Community Spotlight shines a light on people in our community living for less. Today we meet the team from Food Connect, a social enterprise dedicated to providing sustainable and local fresh food for Brisbane people.

Forced off his dairy farm in the late 1990’s, Robert Pekin founded Food Connect Brisbane in 2005 with a noble aim: a fairer food system. His social enterprise ethically and transparently engages local farmers to supply organic certified food for home delivery that is in season and super fresh. These farmers are rewarded almost four times the amount of the big food chains and their produce is delivered to households all over Brisbane.

“At Food Connect, local actually means local. Our fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products and bakery items travel no more than 400 kilometres before getting to your door. That’s why we can guarantee superior quality, freshness and a reduced impact on the environment. If they’re a certified organic farmer, then they can supply produce as long as they’re local. We only source from within a few hours of Brisbane.”

Fresh produce on shelf

Cavendish on shelf

Food Connect customers order online for home delivery, choosing from a range of options such as weekly produce boxes and custom made shopping lists. All produce is fresh, in season and grown free from toxic chemicals. Produce is packed and delivered via the Food Connect warehouse, which also has its own internal bakery and kitchen creating authentic sourdoughs, pastries and jams.

“Produce arrives on a Monday morning and then on a Tuesday morning all the fresher stuff like your greens will arrive. Then they’re all sent out [to customers] on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So we have three days of packing and then Friday is recovery, office work and repairs.”

All the farmers have their own code to get into the warehouse 24/7. “It’s great because they can make their own way in, drop stuff off, pick up the wax boxes that we have here, or any other boxes that are ready for them and they will then take those home without us having to do a thing.”

Food Connect warehouse

While sourcing the right kind of produce is obviously paramount to Rob and his team, optimising the use of all materials is also important.

“All the boxes that you can see up against that wall are rotated between the farmers. So the farmers send all their produce in and then the boxes will be used by us and some will go back with the farmers. There’s always a rotation of boxes going on. All of the boxes are reused amongst the farmers, us and the customers. They won’t be thrown away until they are falling apart.

Stacked boxes from Food Connect

At the far end of the warehouse is the company’s auto workshop. “This is back from my days as a farmer. Basically all the vehicles are repaired here. We do our own servicing on all of the vans which saves costs for us.”

Robert also sees the Food Connect warehouse as a community space. The kitchen is free from 12pm onwards so it’s often used for cooking classes, including classes with Jarrod Huey from Merriweather Café.  The whole space can also become an event space including a stage and pull-out bar.

Food Connect kitchen

When asked what is the main goal of Food Connect, Robert points to one thing above all others: equity.

“It’s about good affordable food where farmers get paid fairly. That’s the goal. Equity, fairness and efficiency. The efficiency is all about Monday, Tuesday the produce comes in and it’s in people’s fridges by the end of the week so that they get ultimate freshness, which means they get ultimate nutrition.”

Rob Pekin in front of fruit boxes

4 Questions with Jane Milburn

How do you live for less?

By thinking more about what you actually need and how you can access it in a way that minimises your footprint. Maybe just using what is already around you or it may be sourcing something that is quality and is going to last you a whole lot longer. Price per wear is a big thing in the clothing area.

What are your favourite op shops in Brisbane?

My favourites are Red Hill Baptist Church and Yesterdays at Rosalie, they are the best value ones. Yesterdays has a $2 room and it's “fill a bag for $5” on Saturdays. The Baptist church one also has a $2 room.

What is your top tip for people who want to upcycle their clothing?

Learn a few basic skills, because when you've got skills you can actually do things with clothes and it's very satisfying as well as being useful. I think learning skills, not just sewing but all sorts of maker skills, are a great way to live sustainably.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I love blue cheese so when I can afford the French and Italian versions I get them. The local ones are good to, such as King Island.

4 Questions with Robert McVicker

What does living for less mean to you?

Living for less to me means a sustainable building that gives more than it takes, with less impact and burden to the occupant, the community, the environment and our councils.

How do you live for less?

