How Melbourne has tapped into the power of community

[embedyt][/embedyt] On Friday mornings, come rain or shine, The Community Grocer team (many of who are volunteers) come together at the base of the three high-rise buildings that make up 510 Lygon Street in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton to set up their weekly food market.

A social enterprise that aims to connect people living in public housing to fresh and affordable food, we spoke to Georgia Savage, who co-manages The Community Grocer with Dori Ellington, to learn more about the project, the power of community and how people can make a difference on their own.

In the beginning: 

The Community Grocer was started in October 2014 with seed funding from the City of Melbourne. It is a social enterprise that aims to increase access for people living in public housing to fresh, high-quality fruit and vegetables.

We run a weekly market on a Friday between 9.30am and 12.30pm at 510 Lygon Street in Carlton. Carlton is a diverse suburb of Melbourne with very wealthy residents living alongside students and families, who are struggling to pay rent, cover bills and buy enough food to put dinner on the table. The average weekly shop at the local supermarket in Carlton costs about 50 per cent of a weekly Centrelink payment for a family of four - which is simply too much.

We identified this need and decided to introduce a local market, targeted towards people from low socio-economic backgrounds who experience barriers sourcing cheaper food from further away. The market has been running for almost a year now, and we have served more than 3000 customers or approximately 160 people per week. We have sold more than 2.5 tonnes of tomatoes and 600 watermelons.

Each Friday, there is a wonderful, vibrant atmosphere at the market with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds shopping alongside one another and sharing the free vegetarian lunch that is on offer for all. It is a wonderful market not only for the food security it has brought for the people living at 510 Lygon Street Carlton, but also for the sense of community it has helped to create.

A Friday morning at the Community Grocer is…

Hilariously chaotic! We arrive at 7.30am to take the delivery of delicious fruit and vegetables from the wholesaler. We pull out the tables from the community hall and set them up at the base of the three high-rise buildings that make up 510 Lygon Street.

Onto these tables we load all the fruit and veg in baskets, set up the tills and begin prepping for the free BBQ lunch. We always take a delivery from Secondbite, who provide free packaged food that we are able to distribute to our customers who would like to supplement their weekly shop. To do all this, we have the helping hands of four to five volunteers every week, and we couldn't do it without them!

The market is supposed to open at 9.30am but most weeks people start coming from about 8.30am once the fruit and veg is out - they are keen shoppers! The market is busy for the whole morning with over 160 customers coming through, some just to buy a bulb of garlic and others to stock up on 12kg of onions.

How can people create projects or campaigns to help causes they care about:

A really important part of starting The Community Grocer in Carlton was community consultation. Through this we ensured that people living in the public housing estate wanted this market, and we made sure to hold it at a time and a place that would suit our customers.

We have listened and continued to evolve the market with the advice of our regulars - bringing in new and different stock to try, changing opening times and introducing home deliveries. Our customers make the market what it is, and so ensuring they are on this journey with us was so pivotal to it's overall success.

Favourite part:

We love watching our customers interact - helping each other to pick the best tomatoes, sharing a couple of dollars so that everyone can buy what they need, looking out for all the children who run through the market with their parents every week. The market aims to create a sense of community and seeing this makes us feel like we are doing a great job of this!

The importance of volunteers:

Volunteers are absolutely critical to the success of The Community Grocer - we simply couldn't run it every week without them. Some volunteers arrive at 7.30am to help us set up, and others stay past closing time to make sure we're all packed up. Volunteers can be local residents at the estate or they may live in the Carlton community - everyone is welcome to give us a helping hand. One of our volunteers, Nirma, was able to secure employment from CERES Fair Food as a result of his work and experience with us, which is a really great outcome from volunteering with The Community Grocer.

Simple things people can do to make a difference:

  • Engage with their local community!
  • Taking the time to stop and smile or chat with your neighbour makes a difference.
  • Paying attention and noticing the people who might be struggling a little bit, who might need an extra meal or a lift to an appointment all makes a huge difference (even though it seems like a small act).
  • Supporting local businesses and trying to make it down to a local market like The Community Grocer, instead of the big supermarkets, helps to strengthen the community in which you live. Small actions - big differences!

The Community Grocer is located at 510 Lygon Street, Carlton and operates every

Friday, from 9.30am to 12.30pm.

Benojo connects those who want to give with those in need.

Contact us to learn more about our work.