Australia Is Home to a Surplus-Food Market

©. OzHarvest (used with permission)

All food is donated and payment is optional.

Tackling global food waste is an enormous challenge. There are many valuable approaches to solving the problem, from urging individuals to reduce waste at home to creating apps that allow people to find restaurants with surplus meals. But perhaps the most impressive effort of all is when grocery stores sell discarded food because it represents change on a greater scale.

I first wrote about this happening in Denmark, with the stunningly successful launch of WeFood, which only sells food that is expired, mislabeled, damaged, or otherwise destined for the trash bin. WeFood's first location was so popular among shoppers who "believe strongly in the importance of not allowing perfectly good food to go to waste" that it opened a second location in Copenhagen.

Now, the model has been replicated on the other side of the world, in Kensington, New South Wales, just outside Sydney. OzHarvest, Australia's leading food rescue organization, opened the country's first-ever rescue-food marketplace in April 2017. Started as a pop-up project and expected to stay open only as long as the donated retail space was available from TOGA property group, the market has continued to thrive over the past two years.

OzHarvest sign

© OzHarvest (used with permission)

Called OzHarvest Market, it differs from a food bank in that it's open to the public four days a week and is based on a ‘take what you need, give if you can’ philosophy. People can either make a donation or, if they cannot afford it, they do not have to pay. The space is set up like a supermarket, although shoppers don't know what they're going to get because the selection changes every week, depending on donations.

All donated food is perfectly safe and edible, but for some reason it cannot be sold. This could be because it's close to expiry, its packaging has changed (which means supermarkets cannot sell it), or it is slightly imperfect. The fresh produce is donated by local supermarkets, but OzHarvest does accept non-perishable food donations from individuals. In the words of founder Ronni Kahn,

"Subtle 'defects' such as a freckle or bruise, or even a mislabelled box, are what usually leads this food to being thrown out. People will walk in and say, 'Wow, this is exactly what I would buy anywhere, and now I can just take it, use it, or give it away."
OzHarvest shopper

© OzHarvest (used with permission)

The OzHarvest Market's website has a list of goals, one of which caught my eye: to redistribute good food in an innovative and effective new way. I loved this description because we are in such desperate need of new pathways for food distribution. There is plenty of food to feed everyone in the world, but the problem is how food disappears along the way. The OzHarvest Market provides a wonderful and inspiring example of how we can intervene and ensure that food gets put to good use. Our cities and towns need more places like this.