4 Aug 2020

Project to get fresh produce to hungry families to end, but demand grows

From Checkpoint, 6:20 pm on 4 August 2020

A government initiative to help fruit and vegetable growers while also feeding hungry whānau is coming to an end - but food banks say demand for the service is only growing.

The minister of agriculture, Damien O'Connor, today announced $500,000 to fund trials aimed at reducing food waste and addressing food insecurity.

One program that has been under way for the past few months - packing up fresh produce to distribute to community groups - is not on the list.

United Fresh, a group representing the fresh produce industry, has been organising boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to be distributed after lockdown closed greengrocers and the food faced ending up in landfill.

The government gave them $3.7 million to fill 100,000 boxes, which have been sent out to food banks, marae, Salvation Armies and community groups.

United Fresh chief executive Jerry Prendergast said there was an excess of fruit and vegetables available, which was able to be repurposed.

"With MPI's direction and funding we fixed a problem for our growers because we found a home for the product, so the waste was not in the market-place, we resolved the problem for some of those community groups that were desperate for fresh fruit and vegetables during that period."

Prendergast said he was disappointed that funding for the initiative was coming to an end.

"The 12 to 14 week period is coming to an end - we'd like to see ministry look at continuing with this project. We think there's an opportunity for those community groups to actually continue with this produce."

He said having access to fresh food was changing some people's palates and helping promote healthy eating.

The food rescue charity FairFood has been receiving the United Fresh parcels and chief executive Veronica Shale said they had been a game changer.

"When Covid hit the supply chain wasn't able to reliably deliver... so to have this constant supply has been an absolute lifesaver."

Last year they had been feeding 3000 families a week - but this year that had jumped to 20,000 - and she was hopeful United Fresh parcels would continue, she said.

O'Connor did not rule out more funding, saying discussions would continue, but he said other organisations had popped up, such as the five outfits which today received $100,000 each to for a 10-week development and trial period.

They included an online marketplace for food producers to list surplus product, an Australian-started produce box-based supply channel, an online marketplace platform connecting fishers directly with local consumers, and another online marketplace which uses a unique algorithm to connect consumers to local producers and a delivery service.

There's also an extension to the 'Meat the Need' programme to a new charitable supply chain.