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Sharing the surplus: how we donate produce to those in need

It is shameful but true that in the UK of the 2020s, supposedly the fifth richest country in the world, millions of individuals and families live in food poverty. This disgraceful and unnecessary state of affairs should be tackled at source through policies which enable everyone to afford to buy the food they need. However, that is not going to happen any time soon. In response to this unmet need, volunteers have developed a vast array of food banks and free or cheap restaurants all over the country in an effort to prevent anyone, and particularly children, from going hungry.

Many families with children have particular problems in the school holidays in the absence of free school meals. At the same time of year, allotment-keepers tend to have gluts of produce which they can't possibly eat, freeze or give to family and friends. The problem with runner beans, for example, is that they are determined to grow to full size and reproduce, whilst their growers are equally resolved to pick them before they become inedible. The more you pick, the faster they bean, creating arms races which carry on until both grower and bean plant are exhausted or autumn gales blow down the plants. There is a limit to how many runner beans you can eat! Surplus allotment produce includes runner beans, marrows, courgettes, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, chard, lettuce, potatoes and apples. Our vegetables and fruit would be rejected by most supermarkets as individual items vary in size and shape. But they are far superior in terms of freshness, taste and vitamin content.

With a little organisation, it is quite easy to use some of this glut to provide top quality vegetables and fruit for those in need. We have donated to asylum seeker organisations for several years. Organisationally, it is simple: let allotment-keepers know the collection dates, source a couple of large boxes and find someone willing to ferry produce to outfits which can use it. This year, Kate, Sophie, Alice and Nick, a family who live close to Highbury South Allotments, have kindly agreed to take boxes to Peace of Mind who work with local refugees and asylum-seekers; and to Vinnie's free drop-in cafe. (Kate and her family also run a food donation scheme via a WhatsApp group which collects food staples from our estate.) Other allotment associations are donating fruit and vegetables to food banks which accept fresh produce.

Newcastle upon Tyne has over 60 allotment associations, each of which may make its own arrangements for donating surplus produce. If we were organised through a city-wide distribution system, we could make a significant contribution to mitigating summer food poverty. Similar schemes could be set up throughout our country.

Organisations such as Climate Action Newcastle, where this blog was also shared, are now trying to support the coordination of allotment produce donation which can reduce food waste as well as helping families in need.

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