Published On: 4 April 2024Categories: Stories

A food revolution has started quietly in the kitchen of a Tasmanian residential facility for men experiencing homelessness.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania, who recently took over the food service contract for the 70 men living at St Vincent de Paul’s Bethlehem House in North Hobart, is part of a food coalition committed to ensuring residents get the best Tasmanian produce.

Loaves and Fishes, through its food service social enterprise, has been able to create two new traineeships for young, passionate cooks, produce a range of restaurant-quality meals for the residents, and source the best Tasmanian produce from local suppliers.

However, the Bethlehem House experiment has even wider implications for everyone in institutional care receiving food, from hospitals and prisons, to schools, and aged care facilities. 

The long term goal is for Tasmanians receiving meals in institutional settings to get the freshest and best seasonal produce from local suppliers, rather than interstate suppliers and multinationals.

Sustainable food procurement consultant and Churchill Fellow, Leah Galvin, said each year the State and Federal Governments paid for more than 9 million meals to various public institutions.

“Sourcing more Tasmanian food for these institutions would be good for the economy, create lots of regional jobs, secure the livelihoods of producers, help protect the planet, improve the freshness and nutrient density of meals, and reduce food waste,” Leah said.

Leah works in partnership with many groups across the food procurement space, including Loaves and Fishes, the Tasmanian Produce Collective, and Sprout Tasmania.

Tasmanian Produce Collective operates a virtual farmers market, enabling producers and makers to showcase their wares online for order and local collection at various hubs across the State.

Producer liaison with the Tasmanian Produce Collective, Chez Orchard, said access to healthy, nutritious food was a human right, not a luxury.

“It’s about getting more Tasmanian food on the plates of Tasmanians through strong food systems that shorten supply chains and provide fair access to healthy seasonal foods,” Chez said.

Sprout Tasmania supports local producers to grow and farm ethically and sustainably.

Sprout CEO Jen Robinson said: “The project enables us to test the market of procuring food from local small-medium sized producers by allowing them to take part in institutional procurement supply chains. This project will help us prove it’s possible.”

The organisation is Tasmania’s only grassroots group helping aspiring farmers turn their ideas into thriving, sustainable small businesses.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania General Manager, Aaron Kropf, said the organisation was already used to working with seasonal produce to make ready-made meals for emergency food relief.

“We take what we are given and then get very creative in making tasty, nutritious meals from what’s been donated,” he said.

“This partnership with Leah, Sprout and the Tasmanian Produce Collective means we can get a wider variety of seasonal produce when we need it, and at a fair price.

“As a charity operating a social enterprise component, we’re not driven by profit, but by feeding vulnerable Tasmanians nutritious, tasty food.

“Any profit we make is put back into our free emergency food relief services.”

Aaron said the group was also keen to improve training for those in the hospitality industry to recognise how to access and use local, seasonal food.

“Unfortunately, those coming into hospitality through the TAFE system are not taught about being adaptive with seasonal produce, or working with local suppliers,” he said.

By Paul O’Rourke

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