Monday, April 22, 2024

Food Network expands to capture Hawke’s Bay surpluses

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With more than four million kilograms of food saved from a landfill fate in the first 14 months of operation, the New Zealand Food Network is expanding into Hawke’s Bay with the opening of a new hub in Hastings.
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Food Network chief executive Gavin Findlay says after 12 months the network will have saved 5000 tonnes of food from going to landfill.

With more than four million kilograms of food saved from a landfill fate in the first 14 months of operation, the New Zealand Food Network is expanding into Hawke’s Bay with the opening of a new hub in Hastings.

Launching the base in partnership with T&G Fresh, the network now has three hubs, including Auckland and Christchurch, as a surge in food prices and greater hardship are pushing more households to the breadline.

Food Network chief executive Gavin Findlay says the network’s strong relationship with T&G made the move into Hawke’s Bay a good one.

“The volumes coming out of the region in terms of fruit and vegetables are vast,” Findlay said.

Utilising T&G’s premises, donations and surplus fresh produce from growers throughout the region will now be able to be accepted and processed from bulk collection into household-friendly quantities.

The centre has already received 9000kg of produce purchased by T&G Fresh’s charitable organisation Fairgrow. 

For local growers the operation will provide a single point of contact for their bulk surplus, enabling it to be distributed widely across communities in Hawke’s Bay region.

Findlay acknowledged the irony that Hawke’s Bay, often regarded as the country’s market garden, was also facing a growing need for food donations to households hit hard by lockdowns, job losses and creeping food costs.

He says the challenge of feeding a household was not limited to urban families alone, and believed the issue was equally widespread among rural communities in the region.

“Last year we worked closely with iwi and marae groups when distributing pork through our project with NZ Pork and MPI. They know their communities best and how best to distribute the food we have,” he said.

The Hastings centre will allow harder-to-reach rural communities to be serviced better, including Waipukurau, East Coast and inland Eastland, Manawatū, Palmerston North, and the lower North Island.

The branch in Hastings will support six of the network’s existing food centres, including Nourished for Nil, the Salvation Army and Just Zilch, reaching 74,000 people a month.

The Food Network was launched in July last year, with backing from the Ministry of Social Development, to help address issues of food insecurity in NZ.

Findlay says since its creation the network has enabled other food charities to better deal with the challenges that bulk surplus or waste food products can present when requiring repackaging into smaller family-friendly packages.

He says protein remains the major challenge for food banks to supply, given the minimal waste or surplus this food group tends to generate.

“Often if the product is surplus the option is there to freeze it. This is not so much the case with fruit and vegetables, or even with manufactured goods,” he said.

But Findlay said the network was slowly but surely working through the challenge with a number of providers, some who were prepared to make donations of product, rather than simply provide surplus or waste product.

The network had also worked with the Meat the Need group in the first lockdown when significant volumes of wild venison mince were available for distribution to households.

And he says the network was also starting to make a dent in NZ’s vast amount of wasted food products going to landfill.

“We are capable of handling bulk food items that smaller groups may have struggled with. These bulk products in that past may often have been consigned to landfill – at only $10 a tonne, there was no disincentive to not dump it,” he said.

He says a proposed lift in landfill costs would help as a disincentive.

Since its creation the network has managed to rescue and redistribute 4.4 million kg of food and provided over 12.5 million meal equivalents to householders.

He says estimates were that every year 100,000-150,000t in NZ’s commercial food chain goes to waste.

“We are on target to deal with 5000t, so we are getting there,” he said.

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