September 19, 2014

Produce the way nature intended

Not all fruit and vegetables can be supermodels – the wonky carrots and curly capsicums farmers often have to throw away are just as tasty and nutritious. As CEO of Spade & Barrow, Katy Barfield is committed to reducing waste and paying farmers a fair price for their whole crop.

Many Australian farmers discard up 40 percent of their crop – not because it isn’t fit to eat, but because they struggle to sell fruit and vegetables that look less than perfect. Spade & Barrow is challenging the status quo.

“When our grandparents dug up vegetables from the garden they didn’t say ‘oh, that carrot isn’t quite straight enough – I’m not going to eat it’,” says Katy Barfield, CEO of Spade & Barrow. “We’ve become incredibly wasteful.”

Challenging the status quo, Spade & Barrow is committed to supporting a fair and sustainable food system that values Australian farmers, reduces unnecessary waste and provides affordable access to fresh produce.

As a wholesaler, Spade & Barrow delivers fresh produce to award-winning caterers, fruit and vegetable shops, restaurants, cafes, social enterprises, schools and childcare centres across Geelong and Melbourne. Its customers are chefs and owners, who are less concerned about the way a vegetable looks than how it tastes.

With a direct plough approach, farmers are able to harvest their entire crop irrespective of size and shape, which is great news for the environment, farmers and customers.

“We purchase Nature’s Grade produce, which means we don’t discriminate against any of the crop because of aesthetic imperfections,” says Barfield. “Of course, we let common sense prevail; it would be pointless to accept an apple the size of your thumbnail. But, other than that, we take the whole crop – big, small, perfect or misshapen. If it’s good to eat, we buy it for a fair price.

“The chefs are happy because they’re getting fresh, local produce and, as there’s no double handling, they’re paying a lower price. They also like the fact they’re helping keep farmers on the land and that so much less produce is going to waste.”

Starting out

Melbourne-based Spade & Barrow grew out of Barfield’s work as founding CEO of SecondBite, a food rescue organisation. “We rescue food from markets that would otherwise go to landfill so that it can be made into meals for those who need them,” she explains. “This year, SecondBite will provide around 10 million meals.”

When she started approaching farmers to donate produce she was dismayed to discover how much they were throwing away. “On one hand you have people who can’t afford to put fresh food on the table, and on the other you have farmers struggling to sell enough produce to survive,” says Barfield. “At Spade & Barrow we’re committed to developing a fairer and more sustainable food system.”


Barfield is also committed to transparency. “We want people to know exactly how much farmers are being paid for their produce and what margins we add,” she says. “Every week we release a price list which states where produce has come from, right down to the name of the farmer. If we have to supplement our farm supplies to provide chefs with what they need, we buy Australian produce wholesale from the Melbourne Markets and this is also noted on the list.”

At the moment, about 73 percent of Spade & Barrow’s produce comes directly from farms. “We want that to be 100 percent,” says Barfield. “And, as farmers continue to spread the word and encourage others to get in touch with us, we plan to expand on a state-by-state basis.”

Her dream is the day when Spade & Barrow is no longer needed. “Our goal is to make sure farmers get paid a fair price for their produce and that produce doesn’t go to waste,” says Barfield. “My greatest achievement would be if we could pack up our bags and walk away because the job was done.”

Find out more about Spade & Barrow.

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