Did you know that Australia wastes $20 billion worth of food each year?
A large chunk of that is in agriculture and post-harvest, according to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
To us, all veg is good veg. Good however, has always been about aesthetics, perfect size, perfect shape, perfect colour, not necessarily the taste and nutrition, which is really what food is about.
Catherine Velisha, Managing Director of Velisha Farms and VEG Education, estimates about 20 to 30 per cent of her vegetable crop is not considered suitable for sale by the larger retail chains.
"The input costs are all exactly the same," Ms Velisha said.
The challenges of supply chain demands and waste along with the fact that currently, only six per cent of primary school aged children consume the daily recommended amount of vegetables, provide significant barriers for industry growth.
These were the driving factors behind Catherine’s development of VEG Education and her ongoing advocacy for the fresh produce industry. VEG Education has been running school programs aimed at helping young people fall in love with fresh produce.
From planting and harvesting to packaging and distribution, VEG Educations’ schools’ program is teaching children the tricks of the agricultural trade early.
“The sector has evolved, it’s not people’s perception of what farm work might be, it’s a sophisticated business now,” Ms Velisha said. “It’s more than just a visit, it’s an education program.”
The appearance of fresh produce has become so critically important in driving consumer purchases, VEG Education provides an inside view of what people find on shelves. "It's really great that young people get to see that other than its appearance, vegetables that don’t look identical are exactly the same as what is seen as a more superior product."
"If we, as consumers, are leaving things that are a bit smaller behind, that obviously drives what the next product brought in looks like," she said.
"So, we've got a lot of power as consumers. If we, as a society, can change our mindset and be more accepting of produce in all their states, including appearance, then that would be one of the greatest changes we could see for our industry.”
"If perfect is about aesthetics not the taste or edibility, then we are sending the wrong message to people, especially children."
VEG Education is open to all school groups and is based at Velisha Farms, showing the day-to-day operations of the farm as well as starting important conversations about sustainability and food waste.
Ms Velisha said she hoped she could “sell the good side of my profession” and help young people learn about where their food comes from.
“They’re quite shocked from the different elements involved in the supply chain and you can see when the penny drops about a lot of things.”
“A lot of conversations in the media about agriculture and horticulture are negative, and young people probably aren’t thinking of a career in our industry.”
“I want to change that.” she said.
VEG Education – www.veg.edu.au