In a year where so many businesses - especially those connected to the hospitality industry - got hit hard, David Sivyer and the team at Feedback Organic Recovery have used 2020 as a chance to make milestones, win awards and steer the program into new avenues.
When he kicked off his food sustainability venture in 2016, Sivyer didn't have targets or KPIs in mind, "just an inkling of something worth pursuing", as one-third of all Australian landfill is food waste.
Fast-forward four short years later and the initiative has now diverted more than 1 million litres of food waste from going into landfill, turning it into nutrient-rich compost instead.
It all began with the Foodcycle bin subscription program. Food waste is gathered from local cafes, homes and businesses via sponsored bins that the Feedback team collects each week; they then turn all that waste into top quality compost at their urban farm in Cardiff Heights and grow delicious plants and vegetables in that compost; and when ready to harvest, they sell the organic produce back to the local community. It's a closed loop and it's taking hold across the Hunter.
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"[One million] is a great milestone considering we had no quantitative goals in mind when we started," he says.
"As an organisation working with local restaurants, cafes, schools and universities, measuring the amount of food waste diverted and food grown has been helpful to both us and those businesses involved to recognise our impact on a small to medium scale."
The broad appeal of the Foodcycle concept has resulted in dozens of households, businesses and schools joining the program run by Sivyer and his committed team. He makes particular mention of early childhood centres, the Catholic Diocese and Hunter School of the Performing Arts.
Partnering with schools is something Sivyer cares strongly about, and so he recently developed the Feedback Futures Program to provide school children with a hands-on approach in connecting to the ideas of sustainability, agricultural practices and boosting confidence and knowledge in order to grow their own food.
We have established that urban farms are a great way of not only growing produce but managing local food waste.David Sivyer
Sivyer explains the schools who join the program are "invited out to the farm to really dive into behaviour change around managing local food waste and local food production" before then introducing the Foodcycle bin system at their school.
"The Feedbox came about from a decision that many other businesses like us had to make. When COVID-19 hit, we decided to provide our yummy produce back to the community through a home delivery service on the same day of harvest," Sivyer says.
The organic box of produce includes day-of-harvest organic vegetables, herbs and recipes from their urban farm.
Brimming with ideas and energy, it's no surprise that Sivyer was the recipient of the University of Newcastle's Employability Excellence Awards 2020, Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
"It's wonderful to see that an institution such as the University of Newcastle sees a program like Feedback Organic as a credible community organisation. The support and recognition from such institutions gives us and the community confidence that innovative projects like this can not only get off the ground, but actually have a real impact and a place in our society too," he says.
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The Feedback team was also selected to take part in the university's Integrated Innovation Network Validator program; a chance for them to explore new ideas and growth opportunities with expert coaching and real-customer feedback to guide them towards a clear path forward.
"The Validator experience has been phenomenal," Sivyer says.
"As a team we grew, and it gave us some fantastic insights on how to have the greatest impact within our community and where we should put our future focus."
While 2020 has been big, Feedback is looking ahead to a bigger year in 2021, with an Open Day for those who want to explore the farm, continuation of their one-hour farmer Saturday sessions, monthly information panel discussions and bold ideas of establishing a network of composting locations across the city.
"We have established that urban farms are a great way of not only growing produce but managing local food waste and providing access for all community stakeholders to new ways of sustainable food production. I'm really looking forward to that."
To find out more or get involved, visit feedbackorganic.com.au.