Alexi Spyridis of The Italian Bowl, Newtown. Photo: Mark Taylor

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Food is one basic commodity nobody can live without. There are, however, some interesting challenges which orbit around the food industry. Two new innovative programs are looking to alleviate two of these challenges in two very different ways.

 

ADDISON ROAD COMMUNITY CENTRE – WOW FOOD! INNER WEST

Challenge number one is food security. According to the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville food security is becoming an increasingly important issue within Sydney as more and more people begin to struggle economically.

In order to combat the food security problem, the War On Waste Food (WOW Food) project has been established. The program aims to reduce the amount of quality, usable food being sent to landfill and thus alleviate some of the food security pain being felt by the most in need members of our community.

The program has three major components;

  1. Collaborate with local businesses to understand and overcome barriers relating to food donation.
  2. Encourage local businesses, particularly wholesalers and retailers, to donate surplus stock so that it can be distributed to those in need.
  3. Establish the Inner West Food Rescue Alliance to together local groups and not for profits who are supporting local individuals and families who are struggling.

Already at this early stage, the program has seen a surge in community members seeking aid from the community Food Pantry. Conversely, there have already been a number of local business sign on to participate, with 35 tonnes of food already diverted away from landfill and instead on to people’s tables.

Support from Foodbank NSW and ACT has already aided the expansion of the program. Something which Addison Road Community Centre Organisation CEO Rosanna Barbero is incredibly thankful for.

“We’re delighted to work with Foodbank NSW and ACT to extend the Food Pantry service we currently offer the local community. It’s been great to highlight just how many people are doing it tough in the Inner West, especially those trying to survive on Newstart or those who just struggling to make ends meet.”

Obviously, the community are benefiting from these programs, but according to Kruno Velican, Executive Chef at The Hilton Sydney Hotel, businesses are seeing positive outcomes as well.

“Interestingly, since starting food donation we have seen many benefits for the business. One is financial, you don’t have the burden of processing food surplus. Second is team engagement, all of a sudden we can see different behaviours, they can see that their job has a deeper meaning and they are making positive changes in the community. Lastly, we can see a competitive advantage as more and more businesses want to work with us because we share the same values.

“Food is something you should never take for granted, reality can change very often. You need to appreciate the chain, from the farmer who took the time to grow it to someone who has cooked it, it needs to be cherished.”

 

FOODLAB SYDNEY

Speaking of appreciating the chain of production a new program is fostering the next wave of cooks, and food business entrepreneurs who will change the face of the Sydney culinary scene.

Foodlab Sydney is an innovative project aimed at creating a vibrant network of small food businesses through training, mentoring and employment. Led by the University of Sydney’s Sydney Environment Institute in collaboration with the City of Sydney, UNSW Canberra, TAFE NSW and FoodLab Detroit in the US, the program centres on a custom-designed training course that will support residents with ideas for sustainable food businesses or social enterprises.

The belief is that this program will foster the next wave of culinary thought leaders, who may create the next innovative program akin to the aforementioned WOW Food project.

The City Of Sydney has embraced the program as a means to provide employment pathways and economic stimulus for local communities. The council has done so because their own statistics show that approximately 17,000 residents are food insecure with unreliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

“FoodLab Sydney is a fantastic example of how collaboration between academics, businesses and residents can produce new ideas and opportunities. I look forward to seeing the fruits of FoodLab Sydney in the future,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

For Foodlab Sydney participant Wynnie Tran this program provided the perfect opportunity to finally follow her passion for food, despite having a highly successful corporate career.

“My background was in recruitment for the major banks but I always had a passion for food despite no formal training. I resigned from my job to pursue my passion and then when I found Foodlab Sydney I knew it was the opportunity I needed.”

The Foodlab Sydney program stands out from other culinary courses because of the unique makeup of its curriculum. Rather than focusing just on culinary/chef skills the Foodlab Sydney program also has a heavy emphasis on small business skills. It was this course makeup which drew Tran towards Foodlab Sydney so strongly.

“I had a look at some of the other courses available through TAFE and online, but some of them were quite lengthy and I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a professional chef or just run something a little more low-key in my food business. I was very much looking at courses but FoodLab Sydney with its program, which includes a short TAFE course coupled with a mentoring program, sounded really amazing.”

For anybody in a similar position to herself, Tran says Foodlab Sydney is certainly worth looking into because it builds a solid foundation for future success

“Foodlab Sydney allows you to work collaboratively with a team who provide you with the skills, relationships, networks and mentoring to succeed in food.”