A shared meal can inspire discussions, creativity and connection. SHAUNA CARLON reflects on her time working with Jesuit Social Services’ Ecological Justice Hub,  a space for all stages of the food system including growing, harvesting, cooking, sharing and redistributing.  

Shauna (right) and team members from the Ecological Justice Hub.

My involvement with Jesuit Social Services begun in January 2020, as a volunteer at the Community College where I developed educational resources for two sustainability courses. While I was welcomed into the role on site, I, like many others, quickly transitioned to working from home in early March. Having completed a degree in 2019, my bold decision to pursue a career change started to seem increasingly challenging with growing uncertainties associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As I reflected on what might be next, exciting things were happening at the Ecological Justice Hub, a permaculture garden hidden in the streets of Brunswick. Resident chef Johnny Hassan paid close attention to the rising need for food and connection across the community. In response, the Hub began delivering a small number of freshly prepared organic, vegan, gluten and nut free meals to isolated community members during the lockdown.

With increasing restrictions, the program grew rapidly, which created the opportunity for 15 new employees, myself included, to contribute diverse skills to the program. In my role as a Community Engagement Officer, I have collaborated with Moreland City Council, partner organisations and the community to facilitate food relief and ecological justice initiatives. Existing partnerships with CERES Community Environment Park and Fawkner Food Bowls also created the opportunity for employees to become involved with food security initiatives throughout Moreland. With a new team of permaculture gardeners, kitchen assistants, outreach drivers and support officers, the food relief program has flourished into a succinct and effective system of operation.

Each week, we deliver an average of 150 home-style meals and salads using fresh produce from our garden. The meals are prepared using zero waste principles, which involves making the most of fresh produce by using the parts of the vegetables that are usually thrown away. When we do have green waste, it is shared with our chickens, or processed to make compost and biogas. We also deliver packages of essential items from Salvation Army Doorways and the Melbourne Period Project, along with fresh produce donated by Ripe Organics and Local Organic Delivery. The program supports community by facilitating social connection through phone calls, weekly deliveries and material exchanges during times of isolation in a Covid-safe way.

Operating as an essential service during a pandemic required an unprecedented level of strategic planning to meet changing regulations and to keep us and our community safe. The Hub’s community health and wellbeing officer, Dayle Jones, supervised all aspects of the project to ensure we followed and exceeded best practice safety precautions. From interactive daily briefings to risk assessments and Covid-safe policies, the project would not be possible without such caring and cautious planning.

With such a diverse set of skills amongst the team, we have had incredible opportunities to learn from each other. For example, we can often be found socially distanced in the garden while participating in impromptu workshops led by Senior Project Advisor, Michael McGarvie. Topics have included bee keeping, honey extraction, bio-char, composting and backyard chicken maintenance. With team members from diverse cultural backgrounds, being able to share and reflect on cultural knowledge and experiences over a meal or during a zoom meeting has been a valued highlight.

For the team of employees involved, being a part of the program has created an opportunity for connection and collaboration. The experience has not been without its challenges, which has further emphasised the importance of having a supportive team to troubleshoot with. Project Officer Phillip Haddad became known as the go to person for tech support, while Outreach Driver Thea Whitaker continued to surprise us with new skills from studying English literature to working as a professional chef. Collectively, we have expressed a great amount of gratitude for the opportunity to work with and support each other while contributing to circular approaches to food security.

I personally cannot discuss the food relief program without reflecting on the unfortunate reality that it should not be necessary. Oftentimes, alternative options and interventions that enable food security are insufficient, which was particularly evident during the Covid-19 lockdowns. To achieve a just society, all individuals should have access to affordable and nutritious food at all times.

Food security extends beyond having access to essential items and can strengthen our collective social, physical and mental health. Knowing where food comes from and how to care for the land, produce and people involved in production can significantly contribute to achieving a just food system. To this end, community initiatives, knowledge exchanges and strategic policy can all contribute to increasing food security and ecological justice in our community.

The Hub’s commitment to a just food system is evident in the projects and initiatives that have occurred alongside the food relief program. Over the past six months, we have shared our passion for zero waste cooking with the community by hosting two interactive zero waste cooking webinars and developing a zero waste recipe book. We have also prepared and delivered seed raising kits to community members involved in the food relief program and have networked with local businesses and organisations to continue educating and advocating for ecological justice.

Looking ahead, the Hub will soon transition back to its roots in education and demonstration to engage community members in ecological justice. We will continue partnering with local businesses and organisations to stay connected with community, while also advocating for change.

Throughout this experience, I have formed connections with incredibly skilled people, contributed to developing a strong sense of community and started to delve into world of permaculture gardening. While I am still attempting to master my home gardening skills, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to connect with likeminded colleagues, values based organisations and the broader community.