to goodness

Who doesn't love an honesty box, where local produce is left by the side of the road with naught but a tin for coins in return. Northern Rivers local Frances Haysey loves them so much she is writing a book about them (with recipes). "I want to document honesty boxes around the country and profile the farmers behind them, so we continue to learn about eating sustainably and locally, she says. "After this summer, it's even more important, with so many farmers needing extra attention and help".

To do: Follow @thehonestybox_ and keep an eye out for the book.

Eat, drink and be merry

In an effort to boost local regional tourism and get Beechworth "back on the map", Michael Ryan at Provenance and Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook have cooked up a month-long celebration of chef love, kicking off with Attica's Ben Shewry doing dinner on April 17. Other chefs – such as Sunda's Khanh Nguyen, Ides' Peter Gunn and Anchovy's Thi Le – will follow up with Sunday lunches and Monday dinners at Provenance and other local spots such as Reed & Co Distillery. "People are ringing up to say, 'we want to come and support the region'," says Michael Ryan. Well, here's your chance. theprovenance.com.au

To do: Book! Go! Have an amazing time! Spend money! And keep an eye on Good Food for more news closer to the date.

Farmer Joe's Pantry in Wauchope with volunteers Anne and Helen stocking the shelves with donated goods.

Anne and Helen, volunteers at Farmer Joe's Pantry in Wauchope. Photo: Supplied

Stock the pantry

With its shelves of toothpaste, bottled water, Weet-Bix and toilet paper, Farmer Joe's Pantry looks like a supermarket – but no money changes hands. Instead, the Pantry is for drought-ravaged farmers and those affected by bushfires to come in and restock their pantries with essential food items and toiletries. Run entirely by volunteers such as Pam Foye, it was set up in late 2019 in donated premises in Wauchope by the members of the local Rotary Club of Port Macquarie Sunrise. "Everything we have has been donated," says Foye. "I've been blown away by the generosity." Open Wednesday and Friday 10am to 2pm.

To do: Visit Farmer Joe's Pantry Facebook page to donate non-perishable goods.

Eye candy

Keep an eye on Sonny Willett (pictured), 11 years old, of Goulburn. He's a smart kid. He buys sweets from the local factory and repacks and labels them, selling them on his Facebook page, with his mum Tania doing the invoices. It started last Christmas when he wanted a new pair of Nikes, and raised enough money for the kicks and to pay off some of the family farm's debts. Now his goal is to raise $2000 for the Middle Arm Wayo branch of the Rural Fire Service by February 14, with bags of St Valentine-themed sweets such as Love Hearts. With an Alan Jones radio interview scheduled for this week, it's in the bag.

To do: Visit Sonny's Reindeer Farm on Facebook.

Cow-poo slice

What happens when the quiet army of talented recipe writers, photographers, stylists, designers and editors behind every celebrity chef, rise up as one and do their own cookbook? You get recipes for cheesy potato bake, bacon and cheddar scones and 'cow poo' slice, with an incredible $300,000 going to support the struggling farmers of Australia.

"A cookbook of this size and quality usually costs around $100,000 to produce. Farmer cost nothing" says Tilba-based publisher, Jody Vassallo. "Everyone provided their services for free, so that all profits from this book can go to the Country Women's Association, which provides practical assistance to farmers and their communities."

Recipes are straight-forward (and often straight from the farm), and the book is a joy; proof positive of what people can achieve with the right spirit. farmercookbook.com

To do: Cook the cow-poo slice.

True Aussie spirit

When all else fails, there's always whisky. Meet The Aussie Spirit, an entirely new whisky created by Australia's craft spirits community to raise funds for Rural Aid. Blending and maturation will be overseen by the godfather of Australian whisky, Tasmania's Bill Lark, in French oak barrels donated by Round Oak Barrels. It's the star of the Aussie Spirit charity online auction, for which Australia's distillers have donated their finest, rarest and most exclusive craft spirits and experiences.

To do: Get bidding. Visit Aussie Spirit Auction on Facebook, and check out the Community Spirit initiative at nipofcourage.com

COMMUNITY LOVE

Friends of Australia

Images of Australia's catastrophic summer went around the world, causing heavy hearts among all those who love the country. In Copenhagen, the entire Noma team including chef Rene Redzepi, Australian-born Ben Liebmann and James Spreadbury have wrangled a special 'Friends of Australia' dinner on 24 February 'to celebrate a place very close to our hearts'. Chefs from Noma, Barr, Iluka, Hart Bakery, Sanchez, Tigermom and Noma will be cooking, with wines from Lieu Dit and Rosforth & Rosforth. The last 2 seats are up for auction online until February 23, with all funds going to the World Wide Fund's Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery program. jumblebee.co.uk/friendsofaustraliacph

To do: Bless 'em.

Free food for fireys

All fireys get a free feed at Agostinis Italian restaurant at Canberra's contemporary East Hotel until the end of February. Owners Dan and Dion Bisa are slinging a free pizza or bowl of gnocchi (and a local Canberra-brewed beer) for any registered local firefighter, as their way of saying thank you. Good move. easthotel.com.au

To do: Hug a firey today.

The Asylum Seekers Refugee Centre Feast for Freedom returns from March 19 to 22, 2020 featuring recipes from this year's 'hero cooks', Genet from Ethiopia.

Share-friendly dishes from one of Feast for Freedom's 'hero cooks', Genet from Ethiopia. Photo: Supplied

Cook for asylum

Here's a great (and only slightly self-serving) idea – you invite your friends over for dinner, cook hand-picked recipes from Australia's asylum seekers, and have a great time while raising funds for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The ASRC's Feast for Freedom returns from March 19 to 22, featuring recipes from this year's 'hero cooks': Genet from Ethiopia (pictured), Veronica from Papua New Guinea, and Hamed from Iran. 'It's a celebration of what unites us – food, culture and community," says CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis.

To do: Register your feast at feastforfreedom.org.au

Ride with the sisterhood

Shebah is Uber for women. Melbourne's all-female-drivers, ride-sharing company was founded in 2016 by comedian and single mother of four, George McEncroe, as a safer way to transport school-age kids and teenage girls. Now we hear she has been inundated with requests from restaurants, hotels and bars for a dedicated way of booking, tracking and paying for Shebah trips to ensure that their female staff working late, will get home safely.

To do: Keep an eye out for this unique business portal for hospo folk in late 2020. shebah.com.au

Bask in the sunshine

Chef Hamed Allahyari escaped Iran by boat in 2012, and eventually ended up in Melbourne, cooking in the cafe at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). His story is the story of many an asylum seeker – he wanted to contribute to society and be a part of a community, but it took years to get a paying job (he found work at Free To Feed, a great cooking school initiative that showcases the food of refugees).

Now he and Jen Morillas have opened their own cafe in Sunshine, to help fellow refugees and asylum seekers find work. Cafe Sunshine and SalamaTea is a cafe by day and Persian restaurant at night.

To do: Try the fesenjun, sweet and sour chicken with saffron rice and pistachios, and the Persian bliss balls, and say hi to the asylum seeker staff, who now number eight. Cafe Sunshine, 21 Dickson Street, Sunshine, 0491 605 775.

Feed thy neighbour

It was Jimmy Marwaha's 12-year-old daughter Gurnoor who had the idea. "She said, 'Dad, there are a lot of people who go without food at night,'" explains the owner of Tandoori Flames, an Indian restaurant in Melbourne's South Kingsville. Gurnoor had a solution: on October 4, 2019, her mother Deepti's birthday, a sign was installed by the restaurant's back door encouraging anyone who was hungry to knock for a free meal. "We have instructed our chefs very clearly that anyone who knocks can get some food," says Jimmy Marwaha. "Sometimes it's butter chicken, sometimes it's goat or a vegetarian dish, always with rice and bread." At the moment, there's a knock at the door up to 20 times a week, including a child sent one evening by its parents. Marwaha feels great about helping people. "I've gained so much in Australia," says the Indian immigrant who moved here in 2003. "I am so glad to give something back." DV

To do: Feel all warm inside, that such people exist.

Know yourself

"What's happening right now," says chef and teacher Angie Prendergast-Sceats, "is that people are realising that helping others changes their own perceptions of themselves." That's the thinking behind the Giveback Kitchen, a cooking program that forms part of the Indigenous cultural mentoring program "ID.Know Yourself" set up in 2019 in Redfern by Isaiah Dawe.

ID aims to break the cycle of foster care for young Aboriginal people aged 15 to 18 years old. Learning basic kitchen skills in order to feed others, says Prendergast-Sceats, can be transformative. "To show them the benefits of giving back, we cook a monthly dinner for local community at The Settlement neighbourhood centre," she says. "When people feel they are doing something of value to others, it gives them so much confidence."

To do: Support idknowyourself.com.

Keep it local

"The best things we can do for producers and suppliers is to make people more invested in buying local produce" says Sally Gosper of Sydney's Two Providores. "They don't want handouts, but have often lost their local market, or been unable to get their product to market due to road closures, or had extremely low yields." She cites Peter Gilmore of Quay, who identified those producers suffering and has created dishes around their produce. CBD restaurant and wine bar Prince of York has also made a commitment to using fire-affected regional suppliers, while restaurants Fred's, 10 William Street and Firedoor all support farms directly.

To do: Eat and drink local and regional.

The Age, Epicure. Farm retreat for chefs. Nathan Toleman, Sandy Melgalvis Head Chef, Simon Pappas ex chef and current farm manager, Sam Slattery general Manager of the farm, Diamond Rozakeas Mulberry group director and Ben Clark Mulberry group C.O.O.  Pic Simon Schluter 7 June 2019.

Nathan Toleman, Sandy Melgalvis, Simon Pappas, Sam Slattery, Diamond Rozakeas and Ben Clark of the Mulberry Group's Common Ground Project. Photo: Simon Schluter

Down on the farm

Social enterprise Common Ground Project is a 1.6-hectare farm with cafe at Freshwater Creek, 90 minutes west of Melbourne. It opened in July 2019 with two aims: regenerative agriculture and mental health for hospitality workers, both those who work on-site and other restaurants invited to join as members and send their staff once a week. "One in four people in our industry suffer with mental health issues and it's often unspoken and untreated," says co-founder Nathan Toleman, whose Mulberry Group owns Hazel restaurant in Melbourne's Flinders Lane. "How can we expect our chefs to cook with love if they aren't being nourished and supported?" A day's work at Common Ground starts with meditation, followed by a communal breakfast and a session on the farm. Produce that's grown is distributed between member businesses but they're not just nurturing vegies. "People working together in land and sunshine are more at ease, and this type of farming – not putting any chemicals into the soil – results in food that's good for our mental health too," says Toleman. DV

To do: Visit, donate, sign up your staff.

Pizza the action

Twenty chefs paired with 20 food media personalities and lots and lots of pizza sounds like a brilliant dough-raising exercise, master-minded by the clever people at Breville (which, coincidentally, is launching its brilliant new Smart Oven Pizzaiolo countertop pizza oven). Each paired team must spend their allocated budget on ingredients from local producers and farmers affected by the fires, while volunteer sommeliers will do the same with wine.

To do: Tickets are $50 a head for pizza and drinks from 6pm to 9pm, March 23, at Three Blue Ducks in Rosebery, with all funds going to bushfire-related charities.

With Dani Valent