Locals spread love through feel-good fruit

Published: 3 April 2023
A woman is plucking fruits while another one is holding a rattan basket full of green fruits. Volunteer picker Rachel Carlisle and homeowner Tamasin Tunny.

In the face of dwindling donations from the big food rescue organisations, a small volunteer-led group is making a difference to households experiencing food insecurity in Melbourne’s inner north.

Darebin Fruit Squad unites volunteer pickers with local backyards burdened by excess fruit. The fresh produce is then included in food parcels shared with around 1,500 people each month.

Run by Darebin Information, Volunteer & Resource Service (DIVRS), the fruit squad has gathered a whopping 16,000 kilos of fruit since it began in 2012. That’s around 90,000 oranges or over 300 shopping trolleys full of fruit.

Darebin Fruit Squad coordinator Holly Gallagher says the group is looking to make our food system more local, resilient and fair, while addressing food waste and environmental issues around food production.

“At the same time, we’re bringing our community closer together,” Holly says.

“We’ve got people sharing food with each other, sharing skills with each other, and volunteering together.

“It’s not a coincidence that there are these two parts: food and community. Community grows food and food grows community.”
Holly Gallagher, Darebin Fruit Squad coordinator

The fruit squad is currently harvesting pears, persimmons and figs, and Holly is looking forward to a big citrus season in a couple of months.

“Oranges come exactly when we need them. They are full of Vitamin C in the middle of winter and excellent for our food parcels.

“But what tends to excite people the most is when there’s something that might be a bit unusual to us, but is really special to them because it’s something they grew up with or something that’s culturally close to their heart.

“It’s always a beautiful moment when we’re able to share fruit they wouldn’t otherwise get from the supermarket or in other food relief avenues.”

The number of backyards signed up to the Darebin Fruit Squad program decreased during Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns, but they are bouncing back bigger than before thanks to support from Sustainability Victoria’s Circular Economy Communities Fund.

Homeowner Tamasin Tunny has been donating her pears for years and encourages other households to do the same.

Fresh pears from Tamasin Tunny’s Bundoora garden.
“I love the fact that the fruit grown in my backyard can become a healthy and free addition to someone’s grocery parcel.”
Tamasin Tunny

“Even with a small back garden, you can still grow a tremendous amount of your own fresh produce and share it with others.”

To register your fruit tree, visit divrs.org.au/fruit-squad or email fruitsquad@divrs.org.au.

Read more about Darebin Fruit Squad in The Age.