A Portland Visit from Auckland

Hi, I’m Louise Allnutt from Auckland, New Zealand and I’m traveling around America for 2 months with my daughter before she starts her university course.  We arrived in Portland and heard about the awesome work that the City Repair Project does.  We immediately signed up for the Village Building Emergence Dinner as we were keen to hear all about the things happening in this awesome city of yours.  We’ve already earmarked an intersection back home that we think will be perfect for a splash of paint.

I live and work in a beach-side suburb of Torbay on the North Shore of Auckland.  My company is always looking at ways to get involved with our local community and a few years ago we sponsored the building of a Little Free Library near our village shops.  This was a huge hit so, at the start of 2018 when I heard about a lady who had set up a community fridge in Christchurch, I thought I’d run it past our local community Facebook group.  

The problem that I discovered with the idea of a community fridge was that the red tape and health and safety procedures were extensive. You had to check the fridge temperature twice a day and if it dropped below a safe level, you’d need to throw everything away. This was beginning to look like a full-time job and as I already had one of those, it was back to the drawing board.  While I was tossing around ideas, I came across Mark Dennis, a man who lived in a rural area across town who had a very healthy veggie garden and had built a simple fruit and veg stand outside his house where he shared any excess produce with his neighbors.  Since February 2018, thanks to one Facebook page and the power of social media, there are nearly 200 Community Fruit and Veg Stands either built or under construction around New Zealand.

When it came to finding a location for our stand I wanted something that would have easy access for everyone but off council land, so we wouldn’t need to go through any extra red tape which generally slow things down considerably.  I approached a local church on the main road which had plenty of car parks outside and a large front garden.  They were very keen to get involved and offered up their land after I presented the idea to their committee. 

These stands are working well in all sorts of different locations from the very wealthy to the more poverty-stricken areas. I live in quite an affluent area so when I went out to our local community with the idea, I had many offers from people to volunteer on the stand and donate to it but, when I asked if they would take from it, the answer was a clear NO.  It took a while (and is still a work in progress) to convince people that it’s for EVERYONE not only people in financial need.  To me, it’s about reducing waste and keeping edible food out of the landfill.  We have a local supermarket which donates boxes of fruit and veg which are perfectly fine to eat, but that is not good enough to sell and a bakery that gives us whatever they haven’t sold after their Sunday markets around the city.  Before we came along, this food was being dumped in the rubbish bins.  We also have neighbors with fruit trees in their gardens and these are often picked and shared on the stand along with vegetables and herbs.  We have a black plastic bin near the stand for any food that’s no good and this is collected by a local pig farmer once a week.  Our stand is looked after by the community in general and everyone just keeps an eye on it to make sure it is tidy so we haven’t needed a formal roster.  We do have regular volunteers who go to the local supermarket and bakery during the week to bring bulk lots of food to the stand.  We’ve had such a good response from the community and realize that people are coming from a much wider region than we originally expected. I’ve spoken to solo parents, pensioners and low-income families who have said that the stand is a game changer and has often made the difference between whether the family had food on the table or not.  I’ve seen school children stop by the stand on the way to school and pick up a roll or an apple and then there are those who are forever grateful to be able to pick up a single lemon for a dish that can cost a small fortune at the shops but are growing abundantly in neighborhood back gardens for a good chunk of the year.

This brings me onto another project.  A friend of mine, Di Celliers, started the charity Community Fruit Harvesting in 2011 after being dismayed to see fallen fruit rotting on the ground.  She has put together an enormous network of pickers, tree owners, and preservers who basically pick and process fruit and pass them on to charities. Our fruit and veg stand is often a recipient of a crate of fruit or some bottles of jams and locals know to leave empty glass jars at the stand for those preservers to use.  While the group still picks from people’s gardens they have expanded to pick vast amounts of produce from farms at the end of the season when it’s not viable for the farmers to pay laborers to pick end-of-season fruit.  The charity might have 30 pickers arrive and strip the trees in a couple of hours then load up their cars and trucks and share the fruit within their communities.  This is a fantastic way to get people involved in a project that has huge benefits to so many.

In closing, I’d like to say thank you again to the City Repair Project for inspiring others to improve their communities wherever they may be around the world.