Journeys into the food-rich wilderness
Destination: Pachamama Wholefoods, Brunswick VIC
In a nutshell: Pachamama is a wholefoods store that combines a zero waste approach with a solid foundation of meaningful community engagement
Custodians: Christopher Anderson and Danielle Dimarti
Field Trip Leader: Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers
Changing/saving the world from one little shop: Chris (left) and Danielle (right), pictured here with author, Jessie Alice (centre), are the owners of Pachamama Wholefoods, a little shop with a big heart located in Brunswick, Victoria.
Hi there, Chris. Let me ask: how did you get here?
Chris: The journey started when we were living in a share house. We witnessed just how much food was wasted and, to be honest, how disorganised the fridge was. We’d go buy a bunch of stuff, throw it in the fridge, and be running two fridges between six people. You know the feeling of not being sure if it’s your onion, right? So you leave the onion and then the onion sits there, never gets claimed, and goes to waste. That’s when I realised that food waste wasn’t a simple issue; it was a network of complex problems. It’s an information issue, an organisation issue, and a lifestyle issue. We’re even developing an app to help with a solution too! More on that at some point in the near future, we promise.
And how about you, Danielle?
Danielle: I studied International Development and I guess was always interested in how to “fix the world’s problems”. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after university, but then, one day, I realised that food was the answer. If you grow food properly, you can encourage a zero-waste approach that helps people re-attribute value to their food. Since that realisation, it’s been a journey to where we are today with Pachamama. We realised that a shop like this would be an ideal testing platform for our theories and approaches to curbing food waste. We weren’t wrong.
What do you see are key aspects of the relationship between food and food waste?
C: So few people perceive there to be any value in food anymore. We’re trying to change that. It’s not just about coming in and purchasing food to eat; we’re talking about the community vibe where you bring people together, you look at what food’s worth, and what it can do for the community you’re working with. At the moment, because of the widespread devaluation of food, it simply goes in the bin; often, people don’t care what they waste, especially in households on a day-to-day basis.
In a nutshell, the concept of zero waste is important. We advocate for closing the cycle of what we produce and what we eat, and what goes back into the system. At the moment, the system’s just not working and there’s a big gap in the loop. The food just goes and sits in the earth where it doesn’t get used correctly.
D: Food has always been important to us, but the level of importance has increased as we’ve become more consciously aware of what’s happening more broadly. That’s a process that we’ve both been going through in life. We realise the value of everything and how important the thinking behind Pachamama is to the Brunswick community, and potentially to many other communities in Australia, and across the world.
Tell us more about your setup. How do you operate the business?
C: Before we bought the business, we actually shopped here at Pachamama and became interested in what the previous owners were doing with their food waste. They did have a guy that was taking their compost but he stopped… so we started! We bought four massive compost bins and were processing it at our place. The compost even takes human hair now!
D: With the composting side of things up-and-running, we wanted to make a community event of it too; involve kids, involve the community, include education… so we did. Two small families showed up for the first one — it was a start, anyway! We showed them what medicinal properties the plants have, and ran them through the basics of composting and soil education. The workshops are our favourite thing to do. We love getting out there and chatting with our wonderful community of fellow compost lovers!
How do you manage waste at Pachamama these days?
C: When things in the shop spoil and it’s an item that can’t necessarily go in the compost, we tend to give it away so it can be used otherwise. Some people use it as food for their pets, others cook it into a new meal. Bread is the hardest one: if you don’t sell it on the day, you can sell it on the next day but after that it’s done. And often it’s still good; it might just need a new life as a bread and butter pudding! If there’s anything leftover after that, to be honest, we’d just eat it until we were sick rather than throw it in the bin. I actually feel ill when I throw things in the bin; I’m rather my body be the composter than have it sitting in that [the bin]!
Tell us about a big, ambitious goal you have for Pachamama.
D: We want it to change the world. And that’s not even an exaggeration. We want to focus on the community here in Brunswick and really make a big deal of the ‘closed loop system’ so that there’s no food waste at our end, and no food waste in Brunswick’s households. We want to test that approach here, in this context, then take it more broadly. Essentially, we want to create a hyperlocal food system wherein if anything happened outside of Brunswick, our community would still survive. Learning via this approach is the only way to create a sustainable community food system.
Pachamama’s recipe for success: