Back in the summer of 2009 I had a glut of tomatoes in my backyard garden, couldn’t give them away because it seemed like everyone I knew also had a tomato abundance so I pondered and processed and Produce to the People Tasmania was born.
What began as a way for backyard excess to be shared locally has grown over the years and transitioned so many times it makes my head spin.
I had no real plan, had never worked in community services and was equal parts naive and determined.
Note to self : have a plan
So, for a while I just organised for excess backyard grown produce to be left at local cafes or CommBank branches and made sure it got to whomever the local community organisation was who already worked with people who might benefit from some fresh produce in their diet. Then I was made aware of the bulk produce that went to waste – the too big carrots, the not quite green enough broccoli, the too creamy in colour cauliflowers and thought well, we can do something with that! And then began the gathering of half tonne crates of produce, the deliveries to organisations and Primary Schools. A short chain distribution network that meant we only gave away what we gathered in one day so there was no need for storage facilities which is where things start to get $$$. I had a small team of volunteers who helped with deliveries – one of whom still gathers and gives (Raylene you legend!!)
I also began a series of gardening programs in Primary Schools – ably assisted by our Snack Garden Guru – who taught kids how to grow their own veggies, compost and generally be creative in the veggie patch.
Note to self: as soon as you get one more person involved things begin to get complicated
Funded by a series of grants that became harder and harder to get as food projects suddenly became sexy and every person and their dog it seemed wanted to start their own version of what we were already doing.
Note to self : the community services space is some of the most competitive, take no prisoners, we will duplicate your service because we have more resources to write grant applications space I have ever worked in. Be careful who you “work” with. To be honest, I was really only screwed over by one organisation but it did make me learn to trust my gut and the PttP ethos of trust relationships has really worked well for the most part.
This went on for a number of years and my naiveté around – well we have such a successful program doing such good in the community, of course we will continue to be funded – was challenged pretty much every time there was an election, and my wordy we have A LOT of elections.
Note to self: don’t give up your day job
There are so many flaws in the way community programs are funded and I am sure there is no one right way to do it but my gosh there are better ways and there seriously needs to be bi/tri/partisan agreements as to how changes can be made for the good of the most vulnerable in our community. Preferably local solutions not held to ransom by bureaucrats who don’t live outside of cities.
As time passed the lugging of bulk produce started to lose its allure. People wanted more – different varieties, more deliveries, less deliveries and I decided to take up the offer of reinvigorating The Farm at Burnie High on the then Principal’s second request. Luckily for me I had the most amazing farm manager Kim by my side and we managed to do some amazing things. Once again though changes in government meant changes to funding which meant one minute staff, next minute no staff. Not a sustainable way for any business, not for profit or not to thrive.
Moving to The Farm also meant I could develop a place, a home where we could not only offer gathered produce but also grow our own. The food hub opened up with its “ask no questions” policy and quickly became a haven for our community to access produce to feed themselves and their families with no judgement.
Note to all: the only people who have ever questioned whether we are taken advantage of have never had to access food relief.
There has been so much good – the wonderful volunteers who give their time without question and volunteer in the true sense of the word. The students and staff of Burnie High who LOVE The Farm and what we have made it into. The School of Special Education students and staff who I think have been just about the best thing ever. The many producers big and small who give graciously. The staff who have come and gone. Our Patrons. The amazing people we have collaborated with on events. The Board members who have come and gone and persist. The people who come to nurture clients, themselves and families fresh, healthy food. Each and every seed with its potential to grow into something
The not so good – the constant struggle for funding, the constant lobbying – politicians here one day, gone the next, start again, sigh. The minority of volunteers who make trouble (a real nightmare). The new reliance on “social enterprise” being seen as some kind of win all model that is being embraced by all sides of government. It is not. You can not expect underfunded organisations to take on developing and then the running of a micro or small business that is not supported and potentially in competition with the private sector to become a source of financial independence. Likewise, you should not expect organisations to manage teams of volunteers – who all come with their special kind of circumstances – without support. It is overwhelming and does not make for healthy workplaces.
Note to self: remember to have a life outside of PttP
Whilst I do not believe I have come anywhere near to fulfilling Produce to the People’s potential, I reckon we have kicked a hell of a lot of goals.
I hope Produce to the People will continue to grow, gather and give. The reality is that each year we have more people accessing fresh, nutritious food via our food hub, the service providers we work with, and the elders we delivers produce boxes to each week. Whilst pensions leave people living below the poverty line, with women becoming the highest rising cohort facing homelessness and many more students living outside of home there will be a need for assistance.
Note to all : our service is accessed around 2000 times each month
I leave my hands on role with PttP in my tenth year with a blossoming social enterprise arm – our awesome micro green and edible flower venture – the next three years funding in place and another Federal election around the corner where hopefully whomever becomes in charge of the next Australian Government will consider funding local programs doing exceptional work. I am thrilled that the Tasmanian Government are again funding School Farms and that Burnie High will have a two day equivalent farm teacher next year.
There is no one person replacing me. We are going to see how/if it works having two part time people – Michelle looking after food hub operations and Leigh looking after the microgreens. Burnie High now having a farm teacher will take over the gardens – they will still grow for the food hub but the reality is we have not been funded to look after the gardens for a long time now and gardens need resources and someone to lead. We will re-assess in six months. I am hopeful the transition from me being hands on will be drama free and enable PttP to grow in possibly different but equally awesome ways. I will remain on the Board in the short term to assist the transition and look after a few things I never had the time to pour any real energy into.
Personally – well I am taking a little break and will begin a new role with Many Rivers, a not-for-profit organisation that supports aspiring business owners with microenterprise development support and access to finance in order to see the potential of people and communities realised in mid January. This is a Tasmania wide role so no doubt you will see me around!
What a blessing it has been.
For now, goodbye
Penelope | Founder of Produce to the People Tasmania/Inc