FIGHT FOOD WASTE: OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn.
FIGHT FOOD WASTE: OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn. Livia Giacomini

Global food fighter wants our wisdom

AUSTRALIA'S first "rescued food" supermarket, the OzHarvest Market, has opened in Sydney.

It's just another one of the "firsts" created by OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn and highlights her zeal to end food wastage on a worldwide scale.

The 66-year-old former South African said she felt compelled to start the social enterprise after working in the hospitality industry and seeing firsthand the enormous amount of unnecessary food waste.

"On the one hand I set up OzHarvest (which collects quality excess food from commercial outlets and delivers it directly to more than 1300 charities) to make sure that good food feeds hungry people," she said.

"At that time, I didn't understand the scale of the problem. Now that we do, we have a huge global mission." 

Research reveals Australia's shocking food wastage figures. According to the Federal Government's National Food Waste Strategy 2016-2027 position statement, we produce 7.3 million tonnes of waste each year.

Taking this down to a figure an individual can grasp, that's 298kg per person. Some 2.5 million tonnes of that waste is generated by households. The government aims to see Australia halve those numbers by 2030.

Ms Kahn's passion for the OzHarvest project is underpinned by these mind-boggling figures, and an indomitable desire to feed the hungry.

Her business acumen was honed running a successful corporate events company.

In 2004 she started with one van in Sydney. In 2005, after having the laws changed to make it safe for companies to donate surplus food, the national food waste rescue organisation now rescues and re-homes 180 tonnes of donated perishable food each week.

It is sourced from more than 3500 food donors, including supermarkets, hotels, airports, wholesalers, farmers, corporate events, caterers, shopping centres, delicatessens and cafes, restaurants, film and TV shoots and even boardrooms.

"While our purpose is to nourish our country, it certainly extends globally in that we have to shift and change behaviour so that a third of all food does not go to waste and that there is enough food produced to feed all the hungry people on our planet. And we have to make sure it gets to them," Ms Kahn said.

She added that each year in Australia, four million people needed some kind of food support.

"That is unconscionable in a country that is as exquisite, beautiful and abundant as ours," she said.

"So I think I have a job for the rest of my life."   

One of the OzHarvest vehicles that transports donated food for repurposing.
One of the OzHarvest vehicles that transports donated food for repurposing. OzHarvest

How does OzHarvest work?

Seven days a week, paid OzHarvest drivers and assistant volunteers collect food in their yellow-branded vans that criss-cross Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Newcastle and Perth, plus in several regional areas.

This food is then delivered free of charge to more than 1300 charitable organisations.

Most is delivered directly to the charities on the same day it is collected, with surplus food stored overnight in OzHarvest coolrooms and going out the next morning.

Some of the food is kept back by OzHarvest chefs to use in the Cooking for a Cause program that turns rescued food into cooked meals, which is then delivered to charities.

All sorts of charities benefit, including women's refuges, community centres, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, homeless support services, soup kitchens, the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, the Red Cross and schools.

The latest OzHarvest project and Australia's first rescued food supermarket, the OzHarvest Market, is based on a "take what you need, give if you can" philosophy.

Relying largely on the generosity of donors, volunteers and corporate support, next on the expansion agenda is the new OzHarvest Food Truck designed to cater for corporate, community and private functions and to help feed communities in need around Sydney.

OzHarvest also runs the educational programs NEST and Nourish.

The curriculum-aligned FEAST education program for primary school students is being piloted and OzHarvest hopes to roll it out this year, starting in NSW.

"We literally can change the life of a youth who might have been, and I use this word very seriously, discarded in that they have never had a positive learning experience, never succeeded in anything," Ms Kahn said.

"They go through our Nourished training program and graduate and they say that we have opened a door they never knew existed."

The Nourished program takes at-risk youth aged 16-25 through an accredited Certificate II in Hospitality or Kitchen Operations. The free program, run in Sydney, Adelaide and the Gold Coast, is a stepping stone for participants into the hospitality industry. It equips them with a range of skills including cooking, coffee making and food safety.

"It's those moments, and they happen almost every day, that keep me totally passionate and driven to make OzHarvest as impactful as possible," Ms Kahn said.

"The excitement and passion of doing what I do has never left me."

And it's that passion for change that the fully energised 66-year-old wants other senior Australians to take on and apply within their communities.   

FIGHT FOOD WASTE: Seniors are encouraged to get actively involved with OzHarvest.
FIGHT FOOD WASTE: Seniors are encouraged to get actively involved with OzHarvest. Jon Bader

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