Leigh Winter from Bellofoodbox

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As awareness and knowledge grows in the world about the health, environmental and social costs of what we eat, more and more people are choosing to set up, or become a part of, local food systems. We catch up with Leigh Winter, Coordinator of bellofoodbox, to find out how we’re reacting to this social change on a local level.

What is bellofoodbox, and how did it come to fruition?

bellofoodbox is a not-for-profit group which distributes boxes of fresh local fruit and vegetables each week. We support local food and aim to get sustainably grown, seasonal food from the grower to the customer at a reasonable price, giving everyone access to healthy produce.

It came about as an initiative of the Northbank Community Garden, when two of the garden’s original members, Steve Smith and Donovan Craig, saw a need for people across the community to have easy and affordable access to fresh, chemical free food.

They knew the garden itself couldn’t produce the variety and quantity on its own to feed so many families on a consistent weekly basis, but with so many farmers and gardeners in the area, it could be possible to work together to achieve this goal. They got a small group together to begin the bellofoodbox project and ran a trial of the scheme for 2 months. It was promising enough to open to the public in April 2011 and is still going a year later!
What area does this project encompass?

As bellofoodbox is about re-localising food systems, supporting local growers and getting the freshest food possible, our policy is to source produce from within a 200 km radius. In reality, most of the food comes from between 3 and 70 km away, with the furthest we’ve ever had produce travel being 160 km.

We are so fortunate in this region to have such a variety of growing climates. This means we get a wider variety of produce and an extended growing period for many items, so there’s really no reason to go further afield to find most of the fresh fruit and veg a family would need.
bellofoodbox is an initiative of Northbank Community Garden. Tell us about this … organisation.

The Northbank Community Garden Inc. (NCG Inc.) is a not-for-profit community group run wholly by volunteers passionate about a fairer food future. It has delivered many local food projects in Bellingen, including the Northbank Community Garden, bellofoodbox, riverbank regeneration, Community Worm Farm project and in partnership with Transition Bellingen, Bellingen Chamber of Commerce and Bellingen Shire Council, several Edible Streetscapes projects, which focus on increasing food plants in public places for the public to forage. Contact Nic Denshire on president@northbankgarden.org.au to find out more about NCG Inc.

The garden itself has over 100 fruit trees, medicinal herb gardens, rare vegetables and a seedling nursery which sells to businesses and the community, encouraging local food growing. Community members and businesses have supported the garden infrastructure, including a stage, kitchen, pizza oven, chook yards, sheds and 1.5 kW solar array, making the garden self sufficient in electricity … and would appreciate similar support with their next goal to build a permanent toilet. A dedicated team of volunteers work to maintain the space, and the public is encouraged to get involved and pick from the garden by donation. Call Jess, the site manager, on 0407 743 439 for more info.
Leigh, you’re the coordinator of this community project, and it’s obviously something that you’re passionate about. What do you see as the major benefits of having a program like bellofoodbox in our region?

Eating food that’s been grown locally and sustainably is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body and the environment. Reducing the distance food has to travel from the plant to our plates: reduces the impact of fuel consumption on the environment; reduces the time food spends in storage, so it maintains more nutrients and lasts longer; minimises freight costs; and helps to keep local growers in business.

Buying local food grown organically, biodynamically or with little to no sprays, supports the local grower to continue using sustainable farming practises.

The thing I like best about bellofoodbox is the way it encourages people to get creative with food and change the way they eat. When they get a box of food that’s been selected for them from a range of locally grown produce, it encourages them to try ingredients they may not otherwise risk, and they are then better equipped for embracing local food.
The project celebrated its first birthday in May. How have you seen it grow and evolve?

As one of the trial members in its early days, I’ve seen the project grow from a couple of volunteers packing a small amount of $30 boxes a week with produce from a handful of growers, to almost 50 boxes a week, with three different box sizes filled with produce sourced from a pool of over 30 growers.

In the last year, bellofoodbox has received a grant from Bellingen Shire Council to buy a mobile coolroom, increased the variety of produce substantially as more growers have come on board and has formed a committee of dedicated community members and business people. Bellofoodbox has plans to move to a more central location in Bellingen and continues to provide a fun and friendly space for many volunteers.
Has the project been readily accepted by the community?

It’s getting there! Taking the legwork out of buying fresh, spray-free food has been a draw-card for many families. Some customers support the community-based or ecological principles we espouse; others feel it’s just plain good value for money and are happy to support their local economy. It does require a change in the ways we think about eating and shopping for food, but I encourage everyone to try it.
Are there any other projects like bellofoodbox in Australia at the moment?

There are many similar food co-ops and box schemes across the nation, but most seem to be based in cities or larger communities. We’re certainly not the only ones working for a fairer food system, but I believe we’re one of the few projects like this running in a small community. The common themes are supporting sustainable growing practices and/or supporting local food production. We’re aiming to do both and so far, this has been achievable.
We see the price wars between the big supermarket chains and how they impact upon farmers. How do you feel bellofoodbox helps alleviate this pressure for local farmers?

Several growers have expressed concerns about not getting fair prices for their food. I believe that by encouraging local food systems, we support growers to continue sustainable farming practises, and by offering them an outlet for their produce, we give them another possible income option. Hopefully bellofoodbox will reach the point where local growers can count on it as an income source and have more choice in where they sell their produce.
Why should people open their arms to bellofoodbox?

Because it’s great! Of course, I’m a little biased, but when we have so much wonderful food growing in our region, why would you want to buy similar things that have travelled from elsewhere? Ok, so you may not get tomatoes all year round, but that’s the nature of real food. I understand not everyone is quite ready for such a change, but I urge people to at least think about where food is coming from and what it really costs.
How can people take advantage of this program, either as a consumer or a grower?

Order a box for a few weeks and try it out.

Volunteer with us to see the project in action, meet customers and enjoy a social afternoon with bellofoodbox helpers – we pack and distribute boxes on Wednesday afternoons from 12.30 – 5.30pm.

We’re always looking for more growers, so if you’ve got produce you’d like to donate or sell to bellofoodbox, please contact us.
Thanks Leigh.

To find out more 

Go to www.bellofoodbox.org.au to read about us, check out our FAQs, read past newsletters and other updates in our news section, or subscribe to our mailing list. You can also email: info@bellofoodbox.org.au find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/bellofoodbox or phone me on 0400 146 085.

This story was published in issue 21 Coffs Coast Focus

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