How City Harvest give food another life

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25/04/2017 - 08:20

“It’s good to share the love,” says Bob Bowers of wholesaler P and I, loading the van with donations.

Bob at P and I loading the City Harvest

His company is one of many on the market who support City Harvest, a charity redistributing surplus food all across London. (“Giving food another life” is one strapline; "Rescuing food for the hungry" is another).

Unloading produce by Vauxhall station

Since its launch in 2014, City Harvest has recycled more than 340 tonnes of food. “We are happy and fortunate to be part of it,” explains Gary Marshall of Bevington Salads. As Chairman of the Tenants Association, he played a key role in introducing City Harvest to fellow traders.

Gary Marshall and his son at Bevington Salads

City Harvest now has six vans distributing an average of 1,000 meals per day to organisations such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and organisations tackling drug and alcohol addiction.

“Food is being thrown away in London all the time and there are people who need help all the time,” explains City Harvest driver Mike Motl, as he makes his regular Friday morning run. “If you bring them together you can alleviate two problems at once.”

Checking the quality of the donated oranges at Bevington

Mike Motl at The Mushroom Man

The City Harvest van

I joined Mike in his van. Traders donate various types of produce: a sack of onions, in mint condition; tomatoes a few days’ riper than usual; potatoes from split bags which are otherwise unsaleable.

A split bag of potatoes

And it’s not just fresh produce that finds its way into the back of the van. He also receives donations from businesses such as Medina Dairy, who offer milk, bread and other products. “99.9% of people want to help – it’s just about providing the opportunity,” Mike says.  

Mike Motl at Media Dairies

City Harvest loading up milk and bread

At catering supply company I A Harris and Son we meet Michael Kiam, warehouse manager, who helps load the van. He notes that this project is especially important in the context of rising food prices and imminent Brexit.

Michael Kiam at I A Harris and Son

Aside from the market, City Harvest also collects from a growing range of food manufacturers and retailers, including Marks and Spencer, Morrisons and Nando's. (Later that day, Mike gets a call from Selfridges: "It's like sprinkling a bit of glitter on your delivery.")

We make drop offs with chefs around Lambeth and Westminster, such as Cleve Benjamin. He says: “It’s good, very good. We couldn’t do without it. To be honest with you, our budget would be too high.” Deliveries are free, although some organisations pay what they can.

Invoice book at City Harvest

Chef Benjamin plans to make a mushroom casserole and veg curry. Mike jokes: “For chefs in soup kitchens it’s like Ready Steady Cook every day.” 

Chef Cleve Benjamin with a City Harvest delivery

City Harvest is rapidly expanding. They have just signed a five-year lease on a 3,000 square foot warehouse in Acton Vale to help store some of their non-perishable goods. (Donations range from washing powder to coffee beans).

But fresh fruit and veg is an absolutely essential ingredient in their food chain. “Having good nutrients save lives and all the guys on the market are heroes for supporting us,” explains co-founder Mark Harvey when I meet him at The Passage, a day centre for homeless people in Westminster.

Co-founder Mark Harvey at City Harvest

“Without nutrients people’s bodies are weaker,” he says. “They are more susceptible to the cold. That’s why produce from the Market is so important.”

Harvey, 53, was made homeless after the breakdown of his marriage. A BBC camera man for 15 years, he lost his house and found himself wandering the streets. “I was homeless from December 2005 to September 2006. I lost seven and half stone. I was sleeping in bridges, doors, parks. I knew nothing about homelessness, not a clue. I was sleeping directly on the floor. I didn’t even know about the insulating properties of cardboard. I was totally naïve to it.”

He first started distributing surplus food back in 2011. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial. Even when I was on the streets I was looking for businesses. I looked into doing a business with aluminium cans because everybody was drinking vodka and Red Bull.”

Harvey later co-founded City Harvest with Bruce Marquart and Laura and Stephen Winningham. “This is my calling … I always wanted to help people in need,” Mark says, as he unloads produce with chef Nour Shad Dakoba.

Chef Nour Shad Dakoba at The Passage

Mark Harvey and chef Nour Shad Dakoba

Mark Harvey and chef Nour Shad Dakoba

A donation via The Felix Project

Food waste, Mark believes, is an issue of pivotal importance. Rescued food is diverted from landfill. He says: “[Think of] all the energy it takes to produce food: from the farm to the processing to the consumer to finally being consumed. All the energy it takes the farmers in terms of diesel fuel, in terms of water, in terms of transporting the food to wherever it’s going to be stored, then storing it. The electricity it takes to stores it. All the transport to the shop for the consumer that takes it. To have all that wasted when the world is on the edge of global warming ....”

Mark is certain that levels of homelessness are rising in London: “The [official government] figures are totally misleading.” He observes rising numbers of homeless women and laments the changes in housing policy that increase the insecurity of tenure.

“It’s a lot easier for people to find themselves on the streets now. And more people equals more need.”

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dear sirs, Great

dear sirs,

Great job!