Sourdough wasn't the only obsession we developed in lockdown. As supermarket shelves went bare, many of us toyed with the idea of becoming at least part-way self-sufficient, stripping every seedling from Bunnings' shelves. But what might have been a short-lived hobby for some, became an urgent imperative for food charities, who have since jumped into action on a grander scale.
Rebecca Scott is the co-founder and CEO of STREAT, a social enterprise which supports at-risk youth through employment training and jobs in hospitality businesses around Melbourne. She predicted the pressure likely to be placed upon the charity sector as Victorians became job and food insecure.
In response, Scott assembled a collective of more than 20 Victorian not-for-profit organisations who are now working under the banner of Moving Feast. Their aim, says Scott, is to "address the dual imperatives of immediate food relief to vulnerable people while creating a food system that is sustainable and resilient". In short, they had to go beyond the distribution of donated food and grow their own.
Scott's instinct wasn't wrong. Foodbank reported a 78 per cent increase in demand for food assistance since the beginning of the pandemic, as mass job losses hit formerly stable groups. Meanwhile The Salvation Army on Bourke Street saw demand triple. As demand rose, the supply of food donations fell.
Despite the stark numbers, Scott, along with the likes of Rob Rees, the CEO of Cultivating Communities, which manages more than 800 school and social-housing garden spaces around Melbourne, have found that the crisis has forced a rapid acceleration of plans that will strengthen the sector long term.
"It is incredible what we have been able to achieve in such a short time by pooling resources and connections," says Rees. His team of horticulturalists and volunteers have been vital.
In the past seven weeks, Moving Feast has delivered more than 50,000 meals and 15,000 food and care packages.
Through its 'Grow' arm, whose participants include the Collingwood Children's Farm, 3000 Acres and Common Ground Project near Geelong, it has sourced and planted 760,000 seedlings, across 5,567 square metres of newly dedicated land. Scott is now fielding requests to join the effort from farms as far away as Mildura.
"I'm starting to get a full sense of what we could collectively do," says Scott, who recognises that organisations have never come together in such a positive way.
Moving Feast is also directly engaging with the community by supplying "Living Boxes" to families across the inner city.
Planted Places has designed compact, resilient gardens that can be grown inside apartments or on the smallest balconies. The first 50 have been distributed to homes in the City of Melbourne, with plans to create many more.
Rees was a founder of the United Kingdom's Children's Food Trust and helped transform the UK food system during a school canteen crisis. He says engagement is a vital part of the long term solution. "If you feed people rubbish food, you're just propping up a system of malnutrition, and creating future problems for the healthcare system."
It is incredible what we have been able to achieve in such a short time by pooling resources and connections.
Rees' work at Cultivating Community also focuses on ensuring that food is culturally appropriate, and he's thrilled that Moving Feast has adopted the principles. Recipients of the boxes select ingredients for curries, stir-fries or herbs. Garden crops include Ethiopian cabbage, Japanese hakurei turnips and red russian kale.
Moving Feast's first crops are coming to harvest and being used in emergency meals, easing pressure on food banks.
As yields increase, Scott says the plan is to create Moving Feast-branded condiments and other shelf-stable products to be sold at participating cafes such as STREAT, Kinfolk and The Farm Cafe, to further fund the project and eventually employ at-risk members of the community to work in the gardens.
"What's exciting is that social enterprises aren't just bandaid solutions. We make deep, lasting change when we use the market to generate profits. That lets us keeping doing good work," Scott says.
To volunteer, donate or find upcoming retail lines, follow movingfeast.net.