Choosing a site off grid in terms of water and wastewater infrastructure allowed us the freedom to select our own assets and manage these costs ourselves without high service supply fees. We live off rainwater and it’s not a reduced lifestyle. Our home can net close to 250,000 litres of rainwater over a 12 month period. This exceeds the needs of a family of four (even with average daily residential consumption of 153L/person for South East Queensland). Our roof harvest system is designed to excel in extreme rain events. We engage Tornado rainheads that can flow water from the gutter at over 1,000 litres/minute. Our onsite wastewater treatment plant (residential membrane bioreactor) is powered within our Net Zero Energy budget. So effectively we have no electricity bill for the home or the wastewater treatment plant. The home was carefully designed to incorporate and maximise solar PV performance. (not treated as an after thought). We intensively integrated extensive off-peak tariff wiring during construction, which sheds load away from peak demand times and is rewarded with cheaper imported electricity. The home was deigned to work with the local climate not against it. Solar passive design essentially encourages winter sun inside the home in the living areas and mitigates summer sun. This minimises mechanical heating and cooling costs for the home. The home is encouraged to ‘breath’ with extensive use of louvers, cross ventilation and cooling stack principals. We mitigate hot water costs with a high performance large Edson evacuated tube solar hot water system with an electric boosted backup. These and many more features effectively allow the home to operate for less that ultimately saves the household budget and the environment.

What's your guilty pleasure?

For our household, it would have to be regular use of the clothes dryer. The humble clothes dryer has been demonised (with arguably no place in a green home) for years. Whilst it has been mostly warranted, modern clothes dryers can be extremely energy efficient. Our heat pump condenser dryer came with us from our previous home and is nearly 7 years old. Its regular use even on sunny days has remained unchanged before, during and after our Net Zero Energy challenge.

What's your top tip for people wanting to live for less at home?

As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Measuring your energy and water use is the first step to taking control. Imagine if a new car was released with the speedo in the boot. You would be expected to manage speed via guessing and speeding tickets received in the mail weeks after the event. As silly as this sounds, we still accept ’as normal’ hidden energy and water meters outside buildings. Whilst this may benefit service providers (in more ways than one), households can affordably piggyback or duplicate this equipment to give live readings inside the home or at your fingertips on your mobile phone. Affordable equipment chosen at the Vicker Ridge include Smartnow energy meters and Aquamonitor for water consumption and wastewater treatment production.

4 Questions with Rob from Food Connect

What does living for less mean to you?

It means thriving on the essentials of life. Good food, community and enjoying work that contributes to a world that works for all. The less I consume of the bad things the more I can invest my time and resources in a quality of life that is highly productive and worthwhile.

How do you live for less?

I’m really prudent and moderate in my life. I have a very low income of around $32k so I have to be really frugal. But because I enjoy good wine beer and food, quality entertainment and travel, I have to work these into my busy work schedule and be really selective about what I and my family go to. It means really enjoying those occasions we treat ourselves to.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Good beer and fruit cake.

What's your top tip for people who want to recycle at home?

Buy less stuff, buy bulk, and re-use everything!

4 Questions with Anne from Reverse Garbage Queensland

What does living for less mean to you?

For me, it means living with less. Living for less is about looking at what you’ve got and working out how you can make it work for you. It’s so easy to bring things into your home and for things to start building up. If you can re purpose something for what you want or need you get that satisfaction or re crafting or salvaging that piece.

How do you live for less?

Well, I definitely try to practice what I preach. I have a 2-year-old so I am often cutting things up or opening packets, and when I do that, I am always thinking, “now, could this be a balloon animal? Or “can I cut this up and make it into a sound toy.” You have to think creatively.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Fabric. I try to up-cycle clothing. For instance, with a skirt, I can add a nice trim to it if I find some lace. I love things like that.

What’s your top tip for people who want to recycle/up-cycle at home?

You really need to analyse what’s coming into your home before it gets there. When you're shopping, look at what you’re purchasing and whether or not you can bring less of it home. Think about if what you’re buying can be transformed into something else later.

4 Questions with Jarrod from Merriweather Cafe

What does living for less mean to you?

Living for less is more about finding what you actually need, not getting caught up in what you want and living beyond your means. Once you find what you need it gets really simple.

How do you live for less?

We cook more and try and grow, hunt and produce as much as we can. Yes, I hunt. It’s really similar to fishing but just with a gun.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I suppose hunting*. It’s something I really enjoy, but it doesn’t always end up as food in the fridge. I heave learnt that it is more about being in the bush and being very conscious of whats around.

What’s your top tip for people wanting to compost at home?

Start with a worm farm! It’s really easy, and really cool.