Securing produce: Volunteers from The Hidden Orchard on a harvest last year. Photo: SUPPLIED

Part of the food security solution

October 26, 2020 BY

ACCORDING to Ellen Burns, founder of The Hidden Orchard, a quarter of Ballarat residents have had to access food relief this year.

With this in mind, the not-for-profit fruit harvesting organisation is working towards solving the city’s food insecurity issue while minimising food waste.

“Food security, sadly, has become more of an issue over COVID,” Ms Burns said. “It’s is a huge problem in Ballarat but it’s not one that people really see of talk about.

“A really large number of residents had to access emergency and relief food and we’re trying to help address that.”

With support from the Ballarat Permaculture Guild and BGT, The Hidden Orchard began in 2017 and have harvested and donated an immense amount of produce since.

As one of the four founders of the group, Ms Burns said they originally got the idea from a collective in Castlemaine called Growing Abundance.

“Like them, we follow a model of thirds, a third goes to the tree owner but usually they either don’t want much, a third goes to the volunteers that help and again people often take less, then at least a third to charity,” she said.

“But we generally give more, closer to 75 per cent of the food to charity.

“We currently distribute to over 30 food relief charities around Ballarat, ranging from Food is Free a public access space, and places like Breezeway meals program, Our Kitchen, Second Bites, groups that do school breakfast programs, meals for homeless.”

During lockdown, the group went on hiatus and took a break from harvesting, and unfortunately over that period the Hidden Orchard’s storage unit was broken into and stolen from.

Although the break-in was devastating, Ms Burns said it hopefully shouldn’t hinder the next season’s harvest.

“Luckily, after I discovered the break-in I contacted our harvest leaders and because of the abrupt end to the season, a lot of them still had some gear at home,” she said.

“A lot of the equipment that we need to harvest like the stick pickers, most of our ladders are actually accounted for and the things that went missing were our cash tin and all of our secateurs.

“I would like to think that whoever stole the stuff didn’t realise they were stealing from a volunteer group but, luckily, it shouldn’t affect our next harvesting season because we have all the basic equipment we need.”

Over time, the group has grown to now include a committee of 13, eight harvest leaders and over 100 volunteers, however, they are always on the lookout for more.

Although donations can be useful to a not-for-profit, Ms Burns said The Hidden Orchard relies most on their volunteers and the hours of work they put in.

“We’re hoping to start up again in November in some capacity and we’re always happy to have more volunteers sign up,” she said.

“One thing we’re really looking for is harvest leaders, people that can actually lead harvest, that’s what allows us to have multiple harvests happening at the same time.

“We’re after people that are willing to step up as a leader, it’s not a very complicated job, to help us increase the volume of harvest with a smaller amount of people.”