“We are addressing food security challenges in remote and disadvantaged communities through sustainable food production,” says Food Ladder CEO, Kelly McJannett, as we discuss the social enterprise she and Chairman Alex Shead started to address food security issues in remote communities through technology.
Food Ladder is the world’s first social business to use advanced agricultural solutions including hydroponic greenhouses and environmentally sustainable technologies to create food and economic security for communities otherwise reliant on aid and affected by poverty.
“Our whole premise is about finding a more sustainable solution to food distribution,” explains Kelly. “Access to fruit and vegetables is at the root of many health challenges.”
“And transport is the third greatest contributor to greenhouse gases in Australia. The communities we work with [in remote Northern Territory] have to freight food for up to 3,000 kilometres. Freighting food in cold storage from one side of the country to another makes food prohibitively expensive and is frankly unnecessary when the technology exists to grow it locally.”
The climate-controlled Food Ladder systems produce commercial quantities of vegetables for sale, employ local people and deliver education programs to local schools.
“I have found that there’s a major disconnect and opportunity to implement preventative measures when it comes to addressing food security and nutrition,” explains Kelly. “While programs exist to educate people about the benefits of eating healthy, often there actually isn’t the food for them to eat anyway.”
The Food Ladder systems are cyclone proof, which is an important factor in food security for vulnerable communities. The indigenous-owned social enterprises grow all kinds of fresh produce all year round, providing a security most subsistence communities don’t ever experience.
Through a grant from the Australian Ethical Foundation, Food Ladder is now in the process of installing solar panels on the greenhouses to make them more sustainable.
Kelly laughs: “We’ve been slowed down in installing the solar panels because of cyclones. But being able to operate with solar panels is going to be huge for remote communities. It means we won’t have a reliance on electricity and it gets us around extreme weather events issues, like cyclones, which cuts off electricity and roads – adding to a community’s struggle in desperate times.
“It also reduces our electricity costs per system which is important because it means more of the profits go directly to the community.”
Food Ladder is not just about growing food; it’s also about empowering the local community.
“Since the inception of the program in the Northern Territory, we’ve seen a lot of innovation beyond just the basic fruit and vegetables. In Katherine, the community came up with the idea of fresh box deliveries to make it easier for people to get fresh produce.
“And because the community decides the food they want to grow, we now have an entire commercialisation of bush foods come out of the Food Ladder program.”
As more chefs in Australia include bush food, or bush tucker to use a colloquialism, like lemon myrtle, in their cooking, the indigenous community has experienced an increasing demand. Jams and teas made from rosella, or wild hibiscus, are now sold into restaurants and cafes in Adelaide. And all the profits go directly back to the community project.
“Everyone in the community can see the impact we’re having in a very real way,” Kelly says. “And it’s great to be able to connect people with aboriginal communities.”
The Food Ladder program and technology can be implemented anywhere in the world. The first Food Ladder system was installed on the rooftops of village schools in India, feeding over 4,000 students. As well as being in two remote Aboriginal communities, Food Ladder has recently launched in Uganda.
“Over and over again we hear from teachers that children can’t concentrate at school because they have health-related illnesses which are stemming from nutrition,” says Kelly. “So we see these projects as a fundamental core building block on which all social change is made.”
We’re proud to be able to support life-changing projects like Food Ladder through the 2017 Australian Ethical Community Grants.
Grants for 2018 are now open. Have you got a project that needs funding? We’d love to hear from you. Find out more here.