With lockdowns encouraging us to spend more time in our local communities, Jaleesa MacArthur chatted with Helen Andrew from Spare Harvest about how the sharing economy builds connections while reducing waste.

Spare Harvest is a community platform that allows members to freely share food and garden products. The idea was born when Helen Andrew moved into a semi-rural area with fruit trees, and had trouble giving away excess produce from her garden to her neighbours (who also had similar excess produce issues).

The online platform connects you with over 3,300 fellow sharers, helping you connect with your local community while reducing your waste.

Community is at the heart of the sharing economy

Spare Harvest’s vision is “that anyone, anywhere, at any time would be able to connect with another likeminded person.”

Helen shared that the strength of the sharing economy is the community connection.

“The social capital and resilience of us coming together that actually builds a sense of community,” she shared.

“And that is really at the heart of the sharing economy.”

Helen founded Spare Harvest after she struggled to give away excess produce

How COVID changes the impact of community

Building deep, meaningful connections with our local community is now more important than ever.

“The more micro-local we can get, the stronger we are as a community; because it’s the resilience those connections make that allows us to get through times like we have with COVID,” Helen said.

“The lockdown is an opportunity for us to connect with our neighbours.”

Helen shared that Australia’s problem with food insecurity has been exacerbated by COVID, and will be even more so when support programs like Jobkeeper end next year.

“The way we get through [crisis] is by being connected with each other.”

Once COVID hit, supermarkets no longer had excess food to donate and charities weren’t able to use their volunteers. Helen shared that the pandemic has shown “cracks in the system,” and that instead we should share the valuable of resource of food with others in our community.

“One thing about COVID is we’ve seen that food is absolutely fundamental to our existence and our current supply chains have been impacted by COVID,” she said.

“But we need to get back to what we used to do; which was connect with each other, grow something for yourself, grow something for your neighbour, and share it with each other.”

Spare Harvest is for people with plenty and those in need

Whether you have food to share, or you need food or garden supplies, Spare Harvest creates the space for both people to connect.

“I think Spare Harvest as it grows will be a very empowering platform for people who are experiencing food insecurity, and we need to empower these people…Link them to their community and let them feel like they’re a valuable contribution to the community.”

“Communities are not all made up of people giving and no one receiving. They need both.”

So what can you share with others in your community?

“It’s more than food, it’s anything in that food and garden theme,” Helen shared.

Just some examples she mentioned were:

  • Produce you’ve grown
  • Eggs from your backyard chickens
  • Pantry items like muesli bars you won’t finish
  • Manures
  • Pots
  • Seeds
  • Plants and cuttings

“It could be a food hydrator, not every kitchen needs a food hydrator, you know, just like not every shed needs a lawnmower in it,” she said.

“This is also about making sure we reduce our consumption down because the more we consume the more we waste, and yet we’ve got all of these idle resources in our kitchen and our gardens that we could be sharing with each other.”

The impact of sharing in your local community

Helen shared that the main way to see Spare Harvest’s impact is by the stories of people who have connected on the platform.

Melinda and Laura meet to share produce

Melinda and Laura were both growing and preserving produce. Melinda, on the Sunshine Coast, had an abundance of mangoes, so made mango chutney; and Laura at Mildura had excess stonefruit that she was making into jams. They were able to connect on Spare Harvest and when Melinda went to Mildura for a holiday met up and shared their chutney and jam with each other.

Helen shared her own story about sharing her mandarins with a young mother who lived near her.

“I got a lovely note when I got home saying ‘thank you so much for those mandarins, that’s the only fruit my daughter will have in her lunchbox this week.’

“Food insecurity, what it looks like and what it really is are two different things; we can never make judgements about a person’s circumstances based on where they live or where they work or what they do.”

Get involved

Want to connect with your local community and get involved in the sharing economy? Sign up to Spare Harvest’s community.

I’ll leave you with Helen’s advice: “When you’ve got something spare or you need something, you can then go into the market place and then create a listing. And it’s all free, you don’t have to pay for anything.”