Around the UK, there are many people who do not have enough to eat. Many cannot afford the basics, while many more are suffering in food deserts. Many eat diets lacking in nutritional content simply because they cannot afford to sustain the cost of a healthier diet. Meanwhile, there are those of us who are lucky enough to grow at least some of our own food. Often, we take our good fortune for granted. In this article, therefore, we will talk about how to donate excess produce from your polytunnel.
Why Donate Excess Produce?
While politicians fail to support those who are suffering, and many more people fall into poverty here in the UK each year, it is vitally important that we all spare a thought for those who are less fortunate than us. Often, people who cannot afford food have found themselves in the situation through no fault of their own. 8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to afford to eat, and 4.7 million of these people live in severely food insecure homes.
To Help Rebuild Community & Ensure Everyone Has The Food They Have a Right To
Food banks are disgusting. They simply should not be required in our modern society. And yet they have sprung up all across the UK. Food banks cater to an urgent need. But they do not deliver what is really needed. People need access to good, healthy, real food – not just tins of beans and loafs of bread.
But more than this – they need to be given back their dignity. We need to move away from the feelings of isolation and shame associated with accepting hand-outs, and let people become part of their communities once more. We need to move away from the idea that we are handing out charity to ‘needy’ people. Instead, we need to think about donating what we have to spare and sharing it with everyone in our local communities.
To Help Combat Food Waste
Those who do have enough food often waste it without a second thought. Food waste is a major problem here in the UK and around the globe. 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by farmers, growers, manufacturers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and food service companies in the UK each year. 250,000 tonnes of that food is still edible. That food would have been enough for 650 million meals. Householders also throw out a lot of good food each year. In the United Kingdom, the average household with children discards approximately £700 of edible food annually.
As individual consumers, and as polytunnel growers, we have a moral duty to help to curb that excessive and horrendous waste. We can do our part by making sure that any excess produce we grow goes to feed people, whether they are people in need, or simply other people in our communities.
Charities and Groups That Accept Fresh Produce
Unfortunately, there are a number of the challenges for a home grower wishing to donate fresh, home-grown produce. Certain charity or community groups are not able to accept fresh produce. Sometimes, the issue is one of logistics. Many food bank setups cannot manage the infrastructure required to store and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables. Or they may have issues regarding the distribution channels for the food collected. That said, there is usually someone who will be able to accept and share/ give out the food you want to give.
Food Sharing and Food Waste Reduction for Commercial Growers
If you are a commercial polytunnel grower, then you can donate your excess produce through a number of different groups. Fareshare is the largest such group in the UK. It is set up to collect larger quantities of food from growers and businesses, however. So if you are an individual looking to donate a smaller amount, then they cannot usually help.
Donating Excess Food and Food Waste Reduction for Domestic Growers/ Individuals
If you are a small-scale, domestic grower, you can still donate your excess food. You can consider the food sharing app, Olio. This app simply links those who have excess food to others who can use or distribute it.
Another brilliant option for small-scale growers is to donate excess fresh produce to the Community Fridge network. Larger growers and retailers also distribute their excess goods across this network. But even if you just have a small amount of excess every now and then, you are likely to be able to find a nearby Community Fridge that will accept it. Simply find a fridge close to you, and contact them to see if they can accept the food you would like to donate.
There are now more than 80 such fridges around the UK and the network aims to open 100 more in 2020. If there is not already one close to where you live, perhaps you could be involved in setting one up? Spread the word with #CommunityFridge.
Community larders or community pantries are also springing up across the UK as an alternative to food banks. No referrals are needed to use them and so people can access them regardless of their situation and fill their shopping bags for a small fee (say, £2-3 per week, or for a small annual subscription and a small amount per shop). You may be able to get in touch and donate food to a community larder scheme in your area. It is worth contacting any likely schemes near where you live to ask whether they can accept fresh, home-grown food donations.
There are also a number of other ways to share food – including through networks that are specific to certain areas. So wherever you live, it is worthwhile spending some time online to find out who else might be linking growers and those who need food in your area.
You may also find that religious communities also accept donations of fresh produce for their meals and events throughout the year. So it could also be a great idea to approach your local church, or mosque, synagogue etc… If they do not need your excess food, they may well know someone who would.
Sharing Food in other Ways With Your Local Community
It is worthwhile bearing in mind that you do not necessarily have to go through a charity or intermediary. You could also share food with your local community in more direct ways.
For example, you could consider making the effort to get to know your neighbours. This could be as simple as knocking on a few front doors. Communities are often sadly fragmented. Many of us do not know out neighbours in the way that people used to do. But simply knocking on a neighbour’s door with a bag of excess fruit or vegetables from your polytunnel – or calling to someone passing by your garden that you see often but do not know could be a lovely way to forge a new connection.
You could also get more involved in community groups or leisure clubs in your area. You might even offer to prepare a meal for a social event in a local community hall or other venue. If communal dining or food sharing are not already occurring where you live, perhaps you could be the one to make these things happen.
There are plenty of different ways to donate or share excess produce and make sure that nothing goes to waste. You can be part of making the right to food a reality for everyone in the UK. You can do your bit to reduce food waste and make our food systems in general more ethical and sustainable.
Do you donate excess produce from your polytunnel? Do you have any tips to help other growers to connect with their local community? Can you suggest anywhere that the food would be particularly useful? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.