22 December 2022

Southern Harvest Association is bringing food straight from the farm to the people

| Lucy Ridge
table of zucchini, squash, tomatoes, beetroot and more

Southern Harvest Association sources produce from a number of local farms to fill their produce boxes with seasonal produce. Photo: Supplied.

Many people in Canberra are still buying their fresh fruit and vegetables from the big supermarkets, but there’s a local organisation that’s looking to change that with their produce box subscription scheme.

Ruth Gaha-Morris is the operations manager for Southern Harvest Association, a not-for-profit, farmer-led organisation that works to connect local producers and growers with customers.

Ruth said she considered Southern Harvest as a conduit, rather than a middleman.

“Once you bring profit into food distribution something else has to suffer, whether it be the livelihood of the farmers, or the health of the soil, or people not having equitable access to food because you’ve put someone else in the middle who is making a profit,” she told Region.

“Southern Harvest is trying to make the relationship between farmers and consumers as direct as possible.”

Ruth smiles and holds large pumpkin

Ruth Gaha-Morris is the operations manager for not-for-profit organisation Southern Harvest Association. Photo: Supplied.

One of the ways Southern Harvest does this is by running a multi-farm produce box subscription scheme. Households sign up in advance for a full season of weekly or fortnightly seasonal produce boxes. The contents of the boxes are sourced from producers in and around Canberra, and are aggregated from multiple farms by the team at Southern Harvest before being distributed to neighbourhood hubs by volunteers.

Southern Harvest has been running the scheme for several years, and has around 150 subscribers.

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The produce box scheme is based on the consumer supported agriculture (CSA) model where customers and farmers commit to sharing the risks and rewards of the season together in an economy of solidarity. By adding a multi-farm element, Southern Harvest is able to offer a greater range of produce to customers, while easing the workload for farmers.

“The farmers are getting a collective power. For one farmer to run a produce box scheme, it’s a huge amount of administration and they’d need to grow a lot of different things.

“But for an organisation to help 15 farmers to run a scheme together ends up being a similar amount in administration but they are all sharing the costs with members and Southern Harvest is doing the work.”

box of produce

A summer season produce box packed for a subscriber. Photo: Supplied.

Customers can choose the size of their produce box, including the option to add more fruit. For example, subscribers who also have vegetable gardens often supply a list of food they already grow, or people can nominate likes, dislikes, and dietary requirements.

Southern Harvest then allocates the contents of the box according to what the farmers have available, ensuring there is always a good mix of ingredients to make a range of meals, and offer a balanced diet.

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Ruth says that subscribers often tell her that they become better, more creative cooks as they learn to use new ingredients and change the way they eat.

“We have a really diverse bioregion in South East NSW where you can grow food 12 months of the year, it just might not be what people are used to,” Ruth said.

“People are disconnected from what grows locally, and what seasonal eating looks like. So that’s something we’re trying to change.”

crowd of people at outdoor market

Southern Harvest Association also runs the popular Bungendore Harvest Festival each year. Photo: Supplied.

Subscribers can also add additional grocery items to their boxes, such as dairy products, bread, meat, eggs, muesli, soap, jam, olive oil, wine … there’s a long list of local producers in the region who are members.

Southern Harvest uses the Open Food Network platform as an online shop for members, which gives more producers direct access to customers without needing to set up their own online platform, or spend time and energy travelling to and staffing a farmers market stall every weekend.

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Ruth says that the environmental and health benefits are obvious: local, seasonally grown produce is more sustainable for the planet and it’s good for you. But other benefits include community building and developing local relationships.

“People are engaged in this community. We have people going on farm tours to learn about where their food comes from, farmers collaborating to share transport and skills, or members sharing new recipes with each other.

“It’s a community experience that you just don’t get from a supermarket.”

a spread of ingredients

Subscribers to the produce box scheme get a range of seasonal ingredients. Photo: Supplied.

Visit the Southern Harvest website for more details about produce boxes, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram to learn more.

DISCLAIMER: Lucy Ridge is also a part-time employee of Southern Harvest Association.

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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