Tiny Trowel, a relatively new initiative, seeks to engage the wider community to supply excess fresh fruit and veggies from back yard gardens to not-for-profit food relief providers and empower people to develop sustainable food growing practices.

Crowd Harvests were developed as one practice to achieve this goal. Crowd Harvests are an online communication tool designed to redirect food gardening excess towards those facing food insecurity. Crowd Funding with a twist!

The initiative described by its founder in Melbourne has won awards from local government and was a finalist in the 2017 Banksia Sustainability Awards.

The Tiny Trowel organiser says:
Why develop Crowd Harvests? As a member of a faith community, I became aware of heightened need for food relief in early 2016. My friends working in the sector were telling me that demand for food relief was increasing towards breaking point. Church conference leaders were driving conversations around the sudden increasing demand for food relief across all Victoria.

When I dug a little deeper, I heard some stories of people receiving food relief parcels containing rotting fruit and vegetables. Now, it is a real kick in the guts to be down on your luck, go for help, and then receive rotting food.

One friend leading a church was so appalled, a process was initiated to change the food relief practices at her agency. Rather than give out rotting food, this church set aside $7,000 a month to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for their people.

Through this contact, I heard stories of women and their children living in cars, having fled domestic violence – with nothing to eat. All they could receive was 2 minute noodles and fruit.
Melbourne can do better! So, I enrolled in a City of Melbourne incubator class ‘Doing Something Good’ to explore self-sustainable ideas to meet the food needs of those in crisis.

After engaging in feasibility studies, surveys, and analysis, I decided Crowd Harvest would be an effective strategy: create events where anyone in the community could donate their home grown excess to an established not-for-profit.  I established an online communications and marketing strategy to convince community members to engage in behavioural change by donating home grown excess produce to STREAT, The Salvos, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, The Green Café, Preston DIVRS, Liberty Church Epping and Rowville Community Kitchen.  I further pursued media coverage to expediently increase public awareness.

Projected benefits

  • Redirecting potential waste, rotting on plants, into the hands of people in food crisis
  • Create social cohesion and community connectedness by back yard food showing a care and concern towards people in need Reduction in financial outlay by the not-for-profits in the sector
  • Fresh, wholesome good food going to people in crisis

The capacity to meet demand met by not-for-profits was projected to be very significant.

Crowd Harvests

1. Seeds for Christmas: The community were asked to send packets of food seeds in a Christmas card to the refugee centre, STREAT or Preston DIVRS where recipients would potentially be empowered to grow their own food. Thousands of seed packets were sent! Diggers and Yates sent large parcels of seeds! Refugees jumped for joy as not only were they enabled to grow their own food, as it also reconnected them to peace time activities.

2. Herbs for Australia Day: The community were asked to divide herb plants, and take small cuttings to the ASRC and The Green Café Hawthorn, where recipients would potentially be empowered to grow their own food. Hundreds of Herb plants were delivered! Food not Bombs took 15 trays, with 20 pots of herbs in each! Refugees jumped for joy as not only were they enabled to grow their own food, but it reconnected them to peace time activities.

Bang – now that’s results!

Tomatoes for Easter, Autumn, and Winter Citrus have all been run with similar responses.  Impact increased since I was put on community radio and in newspaper print. Other organisations took initiatives and copied the concept or changed their practices. There is such positive change in behavior that the produce from back yards is starting to impact the health and well being of those facing serious food crisis/insecurity. Furthermore, some food relief agencies have reviewed their practices and are actively seeking out opportunities to collaborate on farming small urban land plots for the benefit of their recipients.

Once individuals become self sustaining with food practices, they will no longer need to attend a food relief agency. Further, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced through the plants themselves and by reducing food miles – just walk into your back yard and get your food.

Society benefits when all people are nourished adequately. Learning outcomes in children are improved, behavioral outcomes are improved, positive health outcomes are improved, and overall social cohesion encouraged. The initiative allows for generous people to connect directly to those in food crisis, reducing the impact on governmental services and funding.

Funding towards Crowd Harvests would enable increased reach through Facebook advertising, and print advertising. Any community in any state can replicate the concept of a Crowd Harvest. Any individual can send excess food gardening resources to their local not-for-profit. Just get in touch with them first and make some agreed arrangements. To comply with government regulations, garden produce should only be sent to others in the same state. Generous providers must ensure that seeds, plants or edible food is fresh, clean, disease-free, chemical free and viable.

Considering such a small amount of funding and time has yielded such a significant outcome, there is good reason to forecast a radical change in the food relief sector.

Contact Tiny Trowel through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tinytrowel/ or email: tinytrowel7@gmail.com