CropFest urges us to ‘buy ugly’ and support farmers

By Mariam Digges

CropFest urges us to ‘buy ugly’ and support farmers
A staggering 20-40% of all fruit and vegetables rejected from sale due to their imperfect appearance. CropFest is raising awareness about the 'flawed' food culture currently impacting farmer's livelihood.

A staggering 20-40% of all fruit and vegetables rejected from sale due to their imperfect appearance. CropFest is set to transform produce of all shapes and sizes into delicious tastings, along with live music, talks from farmers and culinary masterclasses. It has been designed to raise awareness about the flawless food culture that is currently impacting Australian Farmers’ livelihoods. We chat to Youth Food Movement founders Alexandra Iljadica and Joanna Baker about their green uprising.

Where did the inspiration for the Youth Food Movement come from?

We met at university while both studying a nutrition science degree, but had a desire to learn more about food than just what it does to your body. As we started to learn more about where our food comes from, how it is produced and what impacts the food system has on the environment we were keen to see if our friends and friends of friends were also keen to learn about this stuff. It turns out there were hordes of keen beans ready to learn more, but most importantly do something to find solutions to our food system in crisis.

We also wanted to create a collective voice for young Australians, so that we can have a say in the decisions that impact our food future. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be too long before it will be our responsibility to feed the nation sustainably and ethically. We’re the farmers, the entrepreneurs, the policy makers and the consumers of a different food future, so it’s pretty important that we get included in the decisions that are being made today about Australian food and agriculture.

What are some of the issues you wish to highlight at the CropFest event?

The main issue we are tackling right now that effects not just our farmers, but all of us, is something called ‘appearance standards’. These are basically rules about what shape, colour and size our fruit and veg needs to be before it can be sold in shops. Supermarkets and food retailers have these rules because they know that if produce doesn’t look a particular way, people won’t buy it. This means that huge amounts of delicious, wholesome, nutritious food won’t make it to our plates, simply because they aren’t “perfectly shaped”.

This is a huge problem, with an estimated 20-40% of all fruit and vegetables rejected from sale due to appearance quality standards. This is what we’re trying to combat at our CropFest event.

What, do you think, are some of the biggest threats faced by farmers today?

Our farmers are a resilient bunch.  The huge quantities of high quality food they produce despite our challenging climate, a high Australian dollar, high land and input costs (comparative to the rest of the world), never ceases to amaze.  The truth is our farmers face many challenges but one of the biggest threats is the fact that there are fewer and fewer young people choosing agriculture as a career today.  The average age of the Aussie farmer is around 56, so it poses a very big question of who is, in fact, going to produce our food in 10 or 20 years time?

Interestingly, we are finding more and more young people who we meet through the Youth Food Movement network actually want to put their hands in the soil and grow food for their communities. However, because many come from urban backgrounds, it’s difficult to know where to start. This is something we’re keen to learn and do more about at YFM.

What are some of the changes you would like to see adopted by chefs?

Chefs in Australia and internationally are really driving conversation and action around adopting more sustainable diets. You only have to look at Matthew Evans on ABC or Matt Moran on the Lifestyle Food channel on Foxtel to see this in action. It’s great to see these shows and others go beyond talking about the techniques of preparing food, to talking about the provenance of ingredients and the faces behind the produce. It really goes to show that not all food is created equal, and when you can chef’s are a huge part of demanding and shaping a more sustainable food future for Australia.

For our latest project CropFest what food we cook up for the event is determined by nature – whatever grows wonky is what we get. This is vastly different from how menus and meals are usually planned in the kitchen. The chefs we have working with us have been really enthusiastic about rising to the challenge and can’t wait to taste what scrumptious offerings they’ll prepare.

Not all chefs work this way however, so for those interested in creating a more sustainable menu for their diners they can take a few simple steps such as creating seasonal menus or building direct relationships with farmers to plan menus based on what is available, wonky and all.

Can you list some ways we can all change our cooking habits and minimise food wastage?

As someone who eats, buys and loves food, anyone has the power to help stop this waste. It’s simply a matter of making your food choices count. As part of CropFest we have 3 simple steps that anyone can take:

1. Go Buy Ugly.

So much wonky or misshapen fruit and veg is wasted because we don’t (and can’t) buy it. Because we don’t buy it, retailers won’t stock it. Buying and supporting misshapen produce where you can is the most powerful way to change that.

2. Grow it yourself. No seriously.

Fruit and veggies come in all shapes and sizes and no-one knows that better than the person who grows it. Seeing how veggies grow in your own backyard can transform your idea of what is truly a ‘perfect’ veggie.

3.Tell your friends

Food retailers respond to consumers. By sending a loud message that you support eating the whole crop, we can help change the shape of produce in our shops and marketplaces. Write a letter, make a call or why not shoot a friendly post to their Facebook wall to make your voice heard.

Your choices are powerful. Join us in saying ‘yes’ to eating the whole crop. Find out more by heading to our website:

What is coming up next for the Youth Food Movement?

2014 for us is about growing the movement across the country. We have chapters in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and have been chatting with some eager people in Adelaide, Perth, Western Sydney and Hobart. We know this won’t happen over night, but through the chapters that have been set up we can see that there is nothing more powerful and influential than an intrinsically motivated group of people.  The diversity of skills and knowledge within a collective of people brings enormous strength to YFM, so this is exactly what we’ll be brewing over the coming year.

In Sydney specifically we are about to begin a series of events called Meet the Maker. This project is all about bringing the farmer into the city to meet the folk they feed. Held in an inner-city pub, guests will mingle with fellow sustainable food supporters and hear a brief talk from two local farmers and get to buy some produce at our temporary night market. Each event will be a hub to initiate lasting relationships; between producers and conscious consumers; among guests themselves, hungry to meet other food-focused folk; and between guests and the Youth Food Movement to continue their journey toward supporting a fairer, more sustainable food future for Sydney and Australia.

The amazing team up north in Brisbane is also running a CropFest event which will be held on the 21st March 2014, while the Melbourne crew and mulling over ideas of where YFM can best help the food movement in Victoria.


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