Before today, Mandy-Louise Weber and her two teenage daughters hadn’t eaten fresh fruit and vegetables for three or four weeks.
Going without is the reality of food insecurity for hundreds of people in Ballarat, when fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy become luxuries on a small budget, and families are skipping meals to pay the rent.
On Thursday Ms Weber and her daughter Mariah carried bags filled with pumpkin, tomatoes, pears, carrots, milk, yoghurt and potatoes to their car with a smile on their face.
It’s hard not regularly having fruit and vegetables. It affects your health, it affects your sleep, it affects the girls’ ability to concentrate at school.Mandy-Louise Weber
They were one of 234 families who took home fresh produce from a free pop-up farmers market in Wendouree.
The Foodbank Farms to Families food relief event was held for clients of Ballarat charities, providing access to a range of free and nutritious fresh produce - including vegetables, fruit and dairy products.
Hundreds of people formed a queue in the Seventh Day Adventist Good Samaritan Centre car park to sign in with charities and collect produce from market-style stalls.
A Foodbank Hunger Report released last month revealed people living in regional and remote areas were 33 per cent more likely to experience food insecurity than those living in major cities.
Local research shows 12 per cent of people in Ballarat experience food insecurity.
“The research is showing people living in regional towns are struggling to put food on the table. Fresh produce is harder to access, and people are skipping meals to make ends meet,” Foodbank Victoria chief executive Dave McNamara said.
The first of three Farms to Families markets in Ballarat was held last month, with another to take place on December 13 in Wendouree.
Ms Weber said her family wouldn’t be eating fresh food at all if it wasn’t for the food relief market.
“It’s hard not regularly having fruit and vegetables. It affects your health, it affects your sleep, it affects the girls’ ability to concentrate at school. We have been to the doctors because we have been unwell and vitamin deficient and iron deficient. It affects your mental health, physical health and the girls take a lot of time off because they are not well enough to go to school,” she said.
“Fresh fruit and vegetables meant they could go to school because they ate healthy.”
Ms Weber is a single mother, and was forced to stop work around a year ago due to a heart condition and mental health issues.
Through a Newstart Allowance and family support payments, the family receive around $610 each week – of which $380 goes to rent.
This week I had $30 left to do grocery shopping.Mandy-Louise Weber
“Then you have got high school, medical bills, power, water, gas, petrol, registration. I have had to cancel insurance and internet,” Ms Weber said.
“We have sold the televisions, the washing machine, the play-station, the push bikes and we have got the beds and car for sale at the moment. I have sold pots and pans, Tupperware, whatever I can to pay the bills, keep us from being homeless and keep some sort of food on the table. It is not easy.
“There’s no cheaper rent, unless we went back to what we were doing before living in a one bedroom unit with the beds and clothes in the lounge room, and that was still $230 a week anyway. We were homeless five years ago and lived in the car for a while, so I am fighting to keep the house that we have got.”
Ms Weber said she and her daughter would treat themselves to a yoghurt on the way home from the Foodbank market, after skipping breakfast and lunch.
“Without the Foodbank, it would be even harder. The fresh food we got at the last market lasted us three weeks,” she said.
“We skip a few meals a week. We haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch today but we will eat dinner tonight and that is just the reality for us at the moment. This week I had $30 left to do grocery shopping. We get pasta, rice, bread, cheese, ham, that’s pretty much it. Cleaning products and toiletries are a luxury.
“The government needs to adjust support payments, or there is going to be a lot more homelessness and a lot more people going without.”
People of all demographics joined the queue to collect food on Thursday, from young children with parents, to young adults in their year 12 high school jumpers and the elderly with portable shopping trolleys.
Refugee Neil Para took a recipe card as he was handed a pumpkin from a friendly volunteer.
Although he was one of the last in the queue to walk through the market stalls and there were many full boxes of pumpkins left, he would only take one for his family of five, saying that is all he thought they needed.
“Because I am a refugee I am not allowed to work or have an income. We are living on a $100 Woolworths voucher for food weekly - we had to manage that $100 for the car, petrol and everything, so it is very helpful having some extra food for the week,” he said.
“A $100 food voucher for three kids and a family of five is very hard. We can’t buy a lot of fruit and vegetables, when we heard about this we were excited to get some food that we are always wanting to buy but we cannot.”
Each Farms to Families market held in Ballarat provides enough food for 300 families. Mt Pleasant Produce donated locally grown potatoes and all other food was purchased with funding support from the Jack Brockhoff Foundation.
The Ballarat Foundation is currently campaigning to raise funds for a food hub in Ballarat to address the high rates of food insecurity in the region.
The Ballarat Food Security Centre would be operated in partnership with Foodbank Victoria if funding is secured.
The Victorian Liberal-National Coalition has promised to contribute $1.5 million to stage one of the Ballarat Food Security Centre if elected in November. The Victorian Labor party is yet to make a funding promise.
Ballarat Foundation chief executive Matt Jenkins said the sheer amount of people at the Foodbank Farms to Families market on Thursday showed why Ballarat ‘desperately’ needed the food security centre.
“This is what the food hub will do – the supply of fresh food will become readily available. You don’t need any more evidence than this as to why we need a Foodbank here,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of families queued for food.
“One young lady I met today had five young kids. Each family on average feeds four people. There could be up to 1000 people impacted by Foodbank being here.”
The next Foodbank Farms to Families market will be held on December 13 in Wendouree for clients of Ballarat charities.
- Ballarat Foundation releases plans for Ballarat Food Security Centre
- Funding promise for Ballarat Food Security Centre
- Ballarat is going hungry, food security report reveals shocking reality
- Food insecurity on agenda, report recommends fresher food for those going hungry
- Poor diet creates lasting health risks, but so many in Ballarat have no choice
- Food relief volunteers see need for improved collaboration
- Salvation Army lunch program feeds hungry students
- An Asian banquet for $1 a head, there’s some food for thought