Tune in to current affairs for any amount of time and you are bombarded with so-called ‘wicked’ problems. They’re given this name because they are complex, long-lasting and hard to solve. Things like plastic waste, climate change or a broken food system. We have been profiling the startups that are helping to solve these big problems for the sake people and the planet. In this final instalment, we profile a social enterprise changing the way people access fresh food.
Amazon’s entry into Australia has been much discussed over the past two years because of their aggressive business model and proven ability to reshape the retail landscape. But ten years ago, a Sydney-based social enterprise with the potential to change the way communities think about food slipped onto the scene unnoticed.
In 2008, Anton van den Berg and Jayne Travers-Drapes were part of a fruit and vegetable coop with eight other families of young children. As the members of their coop got too busy to keep up with the shops, the pair saw a business opportunity. With varied backgrounds in market research, logistics and the arts, they conceived a model for grocery distribution that worked like a large fruit and vegetable coop but aimed to draw communities together around food.
They began Harvest Hub – a social enterprise that sees mostly local fruits and vegetables delivered to homes, businesses, schools, churches and other local ‘hubs’ around Sydney then distributed within communities. Customers have flexible, value-for-money way of purchasing fresh food online along with some of the benefits of being in a fruit and vegetables coop, but enjoy the convenience of picking up the food each week from a local hub. It makes fresh, healthy food accessible and affordable.
From feeding 60 households ten years ago, they have grown steadily to feeding over 1000 families throughout Sydney in 2017. “Back then there was lots of manual labor,” recalls Jane. “Ten years ago, there weren’t even smart phones!”. From the very beginning they put in place sustainability priorities that limited the plastic packaging in their supply chain, as well as supported growers and reduced food waste.
“Ten years ago people thought we were crazy to care about these things” they say. However, over time they have seen huge shifts in people’s knowledge, awareness and willingness to change their behaviour. They put this down to growing concern about climate change and pollution.
“People are also starting to understand the challenges growers face” they say. Their loyal community once saved a strawberry grower by taking frost-bitten strawberries, making jam, selling it through the other hubs and returning the profits to the grower. “As a community we are able to activate fairly quickly.”
After ten years in operation, Harvest Hub is ready for a new season of change. In 2018 they want to change their model slightly which may mean expansion and growth. “We are looking at ways to make the model available in other areas including regional areas”. Perhaps it won’t be Amazon that reshapes the fresh food landscape in Australia. Perhaps it will be a little known startup with sustainability and community at its core.