Harvest for the communities

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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An initiative by the Katanning Community Resource Centre to put some spare land to use is helping to provide fresh healthy food for people on low incomes throughout the Upper Great Southern.

Earlier this year, after many months of preparation, the KCRC become an agency for Foodbank WA and opened the Community Harvest Foodbank Agency in the Masonic Hall on Albion Street.

Community Harvest supplies basic groceries, sourced from Foodbank WA and local businesses, while fresh seasonal vegetables fruits and herbs are grown in a community garden covering a 25m x 25m plot at the back of the KCRC's premises, which is based in a disused-car yard across the road from Community Harvest.

KCRC manager Julie Bucknell said since opening in May at least 50 people each week had walked through Community Harvest's doors, and that number was growing.

Fresh veggies grown on the block are sold for a handling fee of $1.20kg and other groceries are charged at a $2.50 handing fee. Meat is available at $5/kg.

To qualify for discounted items, people must produce a Healthcare card or show hardship.

"We are very flexible," Ms Bucknell said.

"If people walk through the door with a fist full of bills and have a reason they can't get back to work, then obviously we would like to help," she said.

Ms Bucknell said if people couldn't afford to pay for their items a hamper would be provided free, but Community Harvest asks they come back at another time and work for an hour.

"We don't just want to help the people in crisis," she said.

"We also want to help them before they get to that stage.

"To save $40 or $50 on shopping can be a big deal when things are tight."

Because Community Harvest does not stock all items, shoppers still need to visit the established businesses in Katanning, including IGA, Woolworths and JB Meats.

None sees Community Harvest as competition - all are supportive and regularly donate items.

Ms Bucknell said as well as supplying grocery items from Foodbank and the fresh produce grown in the community garden, plenty of community spirit had gone into supplying the goods.

Beaufort River Meats has been among the generous - regularly donating meat which is perfectly good but the boxes are damaged so it is not suitable for export.

Kojonup Bakery supplies bread twice a week. Local butcher JB Meats cuts up meat at no charge and Katanning Pharmacy and other businesses have also donated various items.

Even individuals throughout the region are contributing by donating excess produce such as lemons or olives, or eggs - a practice called gleaning.

Gleaning teams will be sent out by the KCRC to collect or harvest the produce if required.

Ms Bucknell said the Community Harvest was staffed by volunteers - many on Work for the Dole programs - who willingly did more hours than required.

It is expected that as turnover increases more money will be available to pay wages.

The Work for the Dole participants are sourced through KCRC contracts with Max Employment and Skillhire.

Ms Bucknell said the community garden would grow anything that was suitable to the area and season.

"Every type of seed available at the plant nurseries that will grow here will be put in the ground," she said.

"At the moment, we are just finishing harvesting our spinach, silver beet and bok choy.

"We are just starting to pick our lettuces and summer vegies, such as squash, zucchinis and capsicums. We also have all types of melons in the ground."

To overcome seasonal gluts, the KCRC has a food preparation licence, and equipment such as a dehydrator and vacuum sealer, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

"For instance, at the end of September we get a whole lot of tomatoes and zucchinis at the same time so that is a great time to make ready meals like ratatouille and freeze them," Ms Bucknell said.

The Katanning Community Harvest recently started working with the School Breakfast Programs in the primary schools, helping to provide a healthy breakfast.

"We supply the breakfast club with certain goods and if they end up with an oversupply of baked beans, for example, they may swap them with us for goods we've got," Ms Bucknell said.

Ms Bucknell said the KCRC had also recently received approval to keep 12 free-range chickens in its Community Garden.

She said the next initiative was to arrange home deliveries to the elderly, many of whom have a need for the Community Harvest but were often too proud to go into the shop.

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