With Lou Ridsdale, the Founder of Food is Free Laneway in Ballarat, about starting a food security project, which has grown far beyond food
Food Is Free Laneway is a grassroots community led food security platform which eliminates food wastage and brings the community together with 40 volunteers helping out. It is a platform every neighbourhood and town should have. Read more to see why.
What exactly is Food is Free Laneway Ballarat?
Food Is Free is every person who has shared something in the Laneway—it might be a chat, some food, soil or seeds. Food Is Free is also every person who has taken something from the Laneway–an idea, some food or some faith in humanity. Food Is Free is a committed bunch of volunteers and a dedicated committee that helps the wheels keep turning.
Food Is Free is also every person who has taken something from the Laneway–an idea, some food or some faith in humanity.
Lou Ridsdale, the Founder of Food is Free Laneway Ballarat
While we try to be as equitable as possible, we are only a small group and can only do what we can with the resources we have. We try our best and are proud of what a community of strangers have come together to achieve.
For how long has the project been going on?
Our all inclusive Laneway has been going for 4 whole years now!
And how large is the site? Would you describe it as a community garden in a laneway?
It’s a fairly long laneway beside my rental property—about 30 meters long and .5 metre wide. It is more than a community garden in a laneway—it’s a food security platform where people are not only able to drop off and pick up fresh veggies, fruit or herbs along with seedlings and seeds to grow their own food, but also able to drop off their items to contribute to the project assisting us make more soil such as veggie scraps, egg cartons, egg shells, plus jars, bottles or pots to exchange.
We have about 30 people per week who fill up two wheelie bins per fortnight with scraps.
Do you know how many people bring you their kitchen scraps?
We have many visitors delivering their kitchen scraps: families, individuals and some cafes and restaurants. I would say we have about 30 people per week who fill up two wheelie bins per fortnight with scraps. That’s a whopping 80 litres of compost each week which goes to making our own soil to grow more food for our community! On a very busy day we have about 100 people visit the Laneway (not all dropping off scraps of course, but that gives you an idea of the scope of how many people pop in.)
A rainbow over the Laneway
We’ve found that unexpected benefits are often the best thing about starting a community project.
There are so many benefits running a Food Is Free. The most unexpected thing was that a lot of people come more for conversation and connections, rather than the actual food itself. That is a really lovely thing to know people gravitate towards our magical space for those purposes.
The most unexpected thing was that a lot of people come more for conversation and connections, rather than the actual food itself.
What are the most common activities your volunteers help with?
It’s really varied: whilst the bulk of our volunteers ensure the Laneway is safe and clean and water our plants, we also have other volunteers doing art projects or crafts, but others still who work behind the scenes too in committees, such as fundraising, event management, governance (our Inc. Committee meets once a month but work daily on tasks), admin, PR, social media, marketing etc.
What important milestones helped move the project forward or grow?
I’d say that the fact that someone left a piece of parsley a few weeks after the project was set up with a note saying ‘Thought you may need this’ made the traction start (rather than leaving our food out from our backyard, visitors started leaving their food too which swung it all into action).
The other huge milestone was when City Of Ballarat granted us the use of extra land over the road at a recreation space (Western Oval) which we’ve turned into Food Is Free Green Space, for us to grow food en masse to bring over to the Food Is Free Laneway.
The other huge milestone was when City Of Ballarat granted us the use of extra land over the road at a recreation space.
In the future in that space we’ll hold workshops and tours and skill shares to really empower our community to learn how to be more self-sufficient and grow their own food. That milestone really made us realise what we can achieve and deliver more impactful assistance to our community in Ballarat as well as forging foreword with the knowledge we not only had town support, but Council as well.
Linnea, a Laneway volunteer and the compost Queen
Is there anything you wish you knew when starting the project?
I didn’t envisage how many amazing connections I would make from setting it up in 2014. It’s been a real gift getting to know my neighbourhood better, and I enjoy chatting to regulars who come to visit, as well as befriending so many of our volunteers. Community connections are really joyous—the world needs more of this to happen as we become more and more isolated from those living around us.
Community connections are really joyous—the world needs more of this to happen as we become more and more isolated from those living around us.
What would you recommend to people who would love to start Food is Free in their community?
Do it with whatever flavour and intention you wish, it’s open source and there are no strict rules.
Should you choose to make it big scale or small scale, it doesn’t matter: Food Is Free is a simple as randomly leaving a zucchini on your letterbox with a sign saying #FOODISFREE or a box of lemons at the bus stop for others to enjoy; it can be you setting up a Food Is Free stall in a public space with your neighbours either as a random Pop Up or as an established temporary thing; or just grow veggies on your front lawn for others to take—sky is the limit and you’ll love doing it! Promise.
Visit the Food is free Laneway Ballarat online and say Hi, you're amazing:
Thank you for creating a safe heaven where people can get together, learn, laugh and share.