31/01/2017 - 14:55

Harvesting opportunity

31/01/2017 - 14:55

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An empty block cum ecological oasis in East Perth is providing opportunities for Perth's unemployed by meeting the demand for fresh produce.

Harvesting opportunity
Toby Whittington is using urban farming as a platform to create employment opportunities. Photos: Attila Csaszar

An empty block cum ecological oasis in East Perth is providing opportunities for Perth's unemployed by meeting the demand for fresh produce.

More than 120 long-term unemployed Western Australians have grown their future opportunities at an urban farm in East Perth during the past two years, supplying fresh produce to more than 30 restaurants and cafes across the metro area four days a week. 

Recruits of all ages from the federal government’s work for the dole project make up most of the Gladstone Street Farm team, which is led by local not-for-profit social enterprise Green World Revolution.

Co-founder Toby Whittington said although the original idea for Green World Revolution was to help solve environmental problems and promote urban greening, he quickly realised the potential to tackle social issues at the same time.

“I believe we can all generate our own income from our own hands,” Mr Whittington told Business News.

“These days our focus is more on alleviating poverty felt by people living on unemployment benefits by creating employment opportunities with urban farming.

“We’re able to show and teach these unemployed people we’re working with that it doesn’t take a huge amount of resources to produce something we can then make a living out of.”

After receiving $50,000 in seed funding through the Western Australian Social Enterprise Fund, Green World Revolution opened its first urban farm in 2013.

Since then it has created 12 paid opportunities, including six permanent positions within its current production team and various contract jobs involving the construction of planter boxes.

The team has just started creating a second farm, with 25 planter boxes to line the Art Gallery of WA’s courtyard as part of its AGWA Botanical 2017 collaboration project, which will provide greens for its Arthouse Dine restaurant.

Art Gallery of WA director of engagement Chris Travers said the project would provide a window to the botanical world for visitors.

“AGWA’s strapline is ‘See Things Differently” so the prospect of working with Toby and his Green World Revolution team on an innovative farm garden in our ‘backyard’ was intriguing," Mr Travers told Business News

"It’s the sort of ‘food chain’ that makes a lot of sense – helping people get back to work, growing beautiful food in an unusual space, and sending it to the plates of Perth’s specialist restaurants – including our own Arthouse Dine." 

 The team is currenlty working on building planter boxers for the AGWA Botanical project. 

Green World Revolution's third urban farm will be built on Wellington Street in the coming months.

“We’re interested in taking on all sorts of land opportunities that are underutilised, unused and unusual, as far as we’re concerned no space is too small or too big for us to consider,” Mr Whittington said.

“Ultimately it’s a two-fold motivation – to grow jobs and green the city, so we’re always looking at opportunities to capitalise this.

“I see us as a pioneer in the field of social enterprise but also in urban farming in WA. We’re really some of the first people doing this here at a commercial level with unemployed people.”

The Standard, Lot Twenty, The Hummus Club, Greenhouse Perth, Moon Café, the Flour Factory and Stables Bar are among Gladstone Street Farm’s regular customers, and Mr Whittington said its success as a supplier came down to quality produce and nurturing relationships.

“Small cafes or high-end restaurants, both want high-quality food,” he said.

“We’re using a high-quality seed stock and a product that’s fresh; its 20 minutes between coming out of our growth system to potentially being on the plate.

“And we have a very direct relationship with all of our customers; chefs meet the unemployed guys we’re working with so we can really tailor what we’re planting and growing to suit their needs.”

Mr Whittington said another major appeal for local hospitality venues was the fact his business was minimising the environmental impact of microgreens, which were usually packaged in plastic and imported from Victoria.

The team delivers via a low-impact electric bike, reuses the equivalent of nearly 10,000 pots and trays a year, and collects raw food waste to turn into soil.

Mr Whittington said the ultimate goal would be to partner with organisations worldwide and roll out a global model of the Green World Revolution social enterprise, but for now the focus was on cultivating operations in Perth.

“Our farm employs six people, which is great, but that’s not really making a dent on poverty or unemployment in WA,” he said.

“We want to work towards introducing a farm like this in every major suburb in Perth, to have 100 farms with 600 people employed.

“Then we can start to talk about how we’re having an economic effect on poverty and unemployment.”

Green World Revolution engages long-term unemployed people from the Work for the Dole project.

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