“Over the years we have saved 319 tonnes of food from going to waste”, says Jo Hercberg, a director of Sheffield’s Real Junk Food Project.
It’s an impressive figure from an organisation which started just three and a half years ago with the aim of filling bellies instead of bins
But it pales into significance when the project reveal what they estimate Sheffield’s annual food waste total is – a shocking £400 million, based on the latest national statistics from WRAP UK.
Jo added: “We set up the project to raise awareness of food waste but it took off really, really quickly.
“Our house was suddenly full of food, we had a cafe in Sharrow that was overflowing. Three and a half years we've been working with food waste but we’re still not doing enough.
“That 319 tonnes we've saved, it’s not even one per cent of the food wasted in Sheffield. We thought we’d be able to pop up as a temporary project and have a big impact, but we’re still not doing enough, which is quite a shock.”
There are now new plans afoot to increase that impact in a big way.
Project organisers have launched an ambitious online crowdfunding campaign to raise £50,000 to create what they are calling ‘Sheffield’s first sustainable food hub.’ It will also change the name of the project to Food Works.
In simple terms, the aim is to create a permanent warehouse base that is properly equipped to deal with the vast amounts of donated food they now have access to every day.
This base will in turn allow them to work with more than the 24 food businesses which they currently do and reduce any delays between food getting to the warehouse, and it being eaten, cooked, stored or preserved.
Giving a practical example, Jo said: “It will allow us to install a walk in refrigerator unit because at the moment we only have 27 domestic fridges, which as you can imagine costs a lot for a start.
“It wasn’t ideal this summer when we needed to put the fresh food in there as well as the chilled food because of the heat – we pick up every day from the Parkway markets and without being chilled the food had to be used that same day.
“Having a walk in fridge and large freezers will be really important. “
The project is currently based in a temporary warehouse in Burngreave – called the Sharehouse Market - and leaders hope to remain in the area due to the community links they have built up over time.
In time, they’d like to extend their existing education programmes to include wider age ranges and workshops, as well as getting more people involved in the scheme at all levels.
There are currently 180 volunteers signed up to the scheme, with some helping each day, and others every few weeks.
The project has two cafes. the Steeple Corner Cafe at Norfolk Park, and Citrus Cafe at Zest in Upperthorpe, where diners pay-as-they-feel for meals made with ingredients destined for the bin.
They provide more than 10,000 meals a year between them. The Sharehouse Market also has a pay-as-you-feel store where everything from snacks to cupboard staples help fulfill 15,000 family shops a year.
There is now a head chef Brendan Barwise – most recently of The Sentinel Brewhouse - who works across the campaign, including on catering for everything from weddings to meetings.
Jo said staying in Burngreave, rather than moving to more typical warehouse venues closer to Tinsley or Rotherham, would be more accessible for those who use and rely on the project.
“We’re hoping to stay in Burngreave because we’ve got good links with the local community”, she added.
“There are people coming in there to get food and to volunteer. We’ve such a mix of volunteers now, on any one day there can be 15 different nationalities helping out.
“We’ve done a lot of work there to really tie in with the community and create some cohesion, which can sometimes be missing in Burngreave and Pitsmoor.”
The crowdfunding campaign will run until Christmas Eve, the time, ironically, when food waste can be most prevalent.
But it is also a time for giving, and there are hopes this will encourage donations too.
While the work to provide some 100 people a day with hot meals, or food to take home, will continue, there is a bigger picture to consider.
On a global scale, the aim is to scale down the impact on the environment that Sheffield’s food waste has.
Jo added: “The United Nations has said that we’ve only got 12 years left to prevent climate catastrophe and food waste is the third biggest producer of carbon emissions.
“Any food going to landfill will start rotting and producing methane so getting involved in this will make a positive difference.”
There are a number of special rewards available for those who donate towards the project’s crowdfunder campaign online.
Pledging £10 will earn you a slice of cake and a cup of tea at one of the project’s two cafes in Sheffield.
Tote bags and messages of thanks will be given to those who pledge £25 or less, while £30 buys a reusable branded coffee cup – a double win for the environment.
Christmas hampers packed with everything from chocolates to crackers are available for £50, and a range of experiences are available for those who pledge £100 or over.
Masterclasses in making Scotch eggs with Brendan Barwise – well known for his Scotch eggs at Sentinel – private fine dining or group cooking lessons can all be offered in return for supporting the cause.
Sponsorship and corporate packages are available for businesses.
For the full list of rewards, or to donate, visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/food-works-for-sheffield