We sat down with Helen Andrew, Founder of Spare Harvest, a website focused on connecting local food producers like urban farmers with local buyers.
Helen also has a background in gardening, and we discussed the links between gardening and urban farming many people overlook.
UV: For those who didn't read your previous article on Spare Harvest, can you talk a little bit about your background, Spare Harvest's mission, and the progress you've made in the past year?
Helen Spare Harvest is a way to give new life to food and garden waste. We do this by providing you a simple and easy to use sharing platform so you can share, swap or sell what you have spare in your homes and gardens.
(People can offer or sell) Spare produce, pots, seeds, plants, food scraps, coffee grounds , glass bottles, jams and any other food and garden items.
Our mission is to keep these resources circulating in our communities for as long as possible so we can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. As they say – your trash is someone else’s treasure.
Spare Harvest was started when I moved to our current home and inherited some established fruit trees. I finished the season burying lots of mandarins into the ground because my existing network didn’t want them as they also had too much.
I needed to find a way to share my spare produce with other people in my community. Since last year the community has grown to over 500 members who have created manylistings.
Most of the listing as here on the Sunshine Coast (Australia), but we are starting to see people sharing in other parts of Australia and the USA. As more people hear about us our members are growing and we can make a real impact in our community and the environment.
Our goal is to grow globally so that regardless of where you live, work or travel you can meet a local member and maybe get from fresh produce as well.
UV: What are some gardening fundamentals that people jumping into urban farming
may not even know about? What are a few concepts that technology like sensors and sophisticated software will never change?
Helen: I will say up front that I have not had any training in horticulture, so these are my thoughts based on my experience as a hobby gardener.
Technology only replicates the traditional environment, so understanding what our plants need from the environment is fundamental. For me it is all about the soil. I liken the soil to our guts.
When our guts are healthy, then we are healthy. The same principles apply to plants. When the soil is healthy then the plants are healthy. So investigate a good probiotic for plants and apply it to the soil and the plant.
UV: What crops would you suggest are easier winners for an urban farmer to start off with?
Helen: The answer to this question lies in your environment. For me tomatoes are easy to grow when we do not have humidity, so I grow them in late winter and early spring.
For other environments, they could grow tomatoes all year round. I can grow climbing spinach easily regardless of the environment. Based on my experience definitely tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers and my top pick is herbs.
UV: What would you estimate your yield to be per square meter for some of the crops in your garden?
Helen: I have no idea as my garden is not designed for yield. My garden is not only about what I harvest but also about I invest.
I get to be with nature, learn new things, teach my children where their food comes from and feel that sense of accomplishment even if I only get one pomegranate. Gardening is about the journey, not the destination.
UV: Someone recently asked me about the best crops that don't need much watering, what would you suggest from your experience?
Helen: There are some plants that will not need as much water as others, but only after they have been established. If you water a deeper rooted plant early and get it established, it will need less water ongoing.
But another way to look at this is to make your garden more water proof. Composting, water less often but deeper, establish the plant before the heat, mulch and water at night.
With our climate changing, we need to be more adaptable in how we prepare our garden for these changes. So be smart about the plants you choose. If you really want to plant lettuce, then prepare the environment for it.
UV: Is there a piece of conventional gardening wisdom that you don't necessarily agree with?
Helen: I don’t agree with the use of pesticides. I have chosen not to use them and so sometimes I don’t get it right and my plants get disease or attacked by insects. I take the wins when I can. I don’t have the pressure to supply produce for anyone other than my family.
UV: Why do you think we are so inefficient with the food that we grow (in many cases)? How do you envision the intersection of urban farming and services like Spare Harvest?
Helen: I believe the inefficiencies started when we really started to commercialise food production and when we made advances in transportation.
In times past, we needed to grow locally and transport locally because we did not have the ability to transport the way we currently do.
What this did was make us eat more seasonally and eat more frugally. We valued the food we produced because we knew who grew it and how it was produced. We also valued it because we had limited access to food outside our community.
Spare Harvest encourages us to get back to the way we used to grow our own food. Eat seasonally, grow what you can and share what you have spare. I can’t seem to grow carrots, but my daughter loves them. They are a staple in my home. I can grow pumpkins, so I would love to be able to connect with someone in my community to share my glut of pumpkins and partake in their excess carrots.
My hope is that Spare Harvest will take us back when we had inefficiencies and waste.
UV: If people want to learn more about Spare Harvest and your service, where do they go?
Helen: To find out more, signup and create a listing head to www.spareharvest.com. You can also download the app from Google Play or the App Store. Membership is free for individuals, community & school gardens and community organizations.